Date of Award

Summer 8-2017

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Human Capital Development


Interdisciplinary Studies and Professional Development

Committee Chair

Heather M. Annulis

Committee Chair Department

Human Capital Development

Committee Member 2

Cyndi H. Gaudet

Committee Member 2 Department

Human Capital Development

Committee Member 3

Dale L. Lunsford

Committee Member 3 Department

Human Capital Development

Committee Member 4

Quincy Brown

Committee Member 4 Department

Human Capital Development

Committee Member 5

Patti P. Phillips

Committee Member 5 Department

Human Capital Development


The complexity of the global environment, driven by rapid and profound change, requires a globally dominant fighting force. To adequately protect and defend the security of the United States, the Department of Defense must maintain warfighting superiority through innovation and diversity of thought (SECNAV, 2016; Scoppio, 2012). More than five years have passed since the 2011 Military Leadership Diversity Commission reported to President Obama and members of Congress that “top military leaders are representative neither of the population they serve nor of the forces they lead” (p. xvi). Females are underrepresented among senior military leadership. Increasing the number of female service members adds new competencies and improves the effectiveness of military operations (Egnell, 2013, 2016).

Though women constitute more than half of the U.S. population, women represent only 17.3% of the U.S. military officer corps and a mere 6.7% of the upper most leadership flag ranks of admiral and general (DMDC, 2016a, 2016b; Howden & Meyer, 2011). Research reveals the moral and business case for gender diversity and the advantages of female leadership traits. Barriers to retention include actual and anticipated maternal separation anxiety linked to children and the general stresses linked to separation from children, family, and household.

The purpose of this study is to identify and describe effective strategies for Navy officer mothers to embrace a long-term deployment thus enabling the choice to remain in the armed forces and thereby increasing female officer retention. Human capital theory (Becker, 1962, 1993), diversity management theory (Thomas,1991), and social role theory (Eagly, 1987) form the theoretical framework explaining the importance of investing in people, effectively managing diversity and inclusion, and exploring gender roles and associated stresses respectively. This study utilized interpretative phenomenological analysis to reveal mothers’ experience of leaving a child due to a military deployment. Appreciative inquiry formed the basis of assembling positive perspectives and strategies. Analysis identified themes and strategies to be shared with Navy leadership in an effort to improve female officer retention. Findings revealed role issues for deploying military mothers, the importance of the child’s age in creating deployment success, and the criticality of support networks.