Date of Conferral





Public Policy and Administration


Cassandra Caldwell


There is a lack of African American representation in the Department of Defense's (DoD's) Senior Executive Service (SES) Corps. In 2011, only 11.4% of the DoD's SES members were African American. This disparate representation is problematic because it contradicts the creation of a diverse workforce, which in turn limits opportunities for African Americans to join the elite DoD SES Corps. The purpose of this phenomenological study was to explore the perceptions of 9 African American SES members in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Defense Agencies, and Defense Field Activities to determine factors contributing to their promotions into the SES Corps. The theoretical framework for this study included Burns and Bass conceptualization of transformational leadership, as well as the social learning theories of Bandura and Vygotsky. A snowball sampling technique was used to recruit the participants for face-to-face or telephone interviews. The interview questions focused on the attributes participants perceived as influencing their career progression into the SES. Upon transcribing interview data, an open coding process was used to categorize information collected followed by thematic analysis to facilitate further understanding. Findings indicate that professional qualities such as the ability to perform core executive functions, training, and education contributed to their SES progression. Furthermore, transformational leadership was perceived as being important in SES service. The implications for positive social change stemming from this study include direct recommendations to DoD human resource directors to capitalize on current African American leaders to serve as mentors to emerging leaders in a way that is consistent with transformational leadership.