Researcher Discusses Gender Integration in Military at Belfer Center

Assigning male and female soldiers to the same rooms makes it more likely that male soldiers will view female soldiers as equals, Dr. Andreas Kotsadam argued at the first installment of the Gender and Security Seminar Series at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs on Friday.

Kotsadam, a senior researcher at The Frisch Centre in Oslo, Norway, conducted social experiments on the effects of shared living spaces during boot camp in the Norwegian military, randomly assigning male soldiers to share rooms with female soldiers during military training. The causal effects, he explained, were measured by a mandatory survey which was given out two times: once before boot camp, and once afterwards.

“We found that living and working with women causes men to adopt more egalitarian attitudes,” Kotsadam said.

When male soldiers shared a room with a female soldier, he said, they were more likely to select a female candidate as a troop leader, and less likely to hold negative perceptions about female soldiers’ capabilities.

This research comes in light of Norway’s extension of compulsory military service to women. Previously, only men were required to join the military, but following a policy change in 2013, women can now be drafted as well.

According to Kotsadam, his findings contradict some politicians’ arguments that men will simply leave the military if women join.

“We see that [men] are extremely happy with bootcamp…and it’s no different when they have a female on the team,” Kotsadam said.

Kotsadam, who said he was especially politically active during his “younger days,” has always been curious about gender issues and views academic research as a way to make progress towards gender equality.

“I hope that this research is showing that it is obviously possible to… causally change attitudes,” Kotsadam said. “I hope that this will affect other researchers who test that in other settings, so that we know how and when this works, and that we, in the end, can change society for the better.”

The Gender and Security Seminar Series was coordinated by Dara K. Cohen, an assistant professor of public policy at the Kennedy School whose work centers on international relations, gender, and political violence.

Cohen reflected on the need for female leadership in male-dominated settings: “I hope we are at the cusp of a big social change where we see more diversity at the highest level.”

The next speaker in the series is Ashton B. Carter, former Secretary of Defense and current director of the Belfer Center, under whom the U.S. military mandated all combat positions be open to women.

This will be the second event in the semester-long series, which is open to the public.

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