Date of Award


Degree Name

PhD Leadership Studies

Dissertation Committee

Hans Peter Schmitz, PhD, Chairperson; Robert Donmoyer, PhD, Committee Member; Antonio Jimenez-Luque, PhD, Committee Member


microaggressions, microaggression research program, MRP, military leadership, United States Marine Corps leadership, USMC, unconscious bias, document analysis


This dissertation employed a document analysis format to examine Marine Corps leadership education doctrine for microaggressions. The United States Marine Corps (Marine Corps or USMC) is the military service with the least diverse officer cadre in terms of sex, gender identity, and race. The study results show a pattern of repeating unconscious bias-related content within the Marine Corps’ documents. Such patterns can negatively affect minority members in terms of their health, acceptance, and performance within the organization. The results also document an overriding bias-culture which puts Marine Corps leadership in a dilemma of trying to encourage conformity to traditional organizational cultural identity while embracing a new future of a more diverse and flexible workforce. This “Conformity/Diversity Conflict Dilemma (CDCD)” is likely to also exist in other organizational contexts.

CDCD, Macro Context: The Marine Corps’ warfighting philosophy endorses Maneuver Warfare which relies upon a decentralized command structure with subordinates free to act under guidance given by a Commander’s Intent mission statement. Subordinates require implicit understanding of the commander’s intent statement to ensure unity of effort, but because the Marine Corps is also now encouraging diversity of thought and the recruiting and retaining of a more diverse workforce, the likelihood that implicit understanding of a commander’s intent is achievable decreases under the current leadership paradigm.

CDCD, Micro Findings: Five of twelve microaggression-related themes appear more often in the publications: colorblindness racism, denial of individual bias, bias against non-male gender and non-traditional gender expression, sustaining inequality with a myth of meritocracy, and pathologizing dominant historical white male cultural values in the name of organizational harmony. The themes are present in both words and by omission when authors deny diversity by using a one-size-fits-all approach to culture-building.

Recommendations: The USMC should update publications to reflect a way of writing Commander’s Intent and using decentralized leadership which harnesses diversity of thought, communications styles, and ways of cultural knowledge rather than encouraging conformity to a singular mindset to achieve success. The publications should remove biased language including bias by omission or negation. Education efforts focused on eliminating unconscious bias and microaggressions must continue and become normalized.

Document Type

Dissertation: Open Access


Leadership Studies