How the Veterans Transition Research Initiative contributes to a successful Veteran transition

Upon leaving the military, Veterans face unique challenges in transitioning to the civilian workforce. Based at the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University, the Veteran Transitions Research Initiative (VTRI) conducts research that can help inform initiatives focused on improving the transition of veterans to the workforce. VTRI’s work has received national attention and participation from Microsoft, Amazon, Call of Duty Endowment, LinkedIn, and several US universities.

Aaron C. Kay, J Rex Fuqua professor of international management at the Duke Fuqua School of Business, Sean Kelley, Duke Fuqua School of Business Faculty in Residence and David Sherman, professor of social psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB ), co-leads VRTI’s research efforts, focused on issues related to hiring and veteran biases. With her experience in the US Navy, Kelley was motivated to break down barriers for her fellow veterans entering the civilian workforce.

In honor of Veterans Day and the important work VTRI does for veterans, Kay answered five questions about her research on veteran hiring and prejudice:

What initially prompted you to seek out hiring and the prejudices of veterans?

I have always studied the problems of discrimination, stereotypes and inequalities from the point of view of social psychology. Much of my work has examined these issues in the context of gender and also socio-economic status. Sean Kelley had been interested in my research on how wording choices in job postings can contribute to gender inequality in the candidate pool.

A few years later, he contacted me to ask me what type of similar work exists on the psychological processes that affect the way people treat military veterans in the workplace. Listening to Sean, it became clear to me that this is a real social justice issue that needs special attention. A post-doctoral student I was working with at the time, Steven Shepherd, and I started researching some of the ways people might unwittingly stereotype veterans. This research led to a publication showing that people view veterans as perfect candidates for jobs that require a lot of work, but less suited for jobs that require feelings and relationships with others. And we were running.

What is one example of a unique challenge veterans face as they transition to a civilian career?

I tend to think of this more in terms of the barriers veterans face than other non-veterans. The most egregious are the stereotypes or preconceptions people have about military veterans. And, in particular, the beliefs they have about veterans which, while perhaps positive and seemingly complementary, are nonetheless stereotypes. When an average hirer or manager learns that a candidate or employee is a veteran, what immediately comes to mind about their strengths? What do they assume (or assume) about that person’s motivations, interests and talents and, more importantly, how do those assumptions affect the jobs they assign them to and where they are channeled? People tend to feel that negative beliefs are “stereotypes” and therefore at least try to regulate them. But they’re often unaware of how restrictive their positive or flattering preconceptions about a group can also be, which, ironically, can make them even more problematic. Much of our research examines what these positive stereotypes look like and what effects they have on employment outcomes.

What prompted you to launch the Veterans Transitions Research Initiative and what are your plans for the future of the initiative?

There are a lot of people doing important and wonderful research on the psychological and social issues associated with veteran transitions. But the topic is not common among researchers – like myself – who typically study social justice, social inequalities, discrimination and stereotypes. The aim of VTRI is to inspire more people to address this question in their research.

We – VTRI, although located in Duke, is co-led with David Sherman, social psychologist at UCSB and Sean Kelley, executive in residence at Fuqua – believe more minds are needed, and VTRI is looking to encourage more researchers in the social sciences, particularly in psychology and organizational behavior, to integrate this population of military veterans and more generally this issue (veteran transitions) into their research programs, and to test and develop their theories in this regard. specific context. We strive to publish highly visible work that highlights this point, and to bring together people – researchers with extensive experience working with veterans as well as industry partners – to learn from each other and inspire each other.

How can employers better support their veteran and military employees?

One way to approach this is to look for other examples of programmatic research on transitions that have been successful in experimentally testing and implementing large-scale interventions, for example, through integration efforts with students from across the country. various backgrounds entering the university. They found that messages focused on how challenges – like feeling out of place – are common, widely experienced, but improve over time can help students succeed in the new environment, especially when there are other aspects of the institution that are committed to the success of all students.

Are there ways the federal government can support your research or benefit from the results of this research?

We gave a lecture on our research at the Defense Ministry’s Military-Civilian Transition Research Forum. It was a great experience as the forum brings together researchers from different disciplines – social psychology, industrial and organizational psychology, military psychology – as well as representatives of government organizations and veterans. This forum would appear to be an excellent arena for the federal government to directly support and stimulate relevant research through funding grants.

By Saralyn Carcy, 11/10/21

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