Should I stay or should I go? The determinants of retention of female personnel in the Swedish Armed Forces

Led by Louise Olsson
Jan 2020 - Dec 2023

​The Swedish Armed Forces opened all positions, including combat, for women in 1989 and is one of the few militaries in the world to introduce gender-neutral mandatory conscription. 

Despite increasing organizational efforts and political pressure to increase numbers of female personnel, however, women remain vastly underrepresented. In addition, the Swedish Armed Forces are confronted with high levels of reported discrimination. In light of female under-representation and discrimination, it is perhaps surprising that the majority of women who decide to join the armed forces also often choose to stay in military ranks. To address this puzzling phenomenon, this project asks what determines the retention of female personnel in the Swedish Armed Forces? An improved understanding of what drives women’s decision to leave or stay with the armed forces is pertinent to national and international actors. Currently, questions of women’s retention in the security sector are debated on the national level, as in Norway, Sweden, and Canada, as well as in international organizations, including NATO, the EU, and the UN.

The project is a collaboration between PRIO, the Department of Peace and Conflict Research at Uppsala Unviersity, and the Swedish Defence University, led by Chiara Ruffa and researchers Erik Melander, Sara Lindberg Bromley, and Robert Egnell.​

The project proceeds in three stages. First, it builds on insights from military sociology, gender research, and organizational theory, to identify organizational-level factors that facilitate or hinder women’s retention. These include well-being, career development and gender equality measures. Second, the project explores group-level factors related to cohesion and socialization. Third, the project explores the role of individual-level factors related to masculinized professional ideals.

Through its refined multi-method research design the project provides both a theoretical and empirical contribution. The project aims to generate new theory explaining retention of women in male-dominated fields by combining insights from gender and organizational theory with often gender-blind military sociology explanations. Second, the project contributes empirically with the collection and analysis of novel qualitative and quantitative data.


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