Glass Ceiling in Thailand’s Ministry of Defense: How Thai female soldiers overcome gender barriers in male dominant workplace (Chapter 4 Findings and Discussion)

เนื้อหางานวิจัยนี้ สงวนลิขสิทธิ์โดยผู้วิจัย Suthathip Sararith

Chapter 4 Findings and Discussion

4.1 Introduction

This section would reveal the findings from the data collection and discuss them with the literatures which had been previously stated in chapter 2. The findings could be related to literatures or required further literature supports, so the researcher would amplify the findings for better discussion and understandings.

4.2 Sample Characteristics

A total of 9 interviewees were conducted with female military officers in the Thai Army. Six of these female participants were in senior roles in Internal Audit, Military Expense Control, Finance and Bureau of Budget departments. Their positions were consisted of director, deputy-director and senior operators in two different army branches – Royal Thai Army and Thai Royal Navy. Therefore, their ranks were between Colonel to Senior Colonel. Their ages were from 47 to 54. The second group of participants was addressed as ‘Junior Soldiers’ and consisted of 3 officers. Their ages ranged were from 29 to 34. These 3 participants served in the military less than 5 years; therefore, their ranks were Sub Lieutenant to Lieutenant in Royal Thai Army and Thai Royal Navy. Their departments were Internal Audit and Finance.

According to the participants’ privacies and reputations, the aliases would be addressed instead of their actual names.

The senior military officers- 6 officers


Army branch Age Department Position Alias
Royal Thai Army 50 Internal Audit Director Participant 1
Thai Royal Navy 49 Military Expense Control Deputy-director Participant 2
Royal Thai Army 51 Internal Audit Senior Operator Participant 3
Thai Royal Navy 47 Finance Deputy-director Participant 4
Royal Thai Army 50 Finance Deputy-director Participant 5
Royal Thai Army 54 Bureau of Budget Senior Operator Participant 6


The junior officers – 3 officers

Army branch Age Department Alias
Royal Thai Army 29 Internal Audit Participant 7
Thai Royal Navy 34 Finance Participant 8
Royal Thai Army 29 Internal Audit Participant 9

Figure 3: Participants’ Information

4.3 Findings

The findings from the data collection would be categorized into sub headings for better understandings. These findings, along with discussions, would give the clearer vision of Thai Military in the comparison with international military welfares in United States, United Kingdom, Israel and South Korea. The following parts would be discussed in 5 aspects.

4.3.1 Women’s Roles in the Thai Military

According to the Literature on Glass Ceiling in military, women had performed the supporting roles and substitute roles to men, when the number of men became declined in every country. Nevertheless, after the sexual discrimination and Glass Ceiling had been widely debated in many working fields including the Military, women could be responsible to more tasks of the military such as commanding the frigate (U.K.), being the frontlines (U.S.A and Israel) and etc. H owever, in Asian countries, women were not accepted to perform masculine roles, due to Asian Culture and women’s roles. Due to Thai Culture and Belief literature, Thai woman needed to take care of her husband and be obedient to him. Generally, women would have lower status than men (Sarutta, 2002). Therefore, women could perform best as supporting roles at home and in workplace. This fact on Thai women’s roles was similar to women in South Korea, who shared similar cultural. Female soldiers in South Korea had difficulty in performing their duties equally as men. According to Participant 3, she revealed “Thailand has Asian custom, that women must be highly respected. Men need to be gentlemen. Therefore, I always teach my male subordinates to be polite to the female co-workers even though they are equal”. This quotation could imply the tradition of Thai society that men and women had equal rights, but women must be treated gently by men, which indicated that women still needed men’s protection and politeness.

On the other hand, female soldiers in Israel could perform the combat roles, which still excluded women in other countries even in high liberal country like United States. According to Sasson-Levy’s research (2003), she revealed some Israeli feminists argued about the genders discrimination of women was occurred due to exclusion policies in the military, which brought women in second citizen. Yet, American female soldiers could be sent to the combatives tournament, armed force assignments (like the war in Iraq) and etc. They had equal rights with the men, and the custom of U.S. army could be seen as ‘no gender’.  According to the Glass Ceiling in United States’ Military  literature, concerning American female soldiers, women in U.S. army had high strengths to complete with men, but they were restricted with ‘combat – exclusion policy’, which involved direct-combat fighting (Hemmerly – Brown, 2011). However, The U.S. Military Leadership Diversity Commission had suggested the U.S. Ministry of Defence to reconsider and abolish this exclusion policy; for the Ministry could recruit more capable soldiers.

The ambitious intention of the U.S. army in giving equal opportunity for women with men manifested the motivation of women soldiers in U.S. army that they had strong passion to serve their country’s welfare. Also, the elimination of exclusion policies in Israeli Military manifested the equal abilities of women to men. On the other hand, Thai female soldiers’ motivations indicated their needs of career stabilities, career benefits (health insurance, government fee deposits and etc) and parents’ approval. According to Participant 4, she revealed that her father advised her to work as a military officer instead of working at the Thai Chamber of Commerce, which she had already been accepted. Although she did not like the military career and cry every day, she believed her father had given her the right choice and suggestion to enroll her, ‘nepotism’, in the military. Parents’ approvals affected a person’s career selection. Participant 5 had described military work as “‘flowing’ like job”; because it had its steps and grew instantly and stably. There was no high competition in the office like public companies; for military officers would be promoted, primarily, due to their seniorities, then their working records and study backgrounds. However, military work was different from other government careers because it had ‘rank’ or ‘stars’, which supplemented the reputations and social power of the workers. Surprisingly, only one participant stated that her motivation in military work was the career challenge. Due to Participant 3, her father was the military student and her uncle was the Minister of Defence. Therefore, she derived her passion in military work as her family heritage and tradition. She stated that she found working in the military as a challenge for women in that period; for not so many women were accepted in the military, “I was interested in this kind of job. About 30 years ago, women worked in national bank and something like those jobs. However, few women were enrolled in the military. Therefore, I felt it was a challenge to become one”. This statement supported the Female Military officers’ recruitment in Thailand. After the first female military training in 1941 had been abolished in 1943, the ministry recruited women to the military again in 1953; for women might have proper educational backgrounds and qualities, which men were lack of.

4.3.2 Women Fulfillment to the Military

According to British Air Commodore Barbara Cooper (2011), she revealed that the mixed gender groups had improved the quality of working output. Therefore, the acceptance of female soldiers in United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence was higher with impressive percentage (UK MOD, 2009). Also, the South Korean military recruitment aimed to enlist more women into the military to fulfill the number of men. According to the participants, the majority of participants agreed that Thai women soldiers had more elaborated and meticulous qualities than men. Therefore, women could fulfill the assignment’s orderliness and work improvement. Due to participant 5, she said that the organization must “put the right person to the right job”. Similar to Participant 5, Participant 1 said that women owned the supporting roles because the men’s main parts were related to battle field, defending country, physical actions and war strategies. Then women supported the men with doctoring, nursing, financial management and etc. Another fulfillment that women could provide to the military was better environment creativity.  According to participant 6, she said that women could “perhaps make the better atmosphere”. The atmosphere in this context should imply that women could bring diversity and feminine quality into the office such as office decoration, catering for meeting and office party. Female characteristic could bring pleasant feeling to the workplace. She thought that everyone was the same and if they had the ability to perform works, then they could fulfill the overall organization. Gender seemed to be mild factor to her.

Comparing the Thai participants’ answers with other countries’ contexts like United States, United Kingdom and Israel, the answers manifested that Thai Ministry of Defence needed women to fulfill more efficient supporting roles not the physical strength assignments like in combat or commanding the troop, where the first British soldier could command the frigate in April 2012 (Bolshaw, 2011).

4.3.3 Sexual Discrimination

Due to United Kingdom’s Institute of Race Relations (2011), discrimination had divided into two ways. The direct one was the external factors like colors, races, genders. The indirect one was the practices, which put others at a disadvantage. Therefore, discrimination could convey to sexual harassment and mental insult. The gender discrimination in Thai Ministry of Defence, according to the participants, was none. The participants did not encounter with any discrimination related to their races, genders and sexual violation, while in U.S. Army, sexual harassment violation between female and male soldiers had been addressed (Rosen and Martin, 1998). Therefore, women in Thai Military were not oppressed by the sexual violation, which was serious crime in Thailand and against the Thailand’s law on equity.

Due to the studies on participants’ difficulties in male dominant workplace, the participants had not stated their difficulties in the subject of sexual violation and unequal treatment. According to Participant 3, she spoke about gender barrier as her obstacle in her early years. Also, she was the only participant who used to work in ‘Royal Thai Headquarters’ (RTA Headquarters), formerly ‘Supreme Command Headquarters’. According to The Royal Thai Army structures (2011), the RTA Headquarters was included in command component, which was different from supporting components like accounting, internal audit and medical department. Therefore, women were not highly selected. She revealed that she was in charge of weapons and spare parts trade with countries such as Singapore. However, she said that she could not join all the department activities such as weapons transportation or know the completed information in her assignment because of the ‘Layers of Secret’. She explained that her gender allowed her to percept the outer layers of the secret or information, but men would be allowed to know more and enter the deeper layers of the secret. Nevertheless, she thought it was not the big issue during that time; for her rank was still a Lieutenant, ‘I didn’t think it was big obstacle…because I was still young and those secrets did not affect my main work’. The rest of the participants explained their difficulties were occurred from ‘Military Disciplines’. The military disciplines were consisted of behaviour customs, formal greeting to other soldiers and uniform dressing. All participants stated that they needed to adjust to military discipline, which was vastly different from private companies and other government offices. According to Participant 5, she revealed that military officers needed to greet with formal pose such as standing up straight and saluting. It was difficult for her. Like Participant 5, some other participants felt uncomfortable with the military discipline. According to Directorate of Personnel’s Female Soldier Uniform regulations (2001), stated that female officers had made inappropriate hairstyles and could not adjust the right angle of their hats. Therefore, the ministry needed to enforce the regulations to serve these blunders. The Directorate of Personnel also focused on female officers’ uniforms (such as the length of skirt and the size of the shirt), hairstyles (the female officers must not let their hair down and hide the star-rank on their shoulders and etc.) and ornaments. In the private companies and other government offices, these regulations were not existed. Although, specific regulation was addressed to women, men in military had their own regulations concerning their uniform and other disciplines as well. Therefore, there was no discrimination in Thai Military Disciplines either.

Moreover, the studies on junior participants showed that they did not feel intense from working in male dominant workplace. Participant 8 stated about the difficulty to work with male subordinates. She said her responsibility in the department was involving with IT and computer operations. Therefore, the number of men was much higher than women. According to this, her male subordinates would disobey or linger to implement her orders. The disobedience of male subordinates could occur due to Participant 8’s rank. Nevertheless, According to Participant 5, she stated that the military disciplines would control all soldiers’ behaviours. Therefore, if any soldiers violated the military disciplines, they would be punished. The other 2 junior participants found no problems to work in male dominant workplace. According to Participant 7, she preferred working under male power because men seemed stronger and tolerant. Thus, she felt more secure and stable under the male shadow. She clarified that women generally had ‘softer’ characteristic; therefore, if women had to deal or negotiate works with outside organizations, they could perhaps unable to defend or protect the benefits of the works as much as men. On the other hand, male stereotype could empower on negotiation, so they could perform better in dealing work with outside organizations.

4.3.4 Glass Ceiling

Glass Ceiling was the well-known term to describe the invisible ceiling which prevented women to have career advancement same as men even though the equal rights had been stated, women still encountered with this invisible, but existing, barrier.

Due to the ‘Glass Ceiling in Military’ literature, U.S. female soldiers tried to break the glass ceiling. They participated in military male competitions, all-male troops and war. They even asked the Ministry to abolish the ‘exclusion policies’, which barred women from doing the same tasks with men.  Also, United Kingdom Ministry of Defence had allowed the first woman, Lieutenant Commander Sarah West, to command a type-32 frigate (Bolshaw, 2011). Most interestingly, Israeli Military had passed the on exclusion policies determination. These countries showed that women could have the equal abilities with men. Therefore, women should be given more opportunities to express their potentials. On the contrary, female soldiers in Thai Military did not have this kind of ambition. They seemed to satisfy with their roles in the military because their motivations were consisting of career securities and career benefits. Also, these female participants accepted the Ministry’s facts that all the major positions like Director- General up to Minister would be belong military students, who were all men.

5 participants stated clearly that there was Glass Ceiling in Ministry of Defence. According to Participant 2, she gave the example of ‘Lieutenant General’ promotion. Women could reach to lieutenant general only if they had chosen ‘early retirement’ while men could reach higher without early retirement. Also, participant 6 expressed a very interesting point of military recruitment on university graduated and military school graduated. She explained that men from military school would be leaders by their rights and background studies. On the contrary, university graduated could reach to just certain level and women were not accepted in military school. 2 participants said there was a little Glass Ceiling for they thought it had been decreasing from the past. Participant 8 said she had seen more female leaders in the organization, which manifested the better career opportunity to women. The last 2 participants revealed they did not percept Glass Ceiling at all. Participant 6 said the promotion came from each person’s ability and the higher authorities (chiefs and leaders), “if the leaders think this person is fitted to the higher rank, they will promote that person. I think there is no glass ceiling. It’s all about personal capability”.

4.3.5    Leadership

The Leadership findings from the participants and the findings from the ‘Glass Ceiling in Military’ literature might be contradict and different, due to the participants’ working responsibilities. The participants were in charge of military supporting departments, which did not require physical strength or combat skills to perform their assignments. Nevertheless, the leadership styles of these participants could be defined with Kurt Lewin’s theory.


According to Kurt Lewin (1939), leadership was divided into 3 styles. It seemed that the senior officers were mainly fitted into ‘authoritarian’ or ‘autocratic’ type, and only one participant was fitted into ‘participative’ or ‘democratic style. This was against Eagly and Johnson’s conclusion (1990) that women were more democratic. However, the military working style could be variable; for the subordinates should do what they had been told and the decisions should belong to the leaders; however, the leaders must be fair with the subordinates.

  1. Autocratic Leaders

The participants who were fitted in autocratic leader type had mentioned about giving exact orders and making decisive decisions; however they were not despotism. According to participant 4, she explained that confidence was important for her to govern her subordinates. If she had not studied the assignments or understood enough information, she would not want to participate in the meeting or order her subordinates to work. Therefore, she must study and know the exact information on her assignments to gain confidence. Then she could perform her leadership skill. Like participant 4, participant 1 also implied about confidence in decision making and solving unexpected problems. Nevertheless, she added the matter of responsibility and power management, which were important to perform her leader role. She stated that good leader should “have power to command the subordinates to follow the instructions”, be responsible and give the exact orders. Participant 1’s answer implication argued Kanter’s theory (1977) and Heilman’s (1995) that women could not perform leadership role properly; they were restricted to ‘nurturing’ and humble in asking for cooperation.



B.      Democratic Leaders

The only participant who showed the obvious quality as democratic leader was participant 3. She explained the nature of military relationship between leader and subordinates as ‘TOP-DOWN’ system [the hierarchy of organization which the leader has the absolute power and right to command subordinates]. However, she tried to create the ‘team-working’ atmosphere which she encouraged her subordinates to express their opinions. She added that her department was not in the ‘main commanding line’ [the main commanding line was consisted of command component like RTA Headquarter, battle field strategy departments and etc.], “Those main soldiers are together in the battlefield. They fight with each other till their deaths. However supporting soldiers like us (Admin) have different hierarchy and leadership style; therefore, supporting soldiers like us could give more opportunity to subordinate to express their ideas”.

Nevertheless, an interesting finding had been discovered. One of the participants stated that she used ‘Buddhism’ in performing leadership. According to Participant 2, she stated that fairness, virtue and morality were important to perform and gain her leadership skill. She also used the 5 commandments [the basic rules which Buddhist must follow – not killing, not lying, not stealing, not drinking alcohol and not committing adultery] to establish her leadership skill and perform her leadership role. Buddhism was Thailand’s main religion; therefore, if the leader could hold on to Buddhism teaching such as the 5 commandments, the leader would be considered as efficient leader to Thai Buddhist and Thai society.


4.4          Conclusion

The data presented in this chapter showed that the findings could be explained along with the literatures. However, the data had provided contradict issues and new finding to the dissertation as well. For instance, the ‘Leadership’ literature, which had been accepted in world-wide especially in western world like Kurt Lewin’s theory, could not explain the aspect of Buddhism Leadership approach. Also, the women qualities which affected leadership in women theories had been questioned after doing interviews with the Thai participants. Thai women in military encountered with Glass Ceiling, due to rank promotion and masculine tasks responsibilities, yet these participants showed their assertive leadership styles in their specific professions. However, this would be further referred in the later chapter in this dissertation.

More Chapters :

Chapter 1: Introduction
Chapter 2: Literature Review
Chapter 3: Methodology
Chapter 4 Findings and Discussion
Chapter 5: Conclusion