Top 5 Tips On How Women Veterans Can Persevere From The Military To The Workforce
by Asha Castleberry
According to Department of Labor, the unemployment rate for women veterans continues to drop. Evidently, more women veterans are entering and persevering in the workforce. Programs geared towards post-911 female veterans have been instrumental in helping them transition into new jobs and stay off the streets. Women veterans are the fastest growing group in the veteran community, according to a recent Pew Center article,: Yet, “by 2045, the share of female veterans is expected to double to 18%.”Based on these findings, it is predicted that more female veterans will be entering into the workforce than ever before.
Although there is a plummeting unemployment rate and a growing number of female veterans entering the workforce, this should not blind us to the existing challenges that women veterans encounter. Women veterans face double the discrimination: they are minorities among the veteran population and the working women population. It is common for their service to go unrecognized and for them to confront gender-based stereotypes. Let's be honest, when civilians think of a veteran, the first picture that pops into their mind is an Alpha male with muscles and a bald head or an older male with a Vietnam cap.
Kayla Williams, former Director of the Veteran Affairs Center for Women Veterans, stated that “Women veterans face the same challenges that men transitioning from the military to the civilian workforce do, such as difficulties translating military-specific skills and terminology into a civilian framework, confusion about the leadership role noncommissioned officers play, and overblown concerns about post-traumatic stress disorder. Also, we face the same barriers other women do, including a well-documented wage gap and greater likelihood that we must balance career goals with caregiving responsibilities. In addition, as women coming out of a stereotypically and predominantly male institution, we are somewhat invisible; disclosing our service is unexpected and can be confounding to those who no longer know what tidy category to box us into. “
Transitioning to the workforce can be the most challenging experience for women veterans. According to the Center for New American Security Report, Battlefield to Boardroom: Women’s Leadership in the Military and the Private Sector, some of the top challenges include parenthood and career flexibility, workplace climate and compensation, and job and promotion negotiations.
For women service-members who are coming out of the military, it is important to know these five tips on how to persevere in the workforce:
1. No matter what, always value your military experiences and skill-sets.
Women veterans should be proud of their military skill-sets. Your unique skill-sets include problem-solving, teamwork, high-confidence leadership, and experiences abroad coupled with a wealth of knowledge. In addition, women veterans tend to have higher managerial skills and higher education than women civilians. Integrating your skill-sets may become frustrating, but do not allow this to discourage you. Use these rare talents as leverage in the civilian workforce.
Women veterans have been trained to maintain the same expectations as male service-members. U.S. Ambassador, Bonnie Jenkins, a U.S. Navy Veteran noted that, “One of the things we learn as women is that we can meet the demands of the military and the life in the military as well as the men who serve with us. I spent three weeks in South Korea preparing for and being engaged in one of the US-South Korea large military exercises. While we did not share a tent with the males, women were required to sleep in tents, do 12-hour shifts, meet the requirements of the job just as our male counterparts. The same is true of my three weeks on an aircraft carrier where I did 12-hour shifts and was promoted to working directly with Navy pilots conducting training missions.”
2. Seek companies that authentically appreciate veterans.
Being recruited by companies that demonstrate a strong record in recruitment and retention is vital for success. The best approach is seeking positive feedback from a fellow female veteran or going online to websites such as militaryfriendly.com or Forbes’s list of Top Military Friendly Employers. These companies often have programs that help veterans adjust to their new careers and resources such as peer mentors and professional development classes that make the transition easier.
3. Always network in both veteran and non-veteran networks.
Women veterans must aggressively build a new network. I suggest networking in both the veteran and non-veteran community. Within the non-veteran community, make sure to build your network within your company. This will pay off for promotion and retention. Also, use your social media accounts like LinkedIn to build professional connections. I would consider finding at least two mentors: a veteran and non-veteran woman. You want to learn about both of their experiences in the private sector as they can vary and provide helpful ways of cultivating your understanding of the workforce.
4. Familiarize yourself with company policies and assistance programs.
Before joining a company, you should do research online and take part in in-person meetings. Learn about the companies record on pay, promotions and parental leave, using helpful websites like Glassdoor.com. In addition, find out if the company has an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), which provides services to overcome workplace challenges.
5. Consider launching a startup with another female veteran.
Women veterans should consider launching a startup or a new business especially if they are struggling to find a right fit in the workforce. Because our military experiences are so different, it is extremely hard to adapt to the civilian workforce. So, a startup where you get to make your own schedule and be your own boss can be beneficial. Besides, the workforce needs more female veteran business owners. Male veterans outpace women veterans in business ownership and in the nonprofit world.
The transition of women veterans from the military into the civilian workforce will undoubtedly continue. Women veterans must have the right tools to be prepared, the opportunity to utilize the necessary programs, and most importantly, showcase their skill-sets to demonstrate their potential. Also, networking with other female veterans as well as accomplished peers in the civilian workforce will help minimize the stress levels and awkward transitions.
It is imperative for women veterans to remain tenacious and focused during the transition from the military to the workforce. Utilizing these five tips will help overcome challenges and become successful.
Asha Castleberry: “I am a national security and foreign policy expert. I publish material about defense policy, national security, and veteran affairs. I am a university professor teaching international politics, international political economy, U.S. foreign policy and United Nations Peacekeeping. I am also a combat veteran that served in Iraq, Kuwait and Jordan. You can follow me at @ashacastleberry.”