Editor’s Note: J. Michael Haynie is executive director of the Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) at Syracuse University and vice chancellor for Strategic Initiatives and Innovation at Syracuse University. Maureen Casey is chief operating officer for the Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) at Syracuse University. The opinions expressed in this commentary are their own.
Transitioning from military to civilian life can be daunting for those who have served in uniform. But military women, especially, face unique obstacles during this transition.
Research suggests it takes female veterans three months longer than male veterans to secure employment after leaving the military. And once they land jobs they earn, on average, 30% less than their male counterparts.
These disparities are unacceptable and threaten the future foundation of our nation’s military.
This is because today, women represent the fastest-growing segment of the military-connected population. Since the advent of the all-volunteer force in 1973, the percent of women serving has almost doubled from 10% to over 18%. More than 370,000 women currently serve in uniform, and more than 2 million women have served since 9/11.
Sustaining a robust and effective military requires that we ensure women have access to resources and support when they take off the uniform. This means broad access to educational opportunities, specialized medical care and tailored vocational training aligned with employers’ needs.
Given the increasing burden our military women shoulder in defense of the nation, they deserve more than we have given them. Fortunately, research and practical experience suggest several actions we can take to better support women veterans navigating the transition from military service to civilian jobs and careers.
Emphasize the professional value of military experience
Many hiring teams unfortunately don’t understand that military experience instills invaluable skills in veterans. For instance, many female veterans possess high-tech experience, providing them with a solid pathway into STEM careers, such as mathematics, computer science, information technology, and engineering. Additionally, the military develops soft skills, such as leadership, teamwork and a sense of service which translate well into business, health care and civic engagement.
Past research shows veterans remain in their first civilian jobs for longer when the job requirements allow them to utilize their military experience, but perhaps more importantly, when the position provides the employee with the same sense of accomplishment, cultural fit and impact they had when serving.
Training programs, such as Onward to Opportunity (O2O), provide not only civilian career preparation by providing in-demand professional certifications but also teach the veterans the skills needed to translate their experience into a corporate culture. Offered at military bases as well as online to meet the flexible schedule needs of many female veterans, O2O provides an impactful employment pipeline to companies adept at military-civiilan cultural fit.
Build flexible work schedules
Many women in the military have a dual role while serving — many are also a military spouse or a mother. As a result, female veterans may have additional caregiving responsibilities (for children, aging parents or veteran spouses) that do not allow for a traditional work schedule. Female veterans are five times more likely than male veterans to cite “lack of childcare” as a major stressor during their time in the military. And a majority of women veterans report leaving the military to provide more stability for their families.
While these caregiving responsibilities make it difficult to secure traditional employment, women veterans are ideally suited to work remotely and with flexible schedules. Given that women veterans bring military skills such as self-discipline, adaptability, management and leadership skills, American employers can benefit greatly from designing work schedules that leverage the strengths of our women veterans while getting the job done well.
Offer training sessions to help staff better understand veteran workers
Veterans often bring unique perspectives and experiences to the workplace compared to those of their civilan counterparts. However, they may also struggle to navigate the corporate environment. Female veterans frequently have to debunk myths about their service, like the assumption that women do not deploy to war zones or experience combat. Sometimes these misconceptions create impressions that a woman’s service is different or inferior to the service of a man’s. Addressing this cultural gap is critical to maximizing women veterans’ — or any veteran’s — productivity in the workplace.
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Veteran-specific cultural competency training can give coworkers and managers a better understanding of military service and skills, and how those skills provide value.
Support women veteran entrepreneurs
Small business ownership is a primary driver of American economic growth and job creation. Given the flexibility it offers and the skills required to be successful, entrepreneurship is highly attractive for women veterans. Ensuring entrepreneurial resources are available to female veterans can have a tremendous impact on their financial well-being. For example, the IVMF’s V-WISE program, provides real-world small business training tailored to women veterans and military-connected families. Over 3,000 women have graduated from V-WISE, 65% of whom have started their own business in a wide variety of industries, including an engineering firm with $30 million in revenue and a renewable energy construction company grossing over $1 million. Of V-WISE businesses, over 90% are still in operation today.
Our nation must ensure we live up to our commitments to our veterans, just as they have done for the country they served. That commitment requires a greater focus on understanding and meeting the needs of our growing population of women veterans. As the demographics of military service change, so too must workforce strategies, educational resources, care systems and communities.