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Joining Forces for Women Veterans: Employment and Careers

Posted by sherrysaunders on October 29, 2010

Employment and Careers
Issue Brief

Women veterans are a growing and important part of the U.S. Labor Force. In 1980 there were 1.1 million women veterans; by 2008, there were 1.8 million and by 2020, there will be an estimated 1.9 million women veterans, 10 % of the veteran population. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) reports that more than 150,000 women will be transitioning out of the military over the next few years. Many of these women will be disabled, and will be seeking jobs that capitalize on their skills and talents beyond their disabilities.

Women have achieved great success in the military with opportunities to advance and hold high-ranking positions. However, women veterans often find it difficult to leverage their military skills into meaningful civilian careers. Aside from the difficulties of the current economy, women veterans often encounter inconsistent or inaccessible transition resources, misperceptions by employers and co-workers about their skills as well as work readiness and readjustment challenges.

We can no longer afford to ignore the potential that this highly skilled group of working women can contribute to the U.S. economy as employees and employers.

Recruiting women veterans is smart business. The military has expended extensive resources to train them to be the most skilled, efficient, inventive, disciplined and adaptable employees. General David Petraeus explained the appeal of hiring veterans best when he said, “Tell me anywhere in the business world where a 22- or 23-year-old is responsible for 35 or 40 individuals on missions that involve life and death. Their tactical actions can have strategic implications for the overall mission.” Women in the military are leaders, managers and team members, right along side of their male counterparts. Add to this that 95 percent of military jobs are open to women and the advantages of hiring women veterans are obvious.

Investing in women veterans as entrepreneurs is smart economics. Veteran-owned businesses account for 14% of U.S. small businesses. Data is not readily available on the number of businesses owned by women veterans. What we know, however, is that women in the military possess an enterprenuerial mindset, are proactive and goal oriented; and they get the job done using resources effectively. Women veterans have experience making decisions in the face of significant ambiguity and uncertainty. They understand the importance of having an alternate plan and they are willing and able to adapt. These traits align with key characteristics of successful business owners. Given the importance of small businesses to the U.S. economy – accounting for 50% of all non-farm gross domestic product and 99.7% of employer firms – women veterans as a potential entrepreneurial force should not be overlooked. New research, programs and policies should aim to increase the participation of women veterans as entrepreneurs as well as improve vertical linkages for existing women veteran-owned businesses.

The wealth of training and experience women veterans bring to the civilian workplace as potential employees and employers is under-utilized when women’s unique transition needs are ignored. They return from the military with multiple issues facing them as family caregivers, single breadwinners and often scars and challenges from their military service. Given the growing economic importance of women veterans as a population, it is time for public agencies and private companies to share the risks and rewards of supporting women veterans. BPW Foundation sees solutions through the strength of public private partnerships, political will and leadership commitments.

Factors That Ease the Transition Process
BPW Foundations’ 2007 research study of more than 1,600 women veterans and their career transitions found that various individual attributes influence the ease with which women veterans transition back into the civilian workplace. Key characteristics include education level, marital status and presence of dependents. Having a college degree, for example, was positively correlated with finding a job sooner as well as finding the right job. The BPW Foundation study also explored contributing factors for successful re-entry into the civilian labor force. The two categories of factors – perceptions and beliefs and practices – are described below.

How to Support Women Veterans
Supporting women veterans requires a multi-pronged approach including research activities, employment transition programs, employer practices and policies.

>>>>Research >>>>Transition Programs
Opportunities for additional research include studies that explore:

  • Gender-based constraints to women veterans’ transition back into the civilian labor force
  • Success stories and lessons learned at the organizational and individual level on how to support successful career transition and adjustment.
  • Challenges and impact on women veterans  of resuming a caregiver role when returning home, and supports needed
  • Impact of access to business and professional networks in facilitating women veterans’ job search and adjustment process
  • Characteristics of women veteran-owned businesses
  • Career transition assistance  to include skill assessments and  understanding how to transfer military skills to civilian careers
  •  Awareness, resource referrals and training for entrepreneurship exploration and opportunities
  • Linkages and networking opportunities for women veterans through the VA or community based sources
  • Community college and other training program access and guidance for women veterans including social network or onsite opportunities
  • One stop transition services through partnerships for housing, employment, health, family and community reintegration
>>>>Policies >>>>Employer Practices
  • Adequate housing for women veterans to stabilize their lives and enable effective job search and work commitments
  • Ensuring  women veterans are aware of and have access to Veterans benefits in a timely fashion
  • Respite/transition period for women veterans as they separate from the military before they must re-enter the civilian workforce
  • Expand funding and support for women veterans pursuing entrepreneurial opportunities
  • Incentives for federal, state and local public private partnerships to assist women veterans in transition and reintegration
  • Utilize job boards and job fairs targeted to women veteran audience
  • Ensure that recruiters are knowledgeable about transferable skills and transition challenges to target efforts accordingly
  • Develop hiring campaigns targeted at women veterans
  • Monitor and evaluate employee women veteran statistics
  • Train human resource professionals to be advocates as needed  in assuring women veterans  receive their entitled VA benefits
  • Develop career transition assistance targeted at women veterans (e.g. apprenticeship, internship, or leadership training programs)
  • Implement mentorship activities
  • Develop business and professional networks or resource groups for women veterans
  • Provide flexible scheduling
  • Use women veteran-owned businesses as preferred vendors
  • Ensure practices fully support women veterans and their unique needs and challenges

Promising Practices

Ideas on how to create successful workplaces, one practice at a time

Business and Professional Women’s Foundation, Women Veterans in Transition Research Project Business and Professional Women’s (BPW) Foundation is committed to increasing awareness of the transition challenges women veterans face as they return home to their careers, lives and families. In 2007, BPW Foundation conducted a national study on women veterans that included an online survey, focus groups and in-depth interviews. The goal was to hear from women veterans themselves. The pilot study resulted in public discussions about the creation of programs and services that work for women veterans and their employers throughout the entire transition process. Further research, both BPW Foundation’s and others, is confirming our findings that the successful reintegration of women veterans calls for a tri partite response– from government and the private and non profit sectors– to provide evidenced- based solutions to reintegration needs.
GE, Junior Officer Leadership ProgramIn 1996, GE launched the Junior Officer Leadership Program (JOLP). The two-year program attracts more than 1,000 applicants each year for just 15 to 20 spots. Women veterans currently comprise approximately 12% of program participants. The program allows participants to work in three 8-month rotations in any functional area of their choosing. What’s more JOLP offers participants flexibility to choose where, when and how they work. The program is designed to help veterans gain experience in corporate America without having to forfeit their other life goals and responsibilities. GE has reaped the benefit of attracting highly qualified candidates who because of their service are not only disciplined and experienced, but also possess a strong work ethic and orientation toward problem resolution. What’s more, JOLP has the highest retention rate of all GE Leadership Programs. At the five year mark, 86% of JOLP participants are still with GE.After 14 years of implementation and 250 participants, GE offers these tips to employers interested in developing their own Junior Officer Leadership Program.1. Support. Top executive support is essential. If the CEO does not announce his or her support for the program, the initiative will always struggle.
2. Location. Family and camaraderie are important to veterans. Look for opportunities to start programs in locations where there is a strong network of former military personnel.
3. Structure. Make sure the program is disciplined and structured and has documented processes, milestones and benchmarks.
4. Ownership. Provide opportunities for participants to enhance the program by listening to and acting upon their suggested improvements.

The webcast of the Joining Forces for Women Veterans Inaugural Summit can be viewed online at your convenience.


5 Responses to “Joining Forces for Women Veterans: Employment and Careers”

  1. […] info: Issue Brief on Family and Community Reintegration Issue Brief on Homelessness Issue Brief on Employment and Careers […]

  2. […] women veterans is smart business. The military has expended extensive resources to train them to be the most skilled, efficient, […]

  3. […] women veterans is smart business. The military has expended extensive resources to train them to be the most skilled, efficient, […]

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