BPW Foundation's Women Misbehavin' Blog

Well behaved women never make history

Renewing Greatness for Women Veterans

Posted by YWM on May 24, 2011

This is part one of a two part article on a special training session for women veterans.

By Monica Chenault-Kilgore

Fourteen women sat around the classroom.  A few heads were cocked to one side, examining me as I set up for the presentation.  Others slumped in their seats, arms and legs crossed, staring out windows or gazing downward through half-opened eyes.  Some entered the room, found seats away from the group, and instantly evaporated into deep thought.  Others stretched out and strategically placed notebooks, papers, or sweaters on seats next to them as if building a fortress.  With the exception of a few yawns and sighs, the room was silent.  Greetings to each other were soundless – nods, waves, or slight smiles.  All seemed to wonder if this Career Development session would bring something different, something new, something useful and relevant.

An experienced facilitator, I’ve learned to gauge the temperature and pick up on non-verbal signals to determine how best to engage the audience and set the tone for learning.  From my initial observations, and mostly ignored greeting, I realized no amount of platitudes and trendy sayings were going to engage this distinct group – women veterans recovering from a variety of obstacles.  At this point, these warriors have seen plenty – repetitive counseling, endless presentations, more vanilla, non-descript offices than could be counted – life battles I could only imagine. But, I was here to make a difference, and to show these women that they are valued, that their experience only needed honing for success.

Business and Professional Women’s Foundation contracted me to design and facilitate a series of workshops for residents of The Mary E. Walker House, a residential facility in Pennsylvania whose mission includes helping female veterans eliminate barriers to regaining ownership of their lives as they transition from military to civilian life.  Multi-generational residents of the facility come from all over the country and have served in differing combat theaters.  To prepare, I was given a few facts:

  • After serving their country, many women veterans do not connect or are reluctant to self-identify as veterans, so they miss out on important benefits and services to help them re-enter civilian life.
  • Female veterans are four times more likely than their male counterparts to experience homelessness, unemployment, or under-employment.
  • There is a general lack of awareness and access to programs and services that address the gender-specific needs of women veterans.
  • The challenges faced during the change from military to civilian cultures are compounded by the challenges of returning to family life, where women are often single head of household.
  • Perception of veteran services by women veterans is that the programs are generally geared towards the needs of males.
  • Female veterans do not seem to engage in social activities that build helpful professional networks useful in securing a job and helpful for quick adjustment to the workplace.

Armed with this information, I aimed to present an interactive, confidence-building program that effectively engaged and encouraged participants to seek, develop, and build supportive personal and professional networks that provide information on resources and job opportunities.  Our female veterans have had experiences of leading teams in the field and managing all aspects of complex projects.  Many do not recognize their day-to-day military routines can translate into valuable achievements on their resume and are unable to effectively communicate their successes into the commonplace lingo of transferable skills.

I began the first session with an exercise to help participants visualize a destination – a clear, detailed picture of an ideal job and successful life for themselves and their family.  Through a simple creative visualization exercise, the group should be able to envision a defined image of their career/life goal, describe it in writing, and then verbalize their goal to others.  The objective was to encourage them to create an image in their mind’s eye; share it with peers in order to make the dream a real and tangible career path; and then continue the journey by planning the process for goal attainment, and building a network for support along the way.

 Who would like to share with the group what you visualized? 

After a few beats of silence, raised eyebrows, and a bit of uncomfortable shifting in seats, one woman volunteered that she saw herself driving a Hazmat-certified truck and making local deliveries.  Another visualized an innovative educational center for children where she was the Director.  She verbalized her vision of  the building and the location, and picturing herself working with a staff of teachers and counselors.  A third participant saw herself working at an animal rescue shelter.  Each woman who shared their vision was asked to provide vivid details of the picture they created for themselves.

Moving from Good to Great Work!

The exercise began to gather steam, and more participants now uncrossed their arms and leaned slightly forward in their seats.  We were moving away from routine expectations to stretch and focus on obtaining what is meaningful and inspirational.  To crystallize and strengthen the probability of creating and attaining the vision, we went a step further and began a series of mapping exercises to analyze current actions and time spent on reaching their goal.  By analyzing existing efforts, we acknowledged current initiatives and successes (Good work); identified and eliminated time wasters, and highlighted what needed to be done to move toward a position of most opportunity – a situation that provides information, experiences or contacts that lead to an ultimate goal (Great work!).

Identifying and Celebrating our Great Work Moments – Communicating Success and Potential

Participants were introduced to universal leadership competencies – qualities, skills and abilities that employers look for in an ideal employee, such as adaptability, conflict management, and ethical behavior.  The class members were encouraged to identify, write , and share experiences that clearly illustrate  leadership abilities.  By describing multiple peak moments – actions taken, challenges overcome, and the results of those actions, we began to create a career achievement profile.  An achievement profile is an ongoing living document that serves as a “parking lot” of successes aligned with universal leadership competencies, such as  building successful teams, effective communication, and planning and organizing.  It is a working list that not only reminds participants of their valuable contributions, but also helps to identify appropriate accomplishments for resumes, interviews and, most importantly, provides a boost confidence when met with rejection.

(JOIN us tomorrow for Part II of the journey: Breakthrough Achieved)

About the Author: Monica Chenault-Kilgore, PHR

As a trainer, coach and challenge-driven human resources consultant for over 18 years, Monica Chenault-Kilgore has helped individuals move through every phase of their career and assisted major private and public sector organizations build human capital to achieve stabilization and business continuity.

Monica founded The Chenault Group, a human resources consulting consortium and has held positions ranging from HR Internal Consultant with The New York Times Production Division, Director of the nationally recognized Retail Skills Center, HR Director for The Image Bank, and served as SME on numerous global curriculum and certification design initiatives.  Monica holds her BA in Journalism from The Ohio State University, and Professional Human Resources (PHR) Certification from Human Resources   Certification Institute.

       Email:  Monica.kilgore@thechenaultgroup.com   http://www.thechenaultgroup.com   Twitter: @thechenaultgrp


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