Women Vets Urged to Self-Identify, Find Mentors

By Kathy Gurchiek Jan 12, 2014
Veterans are a valuable talent pool for employers, but military personnel transitioning into the civilian workforce—particularly female veterans—create roadblocks to their own employment when they fail to self-identify, to network and to work with mentors. That was the underlying message at the Jan. 7, 2014, Women Veterans Conference, held in McLean, Va., during National Mentoring Month.

It’s imperative that women veterans identify themselves as such to employers, employment centers and mentors.

“We spend a lot of money to make sure we have targeted efforts to have female veterans” in the workforce, said Denise Lew, a retired military officer who’s now a health care consultant at Deloitte Consulting LLP.

“Companies really want you,” said Lew, noting she was “really baffled” that female veterans often fail to make their military background known to potential employers, including by adding their veteran status to professional networking sites such as LinkedIn, which businesses use to find job candidates.

There are 2.2 million women veterans, and in 2012 the unemployment rate for this group was 8.3 percent vs. 6.9 percent unemployment for male veterans, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. The B&PW Foundation also reports that 2 million women are military spouses, and about 26 percent of them were unemployed in 2012.

Veterans who don’t identify their military background may not receive priority consideration at the American Job Center, where employers post openings, said Nancy A. Glowacki, manager of the Women Veteran Program at the U.S.Labor Department’s Veterans’ Employment & Training Services (VETS).

“We all need to do a better job of standing up and claiming our veteran status … not only to help [ourselves] but to help our fellow sisters who come after you,” Glowacki said.

She was among the speakers at the free daylong conference, which included an employer exhibit area. The Virginia Employment Commission, BPW Foundation, Virginia Wounded Warrior Program and Booz Allen Hamilton sponsored the event.

“All you women veterans out there, we’re looking for you” at CVS Caremark, said Leslie G. Reis, the company’s senior manager of workforce development programs. However, she noted that only a small percentage of female veterans have shown up at job fairs that CVS Caremark has been at.

Caremark participates in the BPW Foundation’s Joining Forces through Mentoring Plus (JFMP)program, which partners with 55 businesses (including Booz Allen and Citi) to provide female mentors and subject-matter experts from their staffs. The JFMP uses a 10-point matching system to pair mentors and veterans.

Mentoring is fundamental to women veterans who are developing their career, changing their career or starting their own business, Brig. Gen. Linda Singh emphasized during her opening keynote remarks. She told veterans that a mentor can:

  • Refer them to others and help them broaden their network.
  • Help them identify the right resources, including people most valuable to them at each stage of their career development.
  • Serve as a sounding board to help guide them through their career.

Mentoring is a two-way relationship, though, that promotes self-reflection, and it must be built on trust in order to have frank conversations.

“Know yourself. You really have to spend some time putting a plan together,” Singh said. “Once you understand what drives your decisions, what drives your beliefs, what drives your values … you can start working together on very tangible things.”

Many of the speakers stressed the importance of networking, even if it’s not job related.

“Some of the best folks I’ve hired and met have been through a connection of some sort,” said Pamela Hardy, senior associate for people services at Booz Allen Hamilton, during one of the breakout sessions. However, “don’t think your mentor is going to get you the job. The mentor is there to enhance your skills.”

Regularly scheduled “evolutionary” conversations with mentors can guide the woman veteran through the civilian work world, said Mary G.R. Whitley, senior vice president of the health informatics division at ICF International. “You’re going to need their help in figuring out what the culture looks like, what your peers [are] doing that you probably ought to emulate … [in] the role of the newly hired person on the team, the role of the team in the larger group.”

Kathy Gurchiek is the associate editor for HR News.​


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