The true call of duty? How women veterans can get the higher-paying civilian jobs they deserve

Women have fought for and won bigger roles in the U.S. military in recent years, but a gap favoring their male counterparts emerges yet again when active duty ends and the civilian job hunt begins.

Women veterans are more than twice as likely to be unemployed six months after completing their service than male veterans, says research from Penn State University’s Transitioning Veterans Metrics Initiative (TVMI). Beyond that first six months, TVMI has found that 61% of female veterans who want a job in the private sector are either unemployed or underemployed, meaning they find themselves stuck in a lower-skill job or receiving less pay than their military experience might suggest they deserve.

It’s a challenge that will persist without acknowledging first, that the problem exists, and further, that the gap needs to be addressed right as women emerge from their service. That’s because while the size of the nation’s military has remained steady, active duty and veteran women now make up a larger and growing percentage of that total. Further, the gaps in job matchmaking are especially troubling during a time for a low U.S. unemployment rate below 4%.

What is clear is the burden to close the post-service gender gap lies in part with the companies expanding their workforces, say experts. Hiring managers and executives need greater realization that much of the training and skills women often gain in the military align with private-sector jobs in high demand: logistics and supply-chain expertise, human resources specialists, healthcare, technology and communications project managers among them.

As for women veterans themselves, they’re best served by seeking mentors, often other women vets, who can help make sure more female voices are heard when it comes to hiring and other decision-making in Corporate America. Female veteran job-seekers can and should enlist professional services to better-position résumés and engage with veteran friendly job coaches who help make sure salary expectations and demands are expressed early on in a job-search process. Salary negotiation is something their male equivalents are more likely to insist on, and more times than not, benefit from.

It’s a data-driven suite of solutions, including helpful networking, leveraging military skill sets, and more, that defines the primary work by Executive Director Dan Goldenberg and team at the Call of Duty Endowment. As its name implies, the endowment is the veterans-focused nonprofit arm of top-selling Call of Duty game creator Activision Blizzard Inc.
It partners with Hires Heroes USA and other veteran-service charities.

MarketWatch recently interviewed Goldenberg about female post-service employment gaps , especially for women of color, and the solutions his nonprofit is trying out. Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

MarketWatch: Why has the endowment chosen to focus on jobs?

Goldenberg: As the largest private funder of veteran employment, the Call of Duty Endowment believes each and every veteran, female or male, out of work or underemployed represents a lost opportunity for our society. For 14 years, we’ve been dedicated to bridging this divide by finding and funding the most effective
nonprofit organizations that connect veterans with high-quality jobs – and increasingly those who are prioritizing the placement of women veterans.

We have funded the placement of 118,000 vets with high-quality jobs by working with other high-performing nonprofits in the U.S. and the U.K. and we’ve tapped Deloitte consultants for a rigorous assessment of our outcomes. Activision Blizzard covers all of our operating cost, so every cent we raise is directly put into job services.

MarketWatch: Are there any stipulations to who you can help?

Goldenberg: We will serve any veteran who can prove they served regardless of discharge status. If they want a job, we’re going to help them get one. We don’t go just for low-hanging fruit. You know, if we were focused just on, say junior military officers, that would be a very easy. We do focus on post-9/11 veterans just because they have the longest runway left in their careers, but any veteran who asks for help gets help.

Some of our grantees [nonprofit placement partners] focus on what we call high-barrier-to-employment veterans, those who have challenges around housing, mental health, things like that.

MarketWatch: And why are women, and women of color, targeted with your latest efforts?

Goldenberg: Women veterans are almost twice as likely to have a college education as male veterans, And so we wanted to understand, we wanted the world to know that there’s a problem, and that we can do better. The Veterans Administration, by the way, says that by 2045, women will be 20% of veterans. So our whole system needs to be more sensitive to their needs.

MarketWatch: What are women veterans’ specific needs, typically?

Goldenberg: We find that there are a number of barriers that are truly distinct for women veterans that aren’t always being well addressed. Foremost, we find women veterans often are starting over in their civilian jobs often near the bottom. They’re not even getting credit for the military work they did. This is in part because some women hide their military status more than men as they expect more backlash from the distinction, historically, than a boost. But they are three times more likely to get a high quality job if they ask for help doing two things: have professionally prepared résumés help from our grantees and get coaching help on the differences between civilian and military interview techniques. And they should never pay a dime for these services.

MarketWatch: Are there other barriers?

Goldenberg: For sure, some issues impact military women in ways all women are impacted: child-care costs and conflicts, and as the COVID-19 pandemic laid bare, sandwich-generation parent-care challenges that still traditionally fall on women more than men. And broader wage discrimination.

And some of the setbacks can be cultural. In the military, you’ve always been told what to do and you might hold back waiting for those commands in the civilian world. Women, especially, might be unfairly labeled as not taking ownership of a situation in the civilian world. And they may be more reluctant to ask for help.

And I’d be remiss to not mention that military sexual trauma impacts women more than men, which can mean continued struggles in a transition to civilian life.

MarketWatch: I cover climate technology and the energy transition, and job growth in these areas is often about hiring for a “new Industrial Revolution,” where skills are changing for everyone and it’s increasingly a level playing field, skills-wise. Does that translate to post-military job hunts?

Goldenberg: So everybody’s talking about bringing manufacturing back. People don’t don’t want the jobs. They’re not taking them and why? It takes training. And training costs money. There was an organization we worked with in the past called Workshops for Warriors. They would take any veteran and in six months during the training, you might learn additive manufacturing, welding, HVAC, high-skill jobs. They had a 99% placement rate for their graduates. But few companies want to invest in training, so it’s a huge problem with our economy, There’s that sort of grumble, “This generation of youth doesn’t want to get their hands dirty, blah, blah, blah.” What they do require is education and training. And the question is, who’s going to pay for it? Look at our student loan issue.

You know, a lot of veterans are shocked when they get in the commercial economy, asking, like where’s the training? It’s one of the things the military does quite well.

And federal money could flow differently. Currently, the federal government is vastly underfunding the employment of veterans; it’s the lowest funded of any major veteran program area at less than 1% of the U.S. government’s approximately $300 billion veteran spend. A doubling of this amount — deployed to proven organizations in the nonprofit sector — would have a transformative impact on the lives of veteran women, in fact, all veterans.

MarketWatch: Call of Duty,” one of the best-selling game franchises ever, has its own role in helping women (and men) transition to the civilian workforce, I understand?

Goldenberg: lt is a massive, massive game, including players generally the same age as people transitioning out of the military. We have the ability to reach audiences through job education programs that share branding with the game.

And we have a fundraising effort through the game. When players create individual skin packs, including a female and female of color pack, proceeds go to the endowment.

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