The Path to Successful Civilian Careers

First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden often credit military spouses and women veterans as the “force” behind Joining Forces. The personal stories they heard again and again highlighted the gap in support for women trying to successfully coordinate their military family lives with productive careers and/or transition from the service to the civilian workforce. The dearth of easily-accessible, broad-reaching mentoring models for women veterans and military wives takes a toll on individuals, families, and our economy through the combined impact of unemployment and underemployment.

Facilitating the productive re-entry into the American economy of women veterans and military spouses is not a simplistic “feel good” program.  Our economy will benefit from the leadership skills and workplace expertise these women have worked so hard to acquire.

Business and Professional Women’s (BPW) Foundation, working with public and private partners, is developing the tools, outreach, and capacity to meet this need through the launch of the Joining Forces for Women Veterans Mentorship Program, with a long-term goal of enlisting 100,000 women mentors to connect with women veterans and military spouses.  By the end of 2012, 10,000 women mentors will be recruited in collaboration with our launch partner, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Our goal is to increase women veteran and military spouse employment, helping women to find and keep jobs that utilize and leverage their training while also building on their skills.

As a first step, BPW Foundation identified a select group of business, government, and non-profit leaders to serve in an advisory capacity, providing guidance and expertise as we pilot the mentorship program and gear up for the national effort.  The first meeting of the Advisory Council for this Joining Forces for Women Veterans Mentorship Program was held on Friday, June 17, and included a diverse group of women executives, each of whom committed to oversee the mentorship program within her organization and personal network as well as to personally mentor women veterans and military spouses.

Finding a meaningful job is tied tightly to successful community re-entry and work-life balance, which means that these mentoring relationships may need to be sustained for an extended period. Research indicates the average length of a woman veteran’s transition is seven years, and military spouses must transition with each relocation. Life transition is not a point in time but a journey, and we think it is essential for both the welfare of our women veterans and our country that we help and support them during that journey.

The Advisory Council’s next steps will include cataloguing smaller-scale mentorship efforts already in place, with an eye toward refining and promoting best practices.  As the mentoring framework is constructed, focus will be on assembling a strategic, quantifiable, and results-driven platform that allows women mentors to tap their own workplace experience to help women veterans and military spouses successfully navigate their specific obstacles to find successful careers.

We are very grateful that First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden have recognized the launch of our mentorship program as part of the national Joining Forces initiative that is mobilizing all sectors of society to support America’s service members and their families. Jason Dempsey, a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army who is also currently a White House Fellow in the First Lady’s Office, attended the Advisory Council meeting and applauded the group’s efforts to provide women veterans and military spouses with job and career mentoring that will lead to “gainfully employed individuals, prosperous families, and successful businesses.”

Dempsey echoed the Administration’s philosophy when he urged the Advisory Council to push for solutions to “problems that cannot be solved by government alone, but must be tackled through public/private sector partnerships like the one forged by those assembled around the table today. The First Lady’s Office appreciates your energy, time, and commitment, and thanks you for your service to those who have served us all."

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