By Emilia Donnelly | American Corporate Partners
“By building relationships and making connections in the communities in which they live and work, military spouses are incredible ambassadors for our military and a vital support system for our military families. To all our military spouses, thank you for your service.”Hollyanne Milley, White House Summit, 11/20/19
It’s no secret; wherever you find yourself in the great USA, Americans love their troops, and when it comes to reciprocating their sacrifices, citizens jump to answer the call. V.S.O.’s (Veteran Service Organizations) like Hiring Our Heroes, Onward to Opportunity and American Corporate Partners were borne of this sense of duty to repay troops for all they do, but there is one demographic whose challenges often go unaddressed in the nonprofit space: the military spouse. In a country where the national unemployment rate was just 3.6% in October 2019, it is concerning that nearly four times as many military spouses find themselves unemployed.
This number doesn’t include cases of underemployment, where 38% of military spouses who are employed believe they are not employed at their appropriate skill level. Most military spouses also face gross income inequality, making an average of 38% less than their civilian peers. For example, a civilian with a doctoral degree will make on average about $82k a year, whereas an active-duty military spouse with the same degree will barely make $37k, if that. This disparity, along with the other challenges military spouses face, can either lead to active duty spouses forgoing their career search, or to military families leaving the service altogether.
If the math alone isn’t enough to jumpstart the conversation surrounding military spouse employment and retention, a matter of national security should be. The members of our military are prepared to be loyal to their country as well as to their own families, but when these interests conflict so starkly, one choice outweighs the other.
For American Corporate Partners, the plights of active duty military spouses and the looming threat to a voluntary military are abundantly clear. Leveraging its existing mentoring model and 10 years of success, ACP now offers active duty spouses a chance to focus on their own professional development with the guidance of a dedicated Mentor.
In November 2018, American Corporate Partners opened its application process to the husbands and wives of active duty military personnel. Now, a year after the program began, ACP sponsors more than 500 military spouse mentorships, with that number expected to double by November 2020. This shows that there is a demand from military spouses for more avenues to professional success. Since this initiative began, ACP has become a champion of career-oriented military spouses, collaborating with Second Lady Karen Pence on her platform to improve the employment rate of military spouses across the country.
On November 20th, 96 representatives from 56 of ACP’s Corporate Partners gathered in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building at the White House for the second Summit on Military Spouse Unemployment hosted by Second Lady Karen Pence. The summit was a follow up to one hosted in May of 2019, where companies and other V.S.O.’s came together to learn about and identify the main challenges that military spouses face when looking for employment. They left with the intent to reconvene in a few months’ time to discuss what is working when it comes to hiring and professional education initiatives, hence, the second summit was formed.
After remarks from Sid Goodfriend, the founder of ACP, Hollyanne Milley, the wife of the 20th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff , and Second Lady Karen Pence, representatives from Amazon, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Deloitte and Lockheed Martin shared their best practices and internal actions that have aided them in the hiring and retention of active-duty military spouse employees. Most if not all of these companies have found what studies have shown to be unignorably true: military spouses are some of the most educated and underutilized members of the workforce. In order to improve the statistics of military spouse employment, Goodfriend asked all participants to focus on four main areas of advancement:
- Hiring (offering remote work and opportunities to relocate within the network of the company)
- Mentoring (supplying spouse mentors for the ACP Veteran and Active Duty Military Spouse Mentoring program)
- Training (provide classes, training, and career preparation programs to AD spouses at little or no cost to them)
- Licensing (address licensing issues for spouses, have Government Affairs Representatives from private companies go to their legislatures to get laws changed)
After listening to what actions these aforementioned partner companies took towards addressing these topics, the conversation turned over to the attendees of the summit. Participants broke into smaller groups and engaged in open discussion lead by a list of questions provided by ACP, touching on possible solutions to spouse-hire retention, what challenges companies face when it comes to hiring spouses, and what advice representatives from these companies can offer to others that are trying to develop training or certification programs for military spouses. Companies came away from the session with promising solutions and ambitions, including:
- Highlighting a welcoming workplace without requiring self-disclosure of marital status.
- Reviewing & reducing requirements for certain jobs, making posts more readable, and posting job openings on sites where MilSpouses will see them.
- Assistance (financial or otherwise) with licensing, certifications and clearances, and partnering with organizations like the Military Spouse Employment Program.
- Partnering with other companies to create more of a possibility for job relocation and remote work.
- Training hiring managers and department heads on military spouse lifestyle and challenges, effectively shifting corporate culture to make more space for the value MilSpouses can add.
At the end of the summit, every attending company was asked to consider ways to tangibly support military spouses in the year ahead. Goodfriend issued a call to action, asking each company to submit a concrete plan in the new year, with a plan to reconvene at the White House in May of 2020 to present their results.
The undertaking of this mission is not easy; some companies will be able to succeed faster than others in employing and retaining military spouses due to differences in culture and need. At the third summit, plans for improving military spouse employment are expected to be in place and mid-execution, so companies can pick and choose what might work for them. The responsibility falls to these corporate citizens to make a dent in lowering the unemployment rate for military spouses, and when they do, the result will be a more successful and secure nation.
Active duty military spouse unemployment is not just a problem specific to this demographic and their families; it is a matter of national security. If military spouses feel like the only way that they can succeed in their careers is to give up a life tangent to service, more and more active duty soldiers will leave with them to keep the family together. In order to keep a United States where entering the service is voluntary and its strength unmatched, we must take action to ensure that the families of our military members are taken care of.
While the government is doing what it can to ease the burden, including the passage of the Portable Certification of Spouses (PCS) Act of 2019, companies have the direct route and ability to affect change. With ACP and Second Lady Karen Pence partnering to raise awareness of the adversities facing military spouses, it is made clear to companies that they have the tools to ameliorate this issue, and they will work to do so.