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Posted by Pamela Hardy on January 14, 2014
Last week I was fortunate to attend one of the most inspiring events I’ve been a part of since I joined Booz Allen 9 years ago. More than 100 women veterans of all ranks and at all stages of their careers gathered at our McLean campus for a Women Veterans Conference sponsored by Booz Allen and put on by the Virginia Employment Commission (VEC), Business and Professional Women's Foundation (BPW), and the Virginia Wounded Warrior Program. More than 30 exhibitors – representatives of private industry, non-profits and federal and local government - also came together with a shared mission: to provide these women veterans with practical skills to help them navigate their careers and opportunities to connect with employers and available resources.
Keynote Speaker Brigadier General Linda Singh, a Managing Director at Accenture, is the first woman and the first African American to command the Maryland Army National Guard. Despite her enormous success, Singh has faced her own challenges as a military woman, and was able to connect on a personal level with attendees with her story, one that she identified as common among and perhaps specific to women at all stages of their careers. Singh faced a two-year deployment to Afghanistan within weeks of receiving a promotion to a senior executive position at Accenture. She has had to balance her civilian and military careers with being a mother. Multiple, competing priorities have at times caused her to doubt her ability to take on more responsible roles for fear that she would let peers and supervisors down. Singh challenged women to overcome self-doubt and fear of failure in these circumstances, urging them to channel the ferocity they exert as mothers into their careers.
I talked with several very impressive women veterans after Singh’s keynote address, and was struck by their ability to multitask and adapt – both at home and in their careers. One woman I spoke with is a single mother, trained as a Navy pilot and a recent recipient of a master’s degree in communications. Currently unemployed, she struggles to find work that will allow her time to get treatment for her newly diagnosed breast cancer. Many conference attendees had similar accomplishments – and shared a similar struggle to find a job. From my perspective as a hiring manager, anyone who can juggle the challenges of single motherhood while pursuing an advanced degree with success is someone I want on my team. But while Booz Allen and many other employers place a high value on what military women bring to the table, it is disturbing to find that many women do not self-identify as veterans, and do not even include their military experience on their resumes.
The need for military women to self-identify is something Charlie Palumbo focused on when she joined the VEC as a Veteran Outreach Coordinator five months ago. Palumbo, who has served in the US Navy and is a mother of two, asked herself, “Are we giving women veterans what they need?” She determined that more outreach was needed to the women veteran population, which generally does not benefit from the strong community that aids male veterans as they transition to civilian life. Palumbo planned the Women Veterans Conference as a way to address some of the needs she saw among women veterans, and it did. In just one day, more than 100 women veterans connected with and received the assistance and support of other women in finding employment and in managing careers.
One of the best means I know to support women veterans in an effective and incredibly personally rewarding way is by signing up with Joining Forces Mentoring Plus, a program of BPW. Joining Forces Mentoring Plus offers unlimited free personal coaching and professional guidance—including working women mentors—for women veterans of all ranks and eras, military/veteran spouses, and caregivers of wounded warriors, to help them successfully identify, outline, and pursue civilian careers. Along with many other Booz Allen women, I am currently a mentor and all of us will attest to the joy and satisfaction we feel when we’ve helped to guide a mentee through a rough patch in her career, or challenged her to accept a new role.
As a leader and military advocate at Booz Allen, a firm deeply committed to hiring veterans, I am acutely aware of the need for people in my position across all industries to make it their business to address what women veterans want and need. For now, women make up only around ten percent of the veteran population, but they are the fastest growing veteran population. Twenty percent of all military recruits are women, and these women recruits are the future of veteran hiring. When we reach out to women veterans and work to employ them in careers they will find rewarding and meaningful, we do not do this only out of a sense of obligation to those who have served our country. Hiring and retaining women veterans just makes good business sense.