May 18, 2022
Finding work as a military spouse can be challenging. Even with an increase in assistance and programs dedicated to helping military families, the Department of Defense reported that military spouses faced a 22% unemployment rate and a 26% wage gap compared to civilians, even before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Employers large and small must recognize this ongoing issue and focus their efforts on filling their talent pipelines with members from this workforce demographic. At the 6th Annual Hiring Our Heroes Military Spouse Employment Summit, leaders in the military sector, as well as professionals from companies that invest in opportunities for military spouses, shared how the country can better encourage and provide a pathway to success for military families across the nation.
We Need to Move the Needle to Improve Military Spouse Employment
Elizabeth O'Brien, CEO of Freedom Learning Group, believes America is "advancing the needle" for military spouse employment. However, "what we need to see is the overall number [of military spouse unemployment] drop down."
"We know that the programs exist," she said. "We know when people can access them and are aware of them, they are successful."
Still, "there are certain things we can't change," said O'Brien, referring to the fact that most of the military spouse population is female.
"Male military spouses … spend shorter amounts of time unemployed than [female] military spouses do," she noted. "We can't change that, but what we can do is be willing to stand in the fray and be uncomfortable."
She added that the United States expects military families to carry the burden of the nation yet provides little effort to track military spouse employment statistics and find sustainable work for them.
"Ask people to be uncomfortable for five minutes, for one hour, for two hours," O'Brien said. "And then if you can't advance the needle internally for hiring, put us in your supply chain."
"There are creative ways to put military spouses to work over and over again," she continued. "But we as a country have to be willing to be uncomfortable in the same way that we ask our families over and over again to be uncomfortable."
Organizations Should Invest in Improving the Digital Divide
When focusing on the future of work for military spouses, organizations must provide real opportunities and pathways for individuals to seize.
"I think one of the key things to all of this work is to have commitments that you truly believe in," said Junaid Karim, Director of Talent Acquisition at T-Mobile. "Don't make commitments so that you can put them on a poster. Don't make commitments that you can put on a website and … influence people to come work for you."
Rather, companies should prioritize providing solutions to common problems military spouses face when seeking employment. For instance, many families lack access to wireless and, in turn, career opportunities. To bridge this gap, said Karim, T-Mobile has increased its investment in improving the divide when it comes to wireless access.
"There are a lot of communities today that don't have good access [and] don't have the ability to search for jobs," he continued. "If you look at all employers, there are assessments – there are ways to fill out applications. Everything is done online. If you don't have access, how are you going to be able to do that?"
Military Spouses Need a Platform to Share Stories and Drive Empathy
Stories can change the world, and military spouses need to have a platform to speak up and call for support.
"Anecdotes are really important, and stories can be shared on a broad spectrum," said Karina Opdyke, Principal at Deloitte. "We do a ton of communication throughout our defense and security and justice sector around our military spouses. We spotlight them. We make sure their stories and what they bring and the talent they bring to the firm is spotlighted."
She also stressed the importance of one-on-one conversations, word-of-mouth, and companies making these commitments to get the stories out.
"When I did ethnographic interviews of Navy spouses, hearing their stories and being able to take that and bring it up the chain of command in an organization … helped tremendously in building the empathy to make change happen," said Opdyke.