Why military spouses are assets to any team, especially governments, and what you can do to add one to yours.
In any workplace, diversity is essential to success. This is doubly true in government, when all decisions must reflect the diverse public government serves. When most people think of the words “diversity and inclusion” they think of race, gender, sexual orientation and military service. Don’t get me wrong…all are extremely important. But diversity and inclusion, at its core, is about crafting teams full of folks with different experiences and perspectives to pursue common goals.
There’s one group of people who are not often thought of when it comes to diversity: military spouses. And that’s a shame — not just because my co-founder and I are both married to Active Duty Marine Corps Officers — but because military spouses bring a totally unique and completely valuable set of experiences and perspectives to government jobs. With a little effort, military spouses could be government’s new secret weapon.
In our work with cities, we are flexible but always focused on solving the problem at hand. Working for and with governments requires quick thinking. Like that time we showed up expecting to facilitate an internal city meeting with just six participants and ended up leading a workshop for 30+ participants, including a dozen private sector partners. Adapt and overcome! Flexibility is something we’ve acquired the hard way during our years as military spouses.
Military spouses, more than almost any other group we can think of, bring valuable traits to all jobs, but government jobs in particular:
- Service before self: Serving out of uniform requires spouses to give themselves to a higher purpose, almost always without credit or public recognition. This trait makes military spouses excellent team members. For governments, this character trait couldn’t be more important, because it’s exactly what’s required of government employees. There may not be a lot of personal glory or glamor in government work, but there’s always a mission. Government employees dedicate their entire careers to a higher purpose; similarly, military spouses dedicate their entire lives to a higher purpose.
- Self sufficiency: Military spouses are some of the quickest learners around, and they do that quick learning with grace and self-confidence. When a service member is deployed, their spouse is in charge of literally everything else, often completely on their own, thousands of miles away from family – children, finances, home repairs – you name it – they do it. This makes military spouses quick, creative, independent problem solvers. Alls of these skills are much desired by employers but extremely difficult to recruit.
- Flexibility: If there’s one trait that characterizes military spouses, it’s flexibility. Uncertain deployments and frequent moves teach military spouses to trust that everything will be alright in the end and to let go of trying to control unnecessary details. This kind of flexibility, when combined with self-sufficiency, makes military spouses exceptional leaders.
- Huge networks: Military spouses move so regularly that they are experts at diving right in. More than just getting acclimated, that means creating networks from scratch and not being afraid to ask for help. In a world where who you know is just as important as what you know, this is an unexpected benefit to any organization. Need some part-time legal help, a company that can build a website cost-efficiently, or just a recommendation for the best to-do list app? Ask a military spouse. If they don’t already know the answer, they have no problem picking up the phone or posting in one of the nationwide Facebook groups to ask for help.
Taken together, these traits make for tremendous team members and exceptional leaders. And tremendous team members and exceptional leaders are exactly what governments need most.
Despite all this, military spouse unemployment is high, ranging from 12-18 percent, compared to a 4.4 – 7.7 percent range for comparable civilian spouses (according to a study commissioned by the nonprofit Blue Star Families). Perhaps more troubling, though, and something my co-founder and I have seen firsthand, is the extreme underemployment phenomenon among military spouses. In a 2013 national study, 90 percent of responding female spouses of active duty service members said they possess more formal education/experience than needed at their current or most recent position. To illustrate: I have a good friend – also married to a Marine – who’s a lawyer. Because of frequent moves, deployments and state licensing requirements, she does add-hoc work as a secretary. Bummer.
Why? Well, the short answer is that being an active duty military spouse is extremely demanding. It involves moving every 2-3 years. For governments, where hiring timelines and processes are long and arduous, frequent moves (and associated resume gaps) can be deal-breakers.
But with the rise of flexible working, especially options to work remotely, there’s no reason why governments can’t hire more military spouses, especially into positions that don’t have extensive local licensing requirements.
Here are our humble suggestions to increase employment participation of military spouses in government:
- Whenever possible, include options for remote work
- Recruit through military groups & military spouse groups. Checkout Hire the Homefront and Veteran specific virtual career fairs.
- Be open-minded. When you evaluate resumes, and suspect a military relationship – because of frequent job changes, for example – consider it a pro, not a con.
Recruiting talent is a top concern for all employers, including governments at all levels. With some understanding and flexibility from their employers, military spouses can be the perfect employees: selfless team members, self-starting leaders and excellent problem solvers.
Ellory Monks, my co-founder, fellow military spouse and so much more, took the pen on this piece.