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Ready, Willing, and Able

11/1/2018-

by Jenna-Lyn Roman, PhD Student, Georgia Institute of Technology

Military Spouses Are Poised to Fill Your Organization’s Talent Gap

Spouses of active duty military members are often assumed to be individuals whose sole purpose is keeping the home fires burning while their loved ones are deployed, training, or on other missions. This misconception overshadows the reality that 53% of military spouses are actually pursuing bona-fide careers outside the home (DMDC, 2015). Although there are in fact some military spouses, of both genders, that do support and maintain a home, the military spouse population is one that is vastly overlooked as career contributors.

The goal of this brief is to provide an abridged background of the impact of the military lifestyle on the career pursuits of spouses as well as the advantages of hiring military spouses to meet the talent needs of organizations.  

The Talent Problem

Organizations typically seek job applicants who are well-educated, passionate, experienced, and are committed to filling vacant positions to the greatest extent possible. Finding the ideal candidate can be challenging and can hinder organizations from meeting the talent needs for a specific job, position, or role (Michaels, Handfield-Jones, & Axelrod, 2001). Highly employable, yet unemployed, military spouses have the potential to shrink the talent gap, cultivating mutually beneficial outcomes for both the individual and the organization.  

The Military Lifestyle and Working Spouses

Like most dual career couples, military families must balance vocational expectations with the requirements of the family and home. Military families also face added challenges like frequent long-distance relocations, lengthy family separations due to rapid deployment cycles, and/or regular military training exercises (Burrell, 2006; Castaneda et al., 2008).

Because of the additional lifestyle challenges, military spouses experience high rates of unemployment (23%) and underemployment rates (38%; Blue Star Families’ Report 2016). Once military spouses obtain employment, they tend to work just as many hours as employed nonmilitary spouses, although they earn significantly less (Meadows, Griffin, Pollak, & Karney, 2016). Underpayment was found to be consistent across education levels and is pervasive across the spectrum of possible paid work opportunities. 

As a group, military spouses tend to face stigmatization during the hiring process because of factors beyond their control, such as resumes that highlight employment gap. Many of the 40 spouses interviewed for a recent study believed they were explicitly passed over during the hiring or promotion process in favor of candidates who do not have dramatically shifting family responsibilities or relocation probabilities. (Roman, 2018)

Fortunately, some military spouses have been able to find career success despite all the possible pitfalls, through creative means such as entrepreneurship or through taking advantage of changing digital climates. Some have even experienced a hiring preference due to their status.

Military spouses typically require employment opportunities that are flexible enough to accommodate the ebb and flow of the military lifestyle (Maury & Stone, 2014). They can make ideal candidates for organizations willing to provide them with the flexibility required by military lifestyle challenges.

Advantages of Hiring Military Spouses

Organizations can benefit from hiring an individual with a military spouse status in several ways. Roman (2018) found that military spouses who have vocational experiences in different work environments or different regions of the U.S. can be a benefit in certain career fields (e.g., nursing). In some instances, familiarity with the military lifestyle is preferred, particularly for people interested in researching military populations or providing services to veterans or military families. In these instances, organizations benefit from hiring an employee who can relate firsthand to those insular populations.

Carol,* a director of business development married for over 10 years to an Army officer  summed up the contributions of military spouses in the following way, “It is really important for the larger world of employment to understand that the military spouses of today are not the military spouses of World War I and II. We are PhDs and JDs and CPAs and MBAs. We are engineers and educators and nurses. We are business professionals. It is critically important to understand the pedigree of this community. For the career minded military spouse, there is 100% a lack of attention on the professional focus that we offer.” Indeed, Carol sheds light on the multitude of ways in which military spouses can contribute in meaningful ways to organizations.

Ready, Willing, and Able

Military spouses have the skills, education, experience, and passion to succeed in many different types of career paths. Although the military lifestyle often impacts the work lives of military spouses, the numerous benefits of employing a military spouse can outweigh most downsides. I challenge human resources professionals and hiring managers to encourage the potential contribution of military spouse status applicants rather than focusing on the constraints.

*Name has been changed to maintain privacy

The author wishes to her acknowledge and thank her thesis advisors, Erin Eatough and Elizabeth Minei, who were and are instrumental in guiding this program of research.   

She dedicates this and all related work to the women and men who graciously shared their stories with her as well as to those who are seeking to balance the military lifestyle and their own career aspirations.

References

Blue Star Families. (2016). Social cost analysis of the unemployment and underemployment of military spouses. Retrieved from https://bluestarfam.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/Social-Cost-Analysis-of-the-Unemployment-and-Underemployment-of-Military-Spouses_Final_4-5-1.pdf

Burrell, L. M. (2006). Moving military families: The impact of relocation on family well-being, employment, and commitment to the military. In C. A. Castro, A. B. Adler, T. W. Britt, C. A. Castro, A. B. Adler, & T. W. Britt (Eds.), Military life: The psychology of serving in peace and combat: The military family (pp. 39-63). Westport, CT: Praeger.

Castaneda, L.W., Harrell, M. C., Varda, D. M., Curry Hall, K., Beckett, M. K., & Stern, S. (2008). Deployment experiences of guard and reserve families. Pittsburgh: RAND Corporation.

Defense Manpower Data Center. Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense. (2015). 2015 demographics profile of the military community. Retrieved from www.militaryonesource.mil

Maury, R., & Stone, B. (2014). Military spouse employment report. Syracuse, NY: Institute for Veterans and Military Families.

Meadows, S. O., Griffin, B. A., Pollak, J., & Karney, B. R. (2016). Employment gaps between military spouses and matched civilians. Armed Forces & Society (0095327X), 42(3), 542-561.

Michaels, E., Handfield-Jones, H., & Axelrod, B. (2001). The war for talent. Brighton, MA: Harvard Business Press.

Roman, J.R. (2018). Military spouse career barriers and benefits. MS Thesis, Baruch College, City University of New York.