April 15, 2011
By Jacey Eckhart
Reading through the Joining Forces list of corporations and nonprofits gathered to help military spouses find employment, I was delighted. Here are some new chances! Yay First Lady! Yay Second Lady!
Then I was struck by one thing: aside from that active duty White House Fellow assigned to the First Lady, do Michelle Obama or Jill Biden employ any military spouses?
It isn’t that I want to rip into the ladies if they don’t currently employ a military spouse. Their staffs are pretty small—about 20 people report to the First Lady. So even if only one percent of their staffs were military-ish, that would be the equivalent of making out with a guy in uniform in college. Which ain’t the same thing, is it?
The reason I ask is that I really want Mrs. Obama and Mrs. Biden to think about why they haven’t employed a military spouse yet.
It isn’t that spouses aren’t qualified. Military spouses are more likely to have some college than the average American. Over 25% of us hold bachelors degrees. Ten percent of us hold graduate degrees.
It isn’t that we spouses aren’t present in Washington, DC. The Pentagon, Fort Meade, Andrews AFB, Bolling AFB, the Navy Yard, Quantico, The Basic School, etc. are all located within commuting distance of the White House. We also have plenty of spouses in the DC area who formerly served in the military themselves.
So why aren’t we working at the White House? One word, Mrs. Obama: Connectivity. The research shows that people get jobs through their connections. Employers prefer to employ from within. They want to give jobs to the people they know first. If not from within, they want applicants who are known, vouched for, actively campaigned for by their own employees. I do not blame employers. I, too, employ contractors I know through my connections. I want to work with people I know will show up on time, do good work, won’t steal the copier.
While our service members move and bring all their connections with them, we spouses move and we lose all those connections that let us hear about a job. We don’t work at the White House because we don’t know anybody. We don’t hear about the kinds of jobs that are available or where to apply. Even the military spouses who go to the White House aren’t good sources for jobs—they just aren’t the kind of people who will stand in a receiving line and tell you ladies about this fabulous spouse they know.
That’s why I am so glad to see Mrs. Obama and Mrs. Biden put their considerable personal connectivity behind military spouses. I hope against hope that Joining Forces can create a new avenue of connectivity for military spouses to employers. In a telephone conference, Mrs. Obama told me that is why apouse wmployment is one of the three major areas on which Joining Forces focuses. “Its going to take some education,” Mrs. Obama said. “It’s going to take some people to open up their networks.”
Yes it is, Mrs. Obama. Keep working on prying open those networks for military families. This is one thing we cannot do for ourselves.Jacey Eckhart is a military life consultant in Washington, DC. She is the author of "The Homefront Club" and the voice behind the award-winning CD "These Boots." Facebook Jacey or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.