Editor’s note: This article by Adrian Bonenberger originally appeared on Military.com, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.
When President Joe Biden signed an executive order at Fort Liberty, North Carolina, earlier this month, hopes were high that it would inspire the private sector to shift the needle on the epidemic of unemployment among military spouses.
So far, the results in corporate America have been mixed.
Substantial roadblocks remain, from licensing procedures that vary from state to state and profession to profession, to a dearth of existing infrastructure to support dual-income families on and around military bases, to cultural bias. Nevertheless, some advocates remain optimistic both that expanding the hiring of military spouses is a good thing, and that the timing has never been better.
"President Biden's executive order was a signal to the federal government that it's time to put the internal house in order when it comes to hiring military spouses," Elizabeth O'Brien, the executive director of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation's Hiring Our Heroes initiative, said in an interview with Military.com. "Corporate America has an opportunity to come alongside and create solutions for military spouse hiring, just as they did when veteran unemployment was at an all-time high."
Then, in 2012, corporate America came up big, reducing veteran employment to the low single digits. Those same businesses have been slow to adopt policies assisting military spouses.
"While there have been some successes, by and large, corporate America is not responding in the same manner for a population that is 91% female, more educated than their peer group and a diverse candidate pool," O'Brien said.
Of the top 25 Fortune 500 companies, 11 have policies in place about hiring military spouses. A few, like CVS, which has offered preferential hiring for military spouses for 20 years, or Walmart, which has hired 110,000 veterans and military spouses since 2013, won't have to change much.
But only two of the top 25 Fortune 500 companies -- UnitedHealth Group and Verizon -- are listed as "military-friendly employers." Only 10 of the top 25 take part in the popular Military Spouse Employment partnership.
Unemployment remains above 20% for military spouses, and while the federal government can commit to proactive policies dedicated to hiring and retaining military spouses, it's not possible to enforce compliance in private industry -- only to encourage certain behavior.
One test of private industry's commitment to employment of military spouses is remote work. Military spouses are frequently required to relocate with their service members, which can hinder or cement careers, depending on how it's handled by employers.
Larger corporations have more resources to put behind hiring, and greater flexibility to move employees between jobs and locations. Furthermore, companies that deal in online services are often more progressive about providing the right resources and allowing remote work among employees.
But among the four tech companies in the Fortune 500's top 25 -- Amazon (2), Apple (3), Alphabet/Google (8), and Microsoft (14) -- only Amazon, which committed to hiring 100,000 veterans and spouses in 2021, has a robust stance toward employing military spouses.
While Google seems to lack an internal policy for hiring military spouses -- if they do, it is not publicly available -- it recently made its largest grant so far to Hiring Our Heroes, or HOH, a U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation organization dedicated to advancing employment opportunities for the military community.
It's part of an initiative Google created with HOH called Career Forward in which military spouses, active-duty service members and veterans can go through a six-month course and earn a Google Career Certificate in one of six job areas before connecting with employers.
"The pandemic created a testbed for remote work. Employers had no choice but to embrace it," Rory Brosius, a partner with the Cicero Group, and previously the executive director of Joining Forces, a White House initiative under first lady Jill Biden designed to support the military community, said in an interview. "Prior to the pandemic, convincing an employer to do a remote worker pilot would have been pretty challenging. It's become easier now to hire remote employees."
While corporate America focuses its efforts on hiring more military spouses, financial companies are looking at other ways to combat unemployment in a highly mobile workforce. One path to economic parity among military spouses is building their own business and bringing it with them when they move.
Vivian Greentree, senior vice president and head of global corporate citizenship at Fiserv, a multinational corporation based in Wisconsin, said in an interview that her business has been working on programs that foster entrepreneurship among military spouses.
"As a leading 'fin-tech' [financial technology] company with capabilities to help start and scale small businesses, we can hire military-connected employees, and we can also help thousands of them start and grow their own businesses, creating sustainable impact in both areas," Greentree said.
O'Brien underscored the importance of creating viable and long-lasting economic and career opportunities for military spouses, both as an issue for family solidarity and also as national security.
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That could also lead to an increase in marriage stress among military families.
"When you think about the systems that create stress in marriages, certainly, things like financial insecurity or feeling that you don't have authority to move your life the way you want can create challenges," said Brosius. "The people who operate our weapons systems and create strategies have families; giving those families the same economic opportunities as others is a priority for everyone in the country."
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