November 10, 2021

Our country’s veterans deserve every opportunity to thrive after their service. Veterans bring many strengths to the civilian workforce, including leadership, teamwork, problem-solving skills, resilience, and persistence. Yet women veterans do not always have the same opportunities as their male peers to leverage their service into good-paying and rewarding careers.

Through EDC’s Women Veterans in STEM project, we seek to identify strategies to engage women veterans in STEM careers, as well as help them overcome challenges they may face. In our conversations with women veterans, we’ve heard many stories about how a chance connection or good luck led them to where they are today. However, many more women veterans shared that it was very difficult to transition to civilian life. And very few women veterans knew how to translate the skills and knowledge they developed in the military to the civilian workforce.

Women veterans identified the following three significant career-related challenges:

  • Navigating available services: Existing services can be difficult for women veterans to find. Women veterans also shared that it can be hard to figure out if the services will be a good fit for them, due to logistical issues or the culture of the institution.
  • Finding peer mentors: Support from peers and others who understand women veterans’ experiences is key to helping them transition to civilian careers.
  • “Convincing” civilian employers: Women veterans reported that employers often did not understand the competencies they gained in the military or see the benefits of hiring, supporting, and retaining women veterans.

There is a lot we can do to better serve the women veterans who served our country and to support them in transitioning to satisfying work. Here are a few ways you can help:

  • Engage women veterans in reverse mentoring to learn from their experience.
  • Select women veterans for advisory boards, and partner with organizations that serve women veterans to develop interest groups focused on careers.
  • Commit to hiring and retaining veterans.
  • Ensure that job postings actively include, rather than exclude, applicants with military backgrounds by shifting focus from years of experience in similar positions and degrees earned to attainment of knowledge and hands-on experience.
  • Connect with one of the many nonprofit organizations that offer support and resources for recruiting and hiring veterans, such as Hire Our Heroes, which helps interested employers create hiring programs that are tailored to veterans.
  • Seek training on how to best hire and retain veterans through nonprofits such as Hire Heroes USA. Such training is particularly important for human resources professionals and STEM industry leaders.

To learn more about what your organization can do to make a difference, check out our recommendations.

Rebecca Lewis, managing project director, is the principal investigator of EDC’s Women Veterans in STEM project. She also leads a program to bring biotechnology education to secondary schools in communities around the world.
Capacity Building for Individuals, Organizations, and Systems

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