An Often Overlooked Dimension of Diversity: Military Experience

Weapon barrel and camels

Photo by Ann Weeby

I’ve written a lot about diversity on Ahead of the Heard and I’ve focused my attention on the importance of racial diversity in the education sector. And for good reason, a long history of discrimination against people of color is a primary reason for our tragic opportunity gap.

But we know that diversity is as multi-dimensional as humans are and one dimension often overlooked by employers is the experience of military veterans. Veterans, especially those who served during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, accrue incredible skills that could benefit the education sector if we could only get better at recognizing their potential.

Less than 1% of the US population serves in the military which explains why service members transitioning to civilian jobs run up against barriers in the hiring process. A deep military-civilian divide often means hiring managers, recruiters, and HR screeners will be unfamiliar with military terminology embedded in resumes that describe the rich and varied work experience of military leaders. When recruiters only spend six seconds reviewing a resume, what are the chances they’re stopping to translate a military operational specialty (MOS) into civilian terms?

Of course biases come into play as well. Unless you’ve served yourself, have loved ones who’ve served, were raised in a military family, or work closely with service members or veterans, it’s easy to let the media shape our perceptions about the military experience. We imagine a hierarchy where orders are barked from superiors to subordinates until they’re carried out unquestioned. We imagine nonstop gruesome combat. We unfairly assume veterans are volatile or damaged when they return home.

In reality, the military has a wide array of professional positions and unmatched skills training. As a result, veterans have incredibly valuable soft and hard skills that the education sector needs. I wrote about them last year on Eduwonk:

Military leaders learn to complete a mission within the structure of a bureaucracy and with the people provided to them, limited resources, and significant externalities at play. They learn to be adaptable in ambiguous situations and think in terms of systems. They analyze situations methodically, put a plan in place, pursue it doggedly, and learn continuously. Many are responsible for the safe return of hundreds of subordinates and millions of dollars in equipment. But more importantly, they’re driven by a purpose larger than themselves.

Almost every single service member I talked to said they were interested in pursuing a career in education because they yearned for a job that provided them the sense of service to others they felt as part of the armed forces.

Education organizations shouldn’t wait for veterans to apply to jobs. Instead, we should take a page out of the playbook of many private sector companies that include veterans in their diversity efforts and spend considerable resources to recruit, train, and support former military personnel. Out here in the Bay Area, Salesforce.com’s VetForce* and LinkedIn’s veterans initiative are two such examples.

Veterans Day is a great reminder that we must examine the practices of our own organizations and correct them where biases turn into barriers.  Here are a few questions to consider:

  • Which roles would benefit from someone with military training?
  • Do you have a pipeline of military talent?
  • Do the people doing the hiring at your organization know how to read a military resume?
  • What biases around military service do you and your staff bring to the hiring process?
  • If you employ veterans, do you support them and celebrate the experience they bring?

If you’re a veteran working in education or work at an education organizations that has a veterans initiative, tell us about your experience in the comments and on twitter.

*Disclosure: My incredible wife, who is a combat veteran and a champion for strong veteran transition services and employment opportunities, works at the Salesforce Foundation which does not fund Bellwether.

One thought on “An Often Overlooked Dimension of Diversity: Military Experience

  1. Anne Mahle

    Hi Jason –
    You should reach out to Eryn Mounticure, who leads Teach For America’s MilVets initiative. You can read more about the initiative here: https://www.teachforamerica.org/about-us/our-initiatives/military-veterans-initiative — we have done a lot over the last few years to ensure that our selection process recognizes the unique and important leadership skills of veterans and to further support the veterans and military-connected family members who are part of our Teach For America community. Thanks for your post.

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