Veterans in Education Organizations May be Overlooked, Isolated

Photo by Ian Koski.

Photo by Ian Koski.

Today is Veterans Day and an opportunity to express our gratitude for those who have served in a military conflict. More importantly, it’s a time to consider if education leaders and their organizations are doing enough to hire and support veterans.

So we decided to dig into data generated by Bellwether’s Talent Ready Diagnostic (TRD), a proprietary framework that we use collaboratively with organizations to assess their “talent readiness” along 16 key talent dimensions including core values, leadership, culture, diversity, equity and inclusion, competencies, talent acquisition, on-boarding, performance development, career development, total rewards, decision making, communications, and work/life mix. The results provide us with a window into how “talent ready” an organization is — that is that degree to which they are innovative, effectively managed, great places to work that generate sustainable results and have durable, authentic relationships with the communities they serve. Importantly, it provides us and our clients with valuable data on the diversity of their employees and whether their employees feel that the work culture is inclusive. Thousands of employees from 36 education organizations across the sector, including 14 nonprofits, 13 CMOs, and 9 districts, have submitted responses.

We wanted to see if we could get a picture of the sentiments expressed by education organization employees who identify as military veterans. Our data set is small, so all the requisite interpretation caveats apply, but clear themes emerged.

What we found is discouraging.

Overall, there are incredibly few areas where the veteran group reports more positive perceptions of talent dimensions than the non-veteran group, suggesting that the identities and experiences of veterans may be isolated or overlooked.

Here are some concrete findings:

The diversity of perspective that veterans add to organizations may be overlooked.

  • We take diversity and inclusion very seriously here at Bellwether and with our client organizations. It’s one of the reasons our Talent Advising practice is thriving. And a focus on hiring and supporting veterans has been important to us since the organization’s founding. So it’s humbling and embarrassing that we didn’t even offer veteran status as an identity group option on early versions of the TRD survey. We suspect that others are not considering military service as a meaningful representation of diversity in their organizations.

Veterans serve across our sector, although rarely among other veterans.

  • Veterans span many roles and departments, from managers to directors to chief-level roles.
  • Over half of veteran respondents to the TRD survey (14) are teachers.
  • Of the 25 organizations that have taken the TRD survey since the option to select veteran status has been added, 11 have at least one respondent who is a veteran; most have only one respondent who is a veteran.
  • Only one percent of respondents are veterans compared to 7.6 percent of the U.S. adult population who are living veterans.

Veteran respondents report strong dedication. Overwhelmingly, veteran respondents report…

  • Commitment to the organization
  • Belief in organizational goals and priorities
  • Trust and respect in their managers and organization leadership
  • Confidence that they themselves have the knowledge and skills to do their jobs effectively

Differences in veteran and non-veteran responses indicate need for greater recognition and inclusion of the diverse perspectives veterans bring. Veteran respondents are…

  • Less likely to report that they can bring their “whole selves” to work
  • Less likely to see veteran-specific affinity groups or similar support structures in their organizations
  • Less likely to see diversity as a priority in the organization’s recruiting efforts

We also see opportunities to explore whether veterans have unique needs and values regarding what a positive staff experience looks like. Again here, veterans are…

  • Less likely to feel appropriately coached and mentored by leaders in the organization
  • Less likely to report appropriate amounts of direction and guidance
  • Less likely to see alignment in organizational, team, and individual goals
  • Less likely to report a culture of continuous improvement

Veterans are uniquely suited to fill the talent needs of the education sector, where system-level leadership roles require the ability to work within bureaucracies, navigate cultural divides, and create ambitious plans and execute them with fidelity. Yet it looks like we have considerable work in front of us to make sure veterans feel welcome and appreciated.

You can learn more about Bellwether’s Talent Services practice and our work creating talent-ready organizations here.