February 22, 2012
You own a company and you had some staff leave recently, so you advertise to fill a vacant position in your business. Two applicants attend for interviews. One is a woman in her thirties, another in her mid-twenties. Both are strong candidates, but according to her CV the woman in her thirties has moved jobs every two years and one of her recent positions was not entirely relevant to the role she is applying for within your company. When you ask her about this, she tells you that it is because she has had to move house every two years. Her husband is in the military. Alarm bells ring; does this mean that she will only be in your company for two years? Is it worth investing time and money training her if she is likely to leave? Will she definitely move again after two years? Suddenly her appropriateness for the role and depth of experience become irrelevant; she is now being assessed as a potential flight risk.
It is one of the remaining employment taboos. Discrimination law prevents employers asking female interviewees if they are planning on having children and a man about his sexual orientation. Why then are employers still flummoxed when it comes to military partners?
Three years ago Harriet Harman, the then Equalities Minister spoke to many military wives when she completed a UK-wide tour of service bases. She reported that what military wives want has changed – that today’s military wives are modern women struggling to survive in the 21st Century and want the same training and employment opportunities as everyone else. They felt excluded from progress enjoyed by civilian society and hindered by a lack of understanding on the part of employers.
Difficulties faced by military partners range from relocating back to the UK from places such as Cyprus and Germany to gaps in CVs due to living in areas where work was not available, or taking a break to bring up children, not to mention having to move frequently to weird and wonderful places. They are hampered as more often than not they are the only childcare provider due to extensive periods of absence on the part of their spouse.
Since becoming an Army partner myself I have been impressed with the ambition and drive of the friends I have made. One of my dearest friends not only holds down a high end business career and motherhood for a girl of primary school age whilst her husband is on a two year posting (away from her – she is living unaccompanied) but she has also started her own military childrens’ charity* at the same time. Others are at university pursuing demanding careers in law and business, a fair section are in the military themselves and some are in medicine, photography and teaching. What impresses me the most is how they manage it all in the face of constant upheaval and emotional turmoil of separation and the stresses this brings, not to mention effectively being a single parent.
I do not know why anyone would not want to employ a woman who can multitask so beautifully, who shows such strength of resolve and determination not to let circumstance restrain her goals. It is a tough life being a military partner and it teaches you to draw on many qualities one previously would never imagine they possessed. I often make use of my new found ability to patiently wait for hours on end at work (not as fun as it sounds at two in the morning, believe me.)
Work is important. Work gives you a sense of self-worth and a social life outside of military life. It broadens life experience, tests your talents and can be turned into a fabulous career that brings so much happiness. Friendships are made, personal qualities developed and the wonderful part is that you get to bring some extra money home to your family. Steadily building up a career through experience whilst married to the military means that if your partner has problems finding work when they leave you can take over the reins should you so desire.
So I was, without exaggerating at all, ecstatic to see the new initiative Recruit For Spouses, founded by Heledd Kendrick. A recruitment website with a difference, Recruit for Spouses has already signed up the likes of British Telecom, Siemens and Golly Slater to its books, and has more than 400 military spouses signed up with skills in everything from accountancy to the law. The venture charges employers a nominal fee with all profits going to service charities. “Being a military spouse has its own unique challenges and when I first set out to create the company, my vision was to have a site that was helpful, interesting and would provide them with rewarding work,” said Heledd.
“Life is changing, and with Government cuts we are moving into a society where spouses want and need to work in gainful employment. The site is not just for wives – we would love to hear from men who have a wife in the forces too,”
“We are also working with the Women’s section of the Royal British Legion who have helped get us this far and we are extremely grateful to them for their on-going support,” she said. “We are also honoured to have Lady O’Donoghue as our Patron. She’s been a military wife for 38 years and has moved more than 24 times. She has offered some sage advice to our fledgling business.”
The website welcomes visitors, explains how the enterprise works, and adds: “Whether you’re looking for a job locally or you want to find work that is flexible or from home so that you can fit it around kids, exercises or those pesky dinner nights, we hope we can help. The companies who use us will not be disappointed as they are tapping into a global diverse workforce of skilled professionals who are resourceful and adaptable.”
*Army Children’s Charity mentioned above – My Daddy is a Soldier Adventures