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
January 31, 2012
The above is a comment, one of many, left on a news website that shall remain unnamed under an article featuring a rather lovely lady called Amanda Prowse, who has written a novel about a young Army wife. I edited it slightly as the grammar and spelling were appalling. I wish to address it by way of reply here as the amount of people who appear to feel this way are fairly numerous. I do not usually feel compelled to answer back critics but as military partner writing is rather what I ‘am about’, I shall.
I do not need to explain that developments in technology which enable people like the above commentator to inscribe their opinions for all to see were not available in the 1940s. What I feel does warrant some explanation is that the comparisons between six month tours and a world war are hugely unfair.
First of all, everyone in Great Britain was, in some way, involved in WWII. Everyone understood what everyone else was going through. My Grandfather, who flew in the RAF in WWII would often reminisce that those years were ‘the very best time to be alive in this country’. Of course the war brought horror, much suffering and death, but the sense of community and patriotism in Great Britain was quite something to behold. If your husband or son was away fighting, sailing or flying, you had an entire community sharing your pride in him. If he went missing, was killed or injured everyone on your street knew and would surround you, almost smothering you with goodwill. “For his country” was the phrase, and although there were those who may have disagreed with the war there were not any people living here who protested in the angry or hateful manner in the way they do today. The country was united.
Wives were busy. Both my own grandmothers were in the WAAF (Women’s Auxiliary Air Force) one in munitions and the other in ops. They were part of the ‘war effort’ and each person in the country played their part, whether they were Land Girls, farmer’s wives, auxiliary servicewomen or teachers, everyone was working hard to keep the country functioning whilst the men were away.
I admire my late grandmothers more than most people I have met. I used to sit and discuss at length what it was like during the war with the youngest of the two and she would always say the same thing, that it was hard. She did not know if she would see my grandfather again. They did grab weeks together and they did write, being in the same service meant they used dead air time to speak on the radio (illegally) too. She always said that she was too busy to miss him properly. I know it was harder back then than she let on, her eyes betrayed her typically English stiff upper lip. I do not doubt that those women with literary talent would have penned their emotions in the same way the wives of today do; it is only that today it is far easier to upload those writings onto the internet and share them with the world. Back then, literary creativity was saved for the love letters posted to sweethearts.
As the partner of a service person in 2012, you are surrounded by people who have nothing to do with the military. You have a civilian job or are a mum at home and you are not part of any war effort at all; in fact you are often left feeling rather more of a hindrance than a cog in a wheel. Yes, technology has surpassed itself but you still cannot call your partner when he is deployed. He can pick up emails but this is not the case for everyone and technology is not infallible. If he is truly frontline you may not speak to him for weeks and weeks at a time, all the while you must go about your daily work as if this is completely normal whilst everyone else around you tells you about their plans with their husbands or what silly thing their boyfriend said to them last night. In a time where most normal couples barely spend a night apart and send text messages to one another throughout the day, you are faced with the same situation women endured decades ago. I was sent two letters in six months, less than one phone call every two weeks and I did not receive any emails because where he was did not have any computers.
Instead of a six year war interspersed with short breaks where they come home, modern day soldiers go away for six months at a time on a regular basis. Many regiments deploy every 2-3 years, a few go every 18 months. Some soldiers who joined in the 1990s have served a collective deployment of rather more than six years, and that away-time does not account for the few months of pre-deployment build up training where communications with partners and children are extremely limited, nor does it account for normal exercises (periods of time away training) where the same applies, which take up much of the year.
As for the partners writing? I like my whiny writing. It means I do not burst into tears in the office. It means I do not cry when someone asks me how he is or what he is doing, as they do not know. It is an outlet and a stress relief and when I am done writing I close the page or shut the notebook and get on with my life, as if all the negative feelings have been popped into a box and left behind me. Whereas in the 40′s your entire local community understood what you were going through, now partners look to the internet to speak to others in the same position and gain support. It can provide a comforting anonymity that allows a stiff upper lip to be visible in public. Some things, you see, do not change.
The other criticism that often niggles is ‘you knew what you were getting yourself in to, so stop moaning’ however, I feel I have addressed this enough in the past. Unless you are a clairvoyant or were married to a servicemen before how can you have any possible idea what it will be like? You do not pick the person you fall in love with and if you are anything like me the military is literally the last place you would choose to marry into thank you very much.
Warfare in the 21st Century is a completely different beast to that of the mid-20th Century and the way partners adapt to it has altered too. I really hoped that I would never have to point this out, but here is the simple truth; Comparisons between military wives during the war and military wives today criticising the latter are frankly ridiculous. If you do not want to read about what life is like for a military partner in today’s world, my advice is fairly straight forward; don’t. It is not any easier today than it was in the First or Second World War, it is not any harder. It is different.