Wounded Warrior Project Joins Operation Dress Code to Empower Women Veterans in Their Post-Military Careers
When it comes to job hunting, confidence may be one of the most important skills. Building that confidence comes from a combination of factors – including dressing the part.
In the military, what to wear to work is rarely an issue. Transitioning from military service to the civilian workforce already presents numerous changes and figuring out how to dress for a new job is a new challenge for veterans. That may be even more so for women veterans.
Operation Dress Code aims to build that confidence and help women service members and veterans navigate the next steps in their post-military careers. Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) recently teamed up with Operation Dress Code and other veterans service organizations (VSO) for a pop-up event in San Diego that served as a one-stop shop for more than 150 women veterans who were looking to transition from the military to the civilian workforce.
During the event, women veterans shopped from donated clothing, jewelry, purses, and shoes, and attendees were able to get their hair and makeup done for professional headshots. WWP’s Warriors to Work program also facilitated workshops to help with resume writing, interview prep, career counseling and networking.
Women Veterans in the Civilian Workforce
According to WWP’s 2021 Annual Warrior Survey, women warriors experience higher rates of unemployment than males, despite higher rates of education. The survey also showed women warriors often feel less respected for their veteran status in the workplace compared to male warriors.
For warrior Rachel Grant, the military was the only career she had ever really known. She spent 26 years in the U.S. Air Force and retired in November 2019. When she got out of the military and began the next stage of her post-military career, she had the skills, experience, and reliability to be a great asset to a civilian employer, but still had things to learn about navigating these new waters.
Rachel attended her first Operation Dress Code at the San Diego pop-up and also volunteered to help out at the event.
“I wore a uniform for so long. If I could just have a uniform again, that would make it so much easier for me,” Rachel said. “When all the [clothing] trucks came in, and they were setting everything up, I thought, ‘this is amazing.’ It was overwhelming how awesome it was.”
Many of the attendees at this event were active-duty service members who were looking ahead to their next mission, or first-timers to an Operation Dress Code event.
“The clothes are just the catalyst to get them there, but really that day is about empowerment,” said Randee McLain, WWP Complex Case Coordination manager and Navy veteran. “[We want to let] these women know that they are valued and what they did is valued and that we're there to support them as they transition.”
The in-person event was also a welcome change after the COVID-19 pandemic halted in-person gatherings and affected the job market and employment options.
“This year was really different because the workforce has changed,” Randee said. “The women have changed, the expectations have changed, so women are trying to adapt to that. Some women had an amazing job and then COVID happened, and they had to choose between taking care of their kids or their job. So, now we're working on navigating through that.”
Empowering Women to Continue Service in Style
Operation Dress Code offers a full experience for women service members and veterans in attendance. The event’s activities are all geared to not only helping women find civilian employment, but also boosting their self-confidence and honoring their service and sacrifice.
“Because I was volunteering, I got to go to the dressing room, and watching these women come out in the clothes and to see their faces was amazing,” Rachel said. “There was one woman who was a student and a single mom, and she was crying because this was going to help her so much. That was totally worth it.”
Serving in the armed forces already takes a certain amount of confidence and a special skillset but finding a new job can be stressful for anyone. Events like this one help set up women warriors for continued success.
Strength in Numbers
The Operation Dress Code event and others like it are about much more than assistance with finding a job. For veterans, connecting with other veterans is paramount. According to the 2021 Annual Warrior Survey, 62% of warriors reported feeling lonely, and women warriors were also significantly more likely to report being lonely than male warriors (71% vs. 60%).
In-person events like the San Diego pop-up boutique does more than prepare women for civilian jobs– it also serves as a way for women veterans to connect with each other.
“I never want to go do stuff like an event, because I get nervous if I don't know somebody who will be there,” Rachel said. “This was kind of pushing myself a little bit, and I ended up making multiple connections. I got some people's phone numbers and plan on meeting up with them. The networking was great.”
Networking through events allows women veterans to share their knowledge and experience with other women service members who are recently making the transition to a civilian career.
“We have one woman who came to an Operation Dress Code event when she was an active-duty service member getting ready to transition, and now she's working with a VSO, giving back and bringing other women to this event,” Randee said. “It just shows that camaraderie, and that sisterhood, which is just so important.”
A Segue to Other Services
Employment assistance is just one component of improving a warrior’s overall well-being. A lack of resources and connections, both socially and professionally, can negatively impact a veteran’s transition from military service to civilian life.
Women warriors can often find their biggest advocate in each other.
“Women come in and they have these walls up saying, ‘No, I don't need it. Somebody else needs it more than me,’” Randee said. “Then by the end of it, they're celebrating with their sisters. It’s also about getting the word out and letting them know there are services available, as well as destigmatizing asking for help or support.”
Women warriors can also benefit from the different programs and services throughout WWP which work in sync to support warriors in finding employment, boosting their financial health, and improving their physical and mental well-being.
“[Women] are still a low percentage of the armed services,” Rachel said. “Knowing that you have that lifeline is important. I think it's also very important to have these events, to be able to gather together and joke and laugh about different things or help those people who need the resources or just to have somebody to talk to.”
Find out about all the ways WWP can help veterans here.
Contact: — Paris Moulden, Public Relations, firstname.lastname@example.org, 904.570.7910
About Wounded Warrior Project
Since 2003, Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) has been meeting the growing needs of warriors, their families, and caregivers — helping them achieve their highest ambition. Learn more.