11/09/2012 12:08 pm ET Updated Jan 09, 2013

Mentor a Woman Veteran: Give Back to Those Who Have Given So Much

While we should thank our veterans every day, collectively we as a nation all say thank you on Veterans Day, November 11. But many of us want to offer more than just a sincere "Thank You," we would like to do something. In February of this year, Business and Professional Women's Foundation launched Joining Forces for Women Veterans and Military Spouses Mentoring Plus™ to connect women veterans and military/veteran spouses with volunteer working women mentors to help them navigate the challenging path to success in the civilian workplace. Research by the BPW Foundation has underscored an overwhelming gap in career, employment and entrepreneurial support when a woman leaves military service.

This is particularly concerning when you look at recent BLS veteran employment figures. While over all employment numbers for post-9/11 veterans seeking work fell to 9.7 percent last month, compared to 10.1 percent in August and 11.7 percent in September 2011, the numbers for women veterans are not as encouraging. Nearly one out of five women who served in the military at home or abroad during the Afghanistan and Iraq wars is now without a job. The unemployment rate for post-9/11 female veterans rose to 19.9 percent in September, compared to 14.7 percent last year.

Women leaving the service often face unique challenges including being single mothers or care givers for family members. In addition, women veterans are often looked at differently than their fellow male veterans. Even though they fill 99 percent of military jobs including serving in war zones, employers don't equate their skills at the same level as their male counterparts. Women who served in war zones are not afforded the same level of prestige as their male counterparts. And female veterans often do the same thing to themselves; not recognizing that they are veterans, so they don't seek and claim the benefits due them for their service.

Women currently make up 15 percent of our military forces and eight percent (and growing) of our veteran population. Joining Forces Mentoring Plus was created to meet the career needs of these women and help to guide them in their job searches and career development. Using a career development mentoring model we are engaging a cross section of civilian and veteran mentors who are providing insights, advice and encouragement to steer women veterans on an individualized course of action for success in the civilian workplace. In addition to mentors, there are a wide rang of online resources, online training as well as subject matter experts to tap into. Our ongoing success of course will be measured by the successful transition and reintegration of our women veteran mentees but there are some things that can't be measured. Long-term relationships and friendships are being formed and women veterans are gaining confidence in themselves and pride in the skills they gained in the military. One of our mentees, Ginni G, said,

I submitted my form online and like magic, the names of five possible mentors came back. I was able to select the one I thought fit my needs, a Senior VP of Human Resources.

"Our first meeting far exceeded my expectations. Between the time that I had signed up, and our first meeting, I actually had an interview with a company and was scheduled for a second. My mentor quickly adapted to my changing circumstances. Rather than looking at long term goals, she immediately provided some terrific insights for my upcoming interview. She outlined key tips and techniques both about interviewing and the somewhat taboo subject of salary negotiation. I feel much more prepared for my second interview. I will be calling her after my second interview and I picture us continuing our mentoring relationship long after this.

Most importantly, Ginni said, "I am impressed with those who are choosing to be mentors. These are women who want to give back. It takes time to serve as a mentor, and I am grateful that so many women have chosen to do so."

We hope that many women will want to share their life and work experiences and help women veterans. It is a rewarding and meaningful experience. I encourage you to join us and sign up at It is also easy to sign up to receive a mentor!