When members of the armed forces are deployed and mobilised, it obviously impacts their living arrangements and one of the unseen consequences is the knock-on effect felt by their families and military spouses.
It’s a situation that Audrey Nealon, Regional Employer Engagement Director (South) for the Reserve Forces’ and Cadets’ Association (RFCA) for Wales, has first-hand experience of from the perspective of the wives, husbands and partners who are often uprooted.
Audrey is now using that experience to work with employers to secure opportunities for other military spouses and in her own words, she explains how employers can help military spouses overcome the challenges they face…
“When my husband proposed to me 19 years ago, he mentioned that being married to an army officer might present the odd complication. Looking back, he was being extremely economical with the truth.
At the time, I was managing a team of unit trust dealers and overseeing the running of a call centre for a fund management company. We had two good incomes and the future looked pretty rosy.
“If you told me that I would move house 12 times, live in four different countries, have two children in different continents and live abroad for four years – sometimes as a single parent whilst my husband was deployed – change jobs 13 times and face the emotional turmoil of sending my children to boarding school… I wouldn’t have believed you.”
In this time, I’ve been discriminated when applying for jobs. The lack of empathy and short-sightedness of potential employers has been frustrating and upsetting. In the 21st century, it’s saddening that there is such a large pool of talented, resourceful and capable women (and men in some cases) who can’t secure employment they’re suitably qualified for because of the nature of their partners’ careers.
The tenacity, initiative and negotiation skills of military spouses should never be underestimated. While our other halves are away for months at a time, we are at home negotiating our own battles and peacekeeping efforts. Some of us are left at home with toddlers, teenagers and in extreme cases, unsolicited parenting advice from a mother in law!
Nine years after marriage and the subsequent career break, I started looking for realistic part-time employment that would’ve suited me as I didn’t have the luxury of having family nearby to help out when my husband was deployed or working long hours.
I was naïve enough to think that because of my experience with large financial institutions, securing a suitable position would be achievable. Unfortunately, the nine year gap on my CV was not an attractive prospect for many organisations.
In 14 months of job-hunting, the first organisation to even offer me an interview were the Army Families Federation. They understood that just because you have had to move overseas with your spouse or take time to look after your own children, that you aren’t suddenly stripped of your intelligence and talent.
I had a very supportive line manager who provided flexible working and being home based meant family life didn’t impact my job and vice versa. It was far less stressful and in turn, it naturally reflected in my performance.
RFCA for Wales is also a supportive and flexible employer, which has meant I’ve continued to enjoy and succeed in my career, unaffected as a military spouse – a situation that once seemed far away.
It’s important to stress that if your company or organisation wants to make a pledge to support military spouses in employment, it has to be relevant and achievable for you.
The skills that many military spouses have should make the armed forces community a hot spot for recruiters who are looking for driven, organised and responsible employees – if I say so myself.
I can offer advice and assistance to private, public and third sector employers in Wales. Please feel free to get in touch today if you want to ensure that those with families serving in the armed forces are treated fairly.”