Michelle Obama photo

Remarks by the First Lady at the Women Veterans Career Development Forum in Arlington, Virginia

November 10, 2014

MRS. OBAMA: Thank you all so much. (Applause.) Thank you. You guys, rest yourselves. I hear you're working hard so I don't want you standing too much.

But I am really thrilled to be here. I really am. I'm so happy that this day is here, and that so many of you are getting the support and guidance that you need. So I'm just delighted to be here.

I want to start by thanking Trish for her incredible service to our country, and I want to thank her again for sharing her story with us today. I know it reflects so many of the stories that are here, and I'm so proud of Trish and all the women that I spoke to with Redbook. They're just amazing.

I also want to recognize Secretary McDonald from the VA, who I know spoke to you earlier, as well as all of the experts and leaders who are joining us here today for the Career Development Forum.

But most of all, I want to thank all of you, the servicemembers and veterans who have stood up every time this country has called. And before I go any further, I want to say two words that I don't think we can say enough, and is, thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you. (Applause.) Thank you for your service. Thank you for your sacrifice. Thank you for your unending commitment to our country.

But I'm here today because I know that simply saying thank you isn't always enough. We're here because of women like Trish and like all of you -– women with distinguished records of service who still struggle to find jobs after they leave the military.

As Trish mentioned, earlier this summer, I had a chance to sit down with her and four other amazing women veterans, and as Trish mentioned, we had a good time. We had some fun. And I know they were a little nervous at the start; they were getting their makeup all done up, snapping pictures for the White House in the White House for a magazine cover -- (laughter) -- see, they laugh. I know you all were nervous to start out. (Laughter.)

But then we loosened up as we got beautiful. We sat down and chatted. And when we sat down to talk, they all really opened up. And it was clear to me that each of these women, they were incredibly skilled. They were professional, poised eloquent -- I loved them. And I could easily imagine any one of them successfully leading a team not just on land or sea, but in any company or any organization in America. That's -- they blew me away.

So it was incomprehensible to me that such a talented group of women struggled to find jobs when they left the military, or that they -- the limited opportunities available to them were often far beneath their skill level and pay grade. One woman named Kandy served in the Navy for nine years, gaining a wide variety of skills -– legal work, project management, logistics. But when she left the military, she could only find a retail job that barely paid the bills for her and her daughter.

Another one of the women, Dawn, was in logistics operations in the Air Force for eight years. She had her bachelor's degree and was working on her second master's, but then she left the military and she couldn't find a job that could support her and her four kids. She said she went to bed hungry a lot of the nights so that her kids would have enough to eat. And when she reached out to an employment agency for advice, they told her that since her skills were mostly in male-dominated industries, she should try using only the first initial in her first name on her resume so that employers wouldn't know she was a woman.

Now, unfortunately, these kinds of struggles are far too common. And I know all of you here heard -- know the statistics. But I want to go over them to make sure that folks across the country know them as well. Because while we're proud that the overall veterans' unemployment rate has continued to drop over the past few years, women's -- women veterans are still having a harder time finding jobs than their male counterparts.

And last month, the unemployment rate for women veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan was 11.2 percent –- five points higher than men who served in the same conflicts, and more than double the rate for civilian women. And that's just wrong.

After everything women like Trish, and Kandy, and Dawn -– and all of you -– have done for this country, the fact that any of you are worrying about where your next paycheck is going to come from, or struggling to put food on the table -- that should be appalling to all of us as Americans. And it doesn't make sense from a business perspective either.

Over the past few years, I've had so many CEOs tell me that hiring veterans like all of you isn't just good for the country, it's good for their bottom lines. They say you're exactly the kinds of employees they want to have in their companies, and when you bring your military experience into their companies, it raises the bar for everybody.

But unfortunately, that message hasn't made it into every company or organization across the country. Not every hiring manager is going to know that a chief petty officer has been responsible for the lives of dozens of their peers. Not every HR director understands that a gunner's mate is probably trained to do some of the most complex, high-tech analysis that you'll find anywhere.

So that's where we all come in. We've got to do a better job of bridging that gap. We've got to do more to help show even more employers across the country all the incredible skills that you all have got. And that's exactly what today is all about.

So I want to thank Redbook, the Business and Professional Women's Foundation, and TriWest Healthcare Alliance for bringing this forum together to help you all translate your amazing military experience into amazing resumes and interviews that will ultimately lead to the careers of your dreams.

And we've got a wonderful group of folks here. We've got folks here to help you identify job openings in business and technology, health care and defense contracting, the federal government. We've got folks who can answer your questions about continuing your education, getting your professional credentials. I know my good friend Bobbi Brown is here to talk to you about how she's achieved success in her career. And we have the wonderful folks from Ann Taylor who are here to give you some tips to how to look good -- (laughter) -- and boost your confidence as you prepare for a job interview -- because we can never underestimate the importance of looking good, right ladies? (Laughter.)

So this event is about you. It's about making your transition to fulfilling -- to a fulfilling and wonderful civilian career as seamless as possible. Because we know that leaving the military can feel like you're stepping into a whole new world. And in the past few years, too many veterans have struggled during these crucial few months right after you hang up that uniform.

And that's why, as President, my husband has been working to smooth the transition process for every single one of our servicemembers. He's overhauling and expanding the military's entire transition process so that you're getting better guidance and training for your next steps throughout your time in the military, and not just cramming all of it into the last couple of weeks of your time in the military.

He's helping you earn civilian credentials and licenses while you're still in uniform. He challenged the private sector to hire 100,000 veterans, and they have responded by hiring or training more than half a million vets and military spouses through our Joining Forces initiative.

Also, this administration created a groundbreaking new website called the Veterans Employment Center, which has been up and running since spring. Now, this website is revolutionizing the way veterans like all of you can find jobs in the public and private sectors. It's a one-stop shop for you to build on your profile, create a resume, find a list of job openings that suit the skills you've learned in the military. And already there are more than a million job postings, and it features hundreds of employers that have committed to hiring our veterans. And on top of all that, this website also allows you to view all of your other earned benefits, things like career counseling, the GI Bill.

So this is like your own personal transition toolbox right there for you on your computer. So I want to urge all of you here and every veteran and transitioning servicemember in the country to take advantage of this by going to ebenefits.va.gov just to get started.

I also want to call on employers across the country to do the same thing, because this website will connect your business or organization to some of the most highly qualified, most dynamic people you will ever have the chance to hire. And I'm also excited to announce that we've got a new commitment that will make this an even more powerful tool for veterans across the country.

As you all probably know, LinkedIn is one of the most popular ways for people to connect with employers and find jobs.

There are more than a hundred million LinkedIn members in the United States, and with this new commitment, it's going to be easier for veterans like you to stand out from that crowd.

So starting today, if you fill out a profile on LinkedIn, or if you already have one, with just a few clicks, you can now import your profile directly onto the Veterans Employment Center website. That means it's going to be easier than ever to access all those features on the Veterans Employment Center. Plus, LinkedIn continues to give veterans access to everything on their network -– from their training materials to a full year of "Premium Jobseeker" tools. And so for all of you here today, that means that you'll be a featured applicant for employers, and you can contact anyone on the entire LinkedIn network.

And here's the kicker -- LinkedIn is doing it all for free. These tools are worth hundreds of dollars a year. So this commitment doesn't just give you a leg up on your competition, it saves you money, and it saves your family some money, as well.

And for those of you looking to diversify your skills or continue your education, we've got another announcement for you, as well. Coursera, which is an online educational platform, is stepping up to offer one free verified certificate to any veteran in a number of high-demand fields like data science or entrepreneurship. Once you complete the certificate, you can easily upload that information onto your LinkedIn profile.

And if you don't have internet access at home, or you want to meet up with other folks taking the same course, Coursera and the VA are teaming up to open 20 "Learning Hubs" all across the country. That means troops and vets like all of you can get together, get online, get the training you need for the jobs you dream of.

So this is some good stuff -- really. (Applause.) That just shows you the kind of commitment, when people are asked. And that's what I want you all to realize -- people love you guys, and they want to find ways to make this easier for you. And now we want you to take advantage. And that's really what all this work is about -- it's about making a real, concrete difference for you, your families, and your future.

And while we hope that this forum and these commitments will make a big difference, we also know that we've got a lot more work to do. There are still far too many hurdles out there for our veterans, and we're going to keep working until each and every one of you has a job –- and not just any job, but a good job, a job you can raise a family on -- yes. (Applause.)

And I know that's a big goal -- it is a big goal -- but you've got to reach high. And with partnerships like we've just announced today, I know that we can do this. This building we're in right now reminds me that we can do this. (Applause.) Just think about all those women we honor here in this memorial, all the glass ceilings they shattered.

For years, women couldn't serve in an official role in the military at all. They were banned from leading other troops and giving orders to men. Even just six years ago -– six years –- we'd never had a woman four-star general, but now we've got three, including the first African American woman, who was promoted this summer. (Applause.) Absolutely. Woo woo! (Applause.)

Today, women are serving in almost every capacity in the military, including the front lines. And perhaps most importantly, women like all of you are igniting a broader cultural shift. You're refashioning the image we have of our veterans. You're showing us that our troops are as diverse as the rest of our country. And in doing so, you all are carrying forward the legacy of those we honor at this museum. And for that, you should be very, very proud -- very proud.

So as you set off into your job search, I want you all to stand tall. Don't be afraid to go out there and sell yourselves. And I know that might be a little counterintuitive for many of you because that's not what you're used to doing in the military. You're used to focusing on the mission and not yourself.

But let me just share this one thing: I have worked in so many different professions –- from government to nonprofits to the corporate world -- and I can tell you from my own experience that if you want a job, you can't be modest. You've got to show off a little bit. And believe me, you all have so much to show off. That's the beauty of it -- those years in the military set you apart from so many other candidates.

You know about real leadership. You know about team building. You know how to work in all sorts of different situations with all sorts of people. And more than anything else, you all know that no matter what it takes, you're going to figure out how to complete whatever mission is in front of you.

And so I want you to know that when other folks hear about the incredible experience you've gained while serving our country, they are going to respond. They are going to respond. That's what happened for Trish, it's what already happened for those two other wonderful women I spoke about earlier as well. Because after our meeting, when a community member found out that Kandy was a veteran looking for a job, he lined up an interview for her, and she knocked that interview right out the park –- they offered her a job the same day.

And then Dawn -- yes, yes. (Applause.) And Dawn, with the help of BPW's veteran mentoring program, she landed a job she loves as an auditor and she also started her own business, and is building a new home for her and her four kids. And all the while -- yes -- (applause) -- she managed to do all that and she kept her full name on her resume. (Laughter and applause.)

So just like these women, just remember you might have your ups and downs, but I want you to know that this whole country believes in you, and we've got your backs. So we're going to keep rallying this country to serve you as well as you've served us.

We're going to keep asking businesses to commit to hiring veterans and military spouses. We're going to keep sharing your stories and reaching out to employers to make sure they understand the depth of your skill and experience. And we're going to keep working to create more events like this one. So we want more organizations and businesses to do this. If you're watching, come together around our veterans. We want these to happen in communities all across this country. This day needs to be replicated.

So I'm not going to stop, I know my husband's not going to stop until each and every one of you has the job you deserve and the respect and support you have earned. That's our pledge to you.

So again, thank you. Thank you for your service. Have a great day today. Good luck. And God bless you all. It's been an honor working with you. (Applause.)

Michelle Obama, Remarks by the First Lady at the Women Veterans Career Development Forum in Arlington, Virginia Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/321923

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