As more women join the U.S. military, government agencies and nonprofits are tailoring their veterans’ services to focus on the circumstances of women as they transition from military service into civilian life. Companies that advocate for veterans can take a cue from these efforts, and expand their impact on women veterans in business.
The numbers do favor investor interest in women veterans as entrepreneurs. The military-focused company Sandboxx has been advocating for veteran entrepreneurs through an online resource library and through its media organization, Sandboxx News. Last year, Sandboxx News assembled a set of statistics aimed at motivating investors to pay more attention to veteran entrepreneurs in general, and veteran women entrepreneurs in particular.
“Startups founded and cofounded by women actually perform better over time than those started by men, generating 10 percent higher cumulative revenue over a five-year period: $730,000 for women compared with $662,000 for men,” Sandboxx reported, adding that women veterans have been the fastest-growing segment among entrepreneurs in recent years.
“One in 10 veterans are women, but they own one in six veteran-owned businesses,” Sandboxx explained.
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Sandboxx also noted that the number of women-owned businesses increased by 45 percent from 2007 to 2016, while the number of women veteran-owned businesses increased much faster, by 295 percent. However, the rate of investment has failed to keep pace.
“Female entrepreneurs receive just 2 percent of all capital investment and only 4.4 percent of total dollars in small business loans. What this means: They need more investors!” Sandboxx concluded.
The network of advocacy for veteran women entrepreneurs is growing. That has created new opportunities for companies to grow their engagement activities.
The nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization Bunker Labs, for example, has enlisted Ford, Macy’s and other high-profile brands to support veteran entrepreneurs. The organization runs a six-month Veterans in Residence incubator for veterans, their spouses and other family members. With a focus on diversity, Bunker Labs assesses that its community includes twice as many women veterans than the overall veteran population.
Companies can also get involved through their foundations. Last year, the Veterans Administration's Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization collaborated with the PenFed Foundation to host a series of small business training sessions for 100 women veteran entrepreneurs.
The six-month program focused on the federal contracting system and was capped by a pitch competition with prizes in the form of grants.
The PenFed Foundation is a 501(c)3 nonprofit supported by the Pentagon Federal Credit Union.
The federal Small Business Administration has also been focusing attention on women veterans, and its models can be applied to private sector advocacy. In particular, Sandboxx takes note of the SBA Entrepreneurship Training Program. The program supports programs run by nonprofits like IVMF (Veteran Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship) and ONABEN, which focuses on tribal and rural communities.
In addition to entrepreneur engagement actions, companies can also make a difference by steering more funds towards organizations that focus on women veterans.
One good place to start is the Foundation for Women Warriors. FWW began as a 1920’s-era home for military widow and mothers, and it has recently embraced a broader model of self-sufficiency. The organization offers a suite of services including childcare assistance and professional development, as well as emergency relief.
“There are over 40,000 Veteran Service Organizations across the United States and just a limited few focus their programs on the needs of women veterans,” the organization notes.
Another example is Operation Dress Code, a local organization that stages pop-up boutiques stocked with donations of professional clothing and accessories.
“The boutique is the focal point, but Operation Dress Code is about more than a new business jacket or pair of shoes, it’s about an experience. It’s about creating a safe space where women help women,” Operation Dress Code explains.
The National Veterans Foundation lists several other women-centered veterans organizations including Operation Reinvent and the coalition Women Veterans Rock. The organization Women Vets USA also provides a comprehensive listing that includes professional associations, crisis centers and other resources.
The new wave of activity in support of veteran women in business is encouraging, especially in the context of long-term trends.
The news organization Military.com (an affiliate of Monster Worldwide) notes that veteran entrepreneurship was far more common in the 20th century. As described by a 2016 study from the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University, almost 50 percent of World War II veterans were self-employed. Entrepreneurship still ran high among Korean War veterans, at 40 percent.
In contrast, only 4.5 percent of post-9/11 generation of veterans have been self-employed.
“It's a stunning statistic, given the resilience and skillsets veterans acquire in service,” wrote Military.com reporter Blake Stilwell.
Stilwell noted that the study highlights a significant increase in resources for veteran entrepreneurs. However, significant obstacles remain, topped by “a lack of social capital, adequate mentorship, maintaining a positive work-life balance and financial factors,” he observed.
The Institute for Veterans and Military families anticipates that its latest survey of military-affiliated entrepreneurs will provide additional insights leading to programs that help more veterans start their own businesses.
In the meantime, private sector allies need to be prepared for rising challenges that can impact women veterans more so than men. Women face additional PTSD factors compared to men in the military, they shoulder the greater burden of family worries, and military service is linked with a significant increase in breast cancer risk.
Above all, business leaders need to push back against the U.S. Supreme Court in the Dobbs case last summer, which relegated all women, in military service and out, to the status of second-class citizens at the mercy of state lawmakers.
Some state legislatures have acted swiftly to reassert the fundamental human and civil rights of women in the wake of Dobbs, and the Biden administration is working to ensure abortion access at VA facilities.
However, the damage has already been done. In addition to direct impacts in abortion-banning states, the ripple effect leading to abortion access issues throughout the country, concerns are rising that VA medical staff is vulnerable to prosecution under state law, and Republican leadership has already committed to a national abortion ban.
Women in the military are facing more danger while in service than ever before. Companies that profess to support them in civilian life need to respond to the challenges that women veterans face today, with equal force and determination.
Image credit: Adobe Stock (Yakobchuk Olena)
Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.