Why Female Veterans Stay Away from Tech (And Why They Shouldn’t)

My military-to-civilian transition story was unlike any other. Okay, it was probably pretty run of the mill, all things considered. I had a college degree; I performed very well in all of my leadership roles; I even got some marketing/sales experience in my last military billet working as a recruiter. And yet, I struggled to find a path that fit with what I had in mind.WIT 4

Military transitions are tough. Throughout the process, you cling to what is comfortable and you end up reaching out to others that are also “figuring it out”. You do the best you can. Running a veteran transition firm that focuses on training and education, I’m in constant contact with active duty veterans that are in exploration mode and going through a very similar set of motions. Since we focus on the tech sales space, we do not see many female veterans. I apologize upfront if that sounded blunt. The resounding thud of this statistic smacking us in the face every week forced us to start having internal, and then eventually external, conversations about this phenomenon.

Now this may vary from community to community within the military, but some of the best junior officers on my ship were women. Smart, charismatic, confident and not afraid of anyone or anything could all be used to describe them. They stood right next to me and took the same oath I did. So where were they now? And what was it about working in the fastest growing, most lucrative industry in the history of the world that was so repulsive to them?

Donning my market research hat, I decided to hold an ad hoc focus group at a local (Washington D.C.) women’s alumni event to find out what was going on. Here were the top 4 reasons why female veterans MAY not be thrilled to jump into the technology space:

#1   I’m under qualified.

Rebuttal: I get it. Sorting through all of the requirements listed under the “desired skills and experience” tab of a job description can be intimidating. But if there is one thing I’ve learned, it’s that everything is negotiable. Work experience can sometimes be negated with a master’s degree from a strong university. Low grades in college can be overcome with an unforgettably impressive interview. And so forth. But after speaking with this group of Harvard-educated young women, I found that not having the right “quals” almost always results in immediately moving on to the next opportunity.

This surprised me. So I asked my wife, who sheepishly admitted that she had similar tendencies. Shocked. Here is a breakdown of the requirements of my first job out of the Navy (which coincidentally was in tech sales):

  • Two or more years of professional experience in an Accounting, Procurement, Supply Chain or Business Technology function – NOPE
  • Previous experience with Cloud applications – NOPE
  • Four year bachelor’s degree with a concentration in Accounting, Business Management or Computer Science – SORT OF, ECONOMICS
  • Previous work experience or internship in a sales, pre-sales or product management – NOPE
  • Experience demonstrating ERP software (Oracle, SAP, Microsoft, NetSuite or Workday) – NOPE (NOT EVEN CLOSE)

So don’t shy away from jobs that are seemingly impossible, and don’t place too much emphasis on not having the right certifications. With a negative unemployment rate in the high tech industry, more and more technology executives are looking to veterans who offer durable skills and may be willing to overlook your lack of corporate professional experience for some kick-butt leadership experience. Go forth and do great things. Here are some of the other sentiments I gleaned from the focus group:

#2   I want to start a family.

#3   I just left a male-dominated industry (military), and I don’t want to jump right back into another one (high tech).

#4   Lack of S.T.E.M. training in school.

Our mission at Tech Qualled is to help veterans (both male and female) land rewarding roles in high tech, so please chime in on this matter if you have an opinion, an experience or any relevant data. The insight process never ends.