Re: Zuckerberg’s visit to Fort Bragg
Thank you, Mark Zuckerberg, for taking the time to listen to our soldiers and military families at Fort Bragg yesterday. I am engaged to a soldier based at Fort Bragg, soon becoming part of a military family. In anticipation, I recently went through the “uprooting” you mention in your post to be closer to my fiancé. It has had me thinking about the challenges that the broader community of military families faces to progress, or even simply maintain, a career as the spouse of a United States soldier.
For a military spouse, maintaining a career through frequent “uprootings” is nearly impossible in the existing support structure for military families. The Family and Medical Leave Act, or FMLA, aims to provide job protection to those family members who must take time away from their jobs to support their soldier. However, the “protected” time off provided is unpaid, and is, by and large, short-term. The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, or USERRA, grants significant job protection rights to a soldier, but no parity exists for a spouse.
As the public sector has not been able to adequately support this demographic, the private sector has an opportunity to both set the standard and apply the right pressure to influence change at a federal level.
To better support and empower military families, we need:
+ Vocal leaders of progressive companies like Facebook to urge our government to reset the currently accepted standard of living for our military families
+ Further research into remote working structures and management strategies to maintain collaborative and cohesive teams
+ Greater incentives for companies to enable military family members to maintain roles remotely when a move is necessary to support a soldier, while preventing disruption to that individual’s path for advancement, promotion, or compensation progress
+ Increased awareness of biases faced by workers who choose to make life changes in support of a spouse
+ Focused effort to hire military spouses, such as existing efforts to hire veterans, both during and after the soldier’s service
Benefits to you:
+ Opportunity to be an agent for change, innovating around the way we work
+ Access to a largely untapped workforce
+ Break down the need for office walls to make your workforce truly global. The work done to support this specific initiative has monumental prospects at scale
Benefits to our country:
+ More dual-income military family households to improve their financial outlooks
+ Increased opportunities for women to maintain careers without threatening earning power
+ Greater sense of self and empowerment for spouses given opportunities to continue to pursue careers while being present to support their soldier
At Fort Bragg, the largest military base in the world, estimates have suggested around 1 in 10 families live below the poverty line. Many junior enlisted soldiers’ compensation levels qualify them for various government food assistance programs. Between 2014 and 2016, the Defense Commissary Agency reported that $21 million in food stamps were used at military commissaries. These numbers are atrocious, and perhaps more-so when considering these refer to soldiers serving our country and their families. That those who make such sacrifices for our liberty struggle to make ends meet is simply unconscionable.
But, looking at the hard numbers, it makes sense. A private can make less than $20,000 per year. If that soldier is married with a child or two (or more!), that poverty line approaches quickly, and far faster when the spouse doesn’t work.
Though military spouses span genders, around 85% of our enlisted soldiers are male, so a large majority of military spouses are women. Women already face an uphill battle to attain parity in opportunity and wages in today’s broader workforce. The natural stresses put on military families do little to improve that outlook, and, arguably, make it worse.
USERRA gives many soldiers who leave a job to join the military a guarantee to post-service employment of equal pay and responsibilities with the same company they left (if not more according to the “escalator” principle to account for seniority gained in the soldier’s absence). Considering the sacrifices made in uprooting a life in support of another’s service, similar benefits should be given to the families who forego careers and stability to support our troops.
My personal “uprooting” recently took me from San Francisco to the east coast to be closer to my soldier based at Fort Bragg. Before moving, I requested, and was lucky to be granted, a rare exception by my employer, a software company based in SF, to allow me to continue working in my role in a remote capacity. For a tech company in Silicon Valley with the resources to connect a remote employee, enabling me to work remotely may not seem like such a big deal, but it is certainly not the norm.
Though grateful to continue my work remotely, this uprooting reduced my future earning potential within my organization. I was told that, should I come up for a promotion while in my remote role, I shouldn’t expect my salary to increase, and, in fact, could see it decrease due to defined, location-based salary bands. When I consider the implications of others’ “uprootings” at a greater scale, where very few companies have the flexibility to grant exceptions like the one I was given, it is undoubtedly more difficult for a military spouse to maintain a career, let alone in such a way that won’t derail compensation progress.
I am sure you could add to any of the above lists with 2 minutes to think on it. I can’t prove this, but if I were a betting woman, I would even go so far as to say that by empowering military spouses to remain effective contributors in our nation’s workforce we could see the military divorce rate decrease, an issue that continues to plague our armed forces. Research found in the National Institutes of Health’s US National Library of Medicine shows that financial troubles can be a main contributor in the decision to terminate a marriage.
Improving a military spouse’s prospects to maintain a semblance of normalcy, to pursue a career and goals of their own while supporting a soldier and navigating the uncertainties of military life, could have farther-reaching implications than we can grasp today.
My proposal to you is this: participate in and push the conversation forward around bringing military spouses back into the workforce completely, not just in a limited capacity. You left Fort Bragg with more ideas to help build stronger communities. Here’s one more to consider: Investing in the empowerment of families who sacrifice so much to support our troops can and will contribute to building a stronger military community, a stronger national community, and a stronger global community.