Part of Causecast’s ongoing series examining how Corporate America is finding innovative ways to help veterans through its employee engagement programs. This blog originally apeared in Forbes.com.
Memorial Day may be over, but the issues facing veterans continue every day. With that in mind, I’ve been taking inventory of Corporate America to find out which companies are standouts when it comes to veteran friendly practices. I’m particularly concerned, as we should all be, about the sky-high unemployment rate amongst recent veterans – a rate much higher than that of the civilian population.
That’s why businesses which are addressing this issue hold a special place in my heart. But savvy companies aren’t hiring vets out of any sense of charity; they understand that by helping veterans they’re making a wise business decision. Vets who have served in the deserts of Iraq and Afghanistan, who have been members of disciplined teams with complex missions, who have done their jobs despite physically and emotionally challenging conditions can, unsurprisingly, become excellent employees in civilian workplaces. Indeed, the level of skill, leadership and composure our veterans bring to the table is tough to match.
A Veteran Friendly Culture
Starbucks is one company that recognizes the tremendous value of veterans and, in turn, has developed innovative ways to make their organization as veteran friendly as possible. While the unemployment gap for veterans is still wide elsewhere, at Starbucks the military community is growing, thanks in large part to the Starbucks Armed Forces Network (AFN).
The AFN is an organization launched and led by veterans in 2009 to support Starbucks military partners (how they refer to their employees) and their families, as well as veterans and military reservists searching for new employment in the civilian world. This group resonates not only with transitioning veterans but also with Starbucks’ current military partners, who recognize that nobody understands being in the military like a veteran does.
Companies like Starbucks understand that it’s not enough to want to hire vets; in order to successfully source veteran talent, the business must become culturally competent in the “language” of vets. Likewise, vets must develop cultural competencies around the language of Corporate America. Without this mutual understanding, the veteran faces a greater barrier in landing new employment, just as companies face a great barrier in identifying and on-boarding individuals from this tremendous talent pool.
“Often it comes down to vernacular,” explains Cecilia Carter, Starbuck’s vice president of Global Diversity, Community and Government Affairs. “Does a Junior Military Officer with eight years of service in the Marine Corps, MACG 28, 3RD LAAM Battalion have the right skill-set for a senior Human Resources position, for example? Frequently, the answer is yes, but does the hiring manager know that?”
A primary function of the AFN is to help transitioning military translate their experiences into a vernacular that a civilian hiring manager can understand. And it’s working. Carter pointed out, for example, a transitioning Air Force Lieutenant Colonel with 20 years of experience who recently joined the Starbucks team as a senior accountant after robust networking with AFN partners. Noel Harris, a former Navy Seal, also with 20 years experience, is now serving as director of protective services, developing security policies for Starbucks partners and VIP’s. And Starbucks recently hired a former Navy Junior Military Officer as both a store manager and coffee master.
“We’re lucky to have them,” Carter continued. “Looking forward, our hope is for our veteran outreach to grow as we cultivate diversity in all aspects of our business. We continue to learn and improve upon the ways we support these incredible individuals.”
Starbucks’ innovative programs, like the AFN that supports vets, create the sort of socially conscious business culture that is increasingly being adopted by Corporate America – a culture that is further benefiting companies through improved employee engagement. The company will be one of the key business and government thought leaders exchanging ideas like these at next week’s Social Innovation Summit at the United Nations, a forum which spotlights the growing movement of making the business of social change a key part of one’s business.
Who can argue with this sort of commitment from Corporate America to leverage its resources for good? I just hope that when companies consider how to help veterans find employment, they recognize – like Starbucks does – that the businesses themselves are the ones who are helped the most.