Chanel Diaz-Woodall was in her mid-20s when injuries forced her to trade her Army boots for dress shoes, but she still remembers how nervous she was about her first interview and the confidence boost she felt after getting a makeover and new clothes.
“I needed help with my makeup, my hair, my suit and the ladies were wonderful and helped me more than they had to,” she told more than 225 women Feb. 19 at the Empowering Women Career Summit in Oak Grove. “I felt transformed.”
That’s the feeling she wanted other women to have – whether they are women transitioning from the Army or military spouses looking to jump start, re-start or begin a career of their own.
Despite the challenges she faced – and there were many – she landed that first job and it helped launch her career path.
“It was an investment I put in myself, for me, for my career,” she shared with the crowd.
“I didn’t self-eliminate myself from the job. I remembered that recently and so three months ago, I took 25 women to the Dress for Success office in Nashville and we suited, styled and taught them about the corporate world and I saw them transform.”
Diaz-Woodall wanted to have an even bigger event and met with others tasked with helping Soldiers and spouses find work opportunities. The Fort Campbell Career Skills Program, USO Pathfinder team, Campbell Strong Workforce Partnership and Soldier For Life-Transition Assistance Program joined with the Wounded Warrior Project to host the inaugural Empowering Women Summit.
The crowd listened as a panel of women talked about challenges they faced as a military spouse looking for work or a woman warrior changing her path. People gathered in the morning to hear what they had to say before getting makeovers of their own and showing their resumes to potential employers at the afternoon career fair.
Ashley Butler, Wounded Warrior Project career counselor, traveled from Chicago to share her story and offer tips. As a career coach she has conducted thousands of interviews and encouraged women to do their research, know what their skills are worth and negotiate for better pay, when possible. About 34% of women attempt to negotiate, she said.
She challenged them to be themselves.
“Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen,” Butler said. “Be authentic and have self-acceptance.”
She said one of her greatest fears is public speaking, but she was willing to conquer that to speak at the summit.
“Standing here and putting veterans and spouses back to work is more important than my fear,” she said. “Be vulnerable. Have courage!”
Army veteran Lynette Hoke, a military talent recruiting liaison for Wells Fargo, told the crowd she was once a senior noncommissioned officer, but in the corporate world, the medals and awards they have might not mean as much to prospective employers unless they know how those skills translate. They also may not be as familiar with military bearing, and when to tone it down for those who have no military-affiliation.
“Who you are in the military might not be who you are in the corporate sector,” she said. “Soften that leadership demeanor, or at least be aware of it.”
Hoke told them to plan ahead, because it could take a year or more to find the right job and not get desperate.
“You are looking for an entry point, not an entry-level job,” she said. “Get in the door. Know in 18 months you are shooting for a target.”
She also urged them to be strategic and pick what they want, rather than “trick or treating” for lots of jobs, without knowing enough about the company.
“That shows you don’t know what you want and haven’t done enough to know about the company,” Hoke said.
She also encouraged them to value their service to the military, whether as an active-duty Soldier or a spouse, “because you earned it.”
Women as leaders
In addition to the speakers, five women were selected to lead a panel and answer audience questions.
Denise Thomas, deputy commissioner for the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development, is a prior military spouse and said the best advice she could offer is not to think of being a leader and woman separately.
“You are a leader because you are a woman,” she said. “We lead as soon as we can talk … you don’t have to conform.”
Maritza Rytherandino, a military spouse and district manager of ULTA Beauty, urged women to always ask for feedback from others because they may see qualities, mistakes or strengths they don’t see in themselves.
Fran Gill, an emergency room doctor at Blanchfield Army Community Hospital, also is a veteran and military spouse. She touted the value of mentors and urged the women to look for role models in the field they are pursuing, but also follow their own instincts.
“You are your own best career manager,” she said.
Kate Russell, owner of Hopkinsville Brewing Company and a veteran, said she thought she would be a stay-at-home mother. She shared a memory of skipping school to go to a pro-baseball game with her mother when she was 16 years old.
“She asked, what will I remember 10 years from then,” Russell said. “What are you going to remember in 10 years?”
Lauren Kovaleski, USO Pathfinder scout and spouse, also encouraged the women to find mentors, and think outside the box. She reminded them that counselors were waiting for them to come pick their brains. She said she also had to reevaluate her interests and goals or she wouldn’t be in her current career.
The women also took questions about the difficulties they faced when applying for a job as a spouse, not knowing where they might be in three years.
They also had a chance to sit down with professionals and have them go over their resumes, offer tips and critiques.
Spouses supporting spouses
Sandi Duncan, Army spouse, attended the summit because she wanted to find out more about jobs available to spouses, both for herself and to pass along to other spouses she knows.
She got a mini-makeover from ULTA beauty and posed for a free headshot that could be used for LinkedIn and other professional websites.
“We’re getting closer to my husband getting out of the military,” she said.
She has been a stay-at-home mother for many years, but also is a registered nurse. She is a substitute nurse at Fort Campbell Schools, which has helped get her back into her chosen career field.
Teresa English, Fort Campbell’s Career Skills Program coordinator, who also is a veteran, reminded the women there is a Family of helpers wanting to assist transitioning Soldiers and spouses. She urged them to take advantage of all the programs at Fort Campbell that can help.
“We have programs that are free, do you hear me? Free,” she said. “We are all one big Family and here to support one another. Let’s share some love and empower us.”
The Fort Campbell Spouse Employment Center is a free program available on post. The one-stop shop is designed to connect military spouses to careers by offering a wealth of resources such as training, education and employment services.
The Spouse Employment Center is equipped to connect spouses with services tailored for their specific needs, all facilitated by a team of specialists. For more information, visit the center at 5668 Wickham Ave., or call 270-412-1720 to schedule an appointment.
English said uplifting and empowering women comes with advice and, when needed, hugs.
“We have a lot of positive here,” she said. “It’s our first event, but I’m hoping we can do this again.”
‘Don’t hold anything back’
Staff Sergeant Monica Holliness, A Company, Warrior Transition Battalion, is in the process of transitioning out of the Army and getting a degree in business management and marketing.
“I learned a lot and liked the speakers,” she said. “It’s not about us but about us marketing ourselves and putting ourselves out there. Basically, don’t hold anything back.”
Amber Herald is a spouse and will experience a permanent change of station overseas with her active-duty husband in June.
“We are moving to Japan, so with that I know overseas there are not a lot of job opportunities,” she said.
Although she has a degree in psychology, she wants to teach English, because that’s a good job overseas.
The summit gave her a chance to connect with others who have experienced similar transitions.
“It’s always good to keep one foot in the professional realm, even if you aren’t currently employed, just to expose yourself to opportunities in the future,” Herald said.
She said she volunteers for the USO as a way to give back and fill gaps in her resume with experience.
Darold Londo, former Army aviation captain, volunteered to career counsel the women and said he is looking to fill 300 jobs for the new Oak Grove Racing and Gaming Facility that opens this summer.
Eric Horton, Campbell Strong program manager, said the office is a good access to match spouses with work opportunities.
Other Kentucky and Tennessee companies on hand to meet the participants, offer them information on jobs and even conduct some interviews included Montgomery County Government, Logan Memorial Hospital, Department of Defense Warrior Care, Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs, and Agero.
Jon Blauvelt, Wounded Warrior Project public relations specialist, said the organization co-hosted the event because their mission is to put warriors back to work.
“We are heavily involved in helping wounded veterans and their spouses in finding the next mission in their life,” he said.
He said the unemployment for wounded veterans is much higher than for other veterans. The summit showed how different groups can come together to tackle an issue.
“We know we’re stronger together than on our own,” he said. “An event like this is a perfect example of that collaboration.”