Ex-Military Women in Business – An Under-leveraged Talent Cohort

May 6, 2021 Stuart Tootal

Individuals that have served in the armed forces offer a rich stream of talent to employers. Service leavers are purpose driven, empowered leaders and team players.  They are resilient, comfortable with ambiguity, adept at complex problem solving and have strong value sets based on accountability.  Women constitute 11% of personnel serving in the UK’s armed forces.  With approximately 15,000 people leaving the military each year, approximately 1,650 women with a service background become available for civilian employment every twelve months.  However, even the most active commercial ex-military recruitment programmes struggle to attract corresponding numbers of former servicewomen into their ranks.  Consequently, businesses are missing a huge talent opportunity.

Last week Matero Consulting Ltd hosted an ‘Ex-military Women in Business’ event.   Attended by women in the process of transitioning from the Armed Forces, the audience listened to three great speakers.  Former army captain Katie Volker, who joined Matero as a senior consultant after working at KMPG, Louise Tester, who completed Matero’s ex-armed forces internship programme before joining Amazon and Heather Armstrong, a director at Tavistock whose father served in the military.  The diverse background of our speakers offered an illuminating perspective into addressing the challenges this skilled cohort often face in finding the right civilian career and how the talents of ex-military women could be better leveraged by business.

Two key themes emerged.  Firstly, there was general agreement that many women too readily deselect themselves when considering a civilian career opportunity.  While their male counterparts are more willing to ‘take a punt’ in putting themselves forward for a job, women have a proclivity for finding reasons to doubt their qualifications and suitability.  Secondly, women are often put off from applying for an interview due to negative perceptions they have regarding a particular sector or firm.

Our speakers agreed that women leaving the armed forces can afford to be more comfortable with the transferability of their skillsets, especially as they have proven themselves in the male dominated environment of the military.  Service women have successfully led troops of all genders and backgrounds in combat and managed large teams in challenging environments.  They have consistently demonstrated that they are resilient to the rigors of active duty and the mental and physical pressures of service life, while competing equally well for promotion with their male peers.  However, both Katie and Louise emphasised the importance of mentoring, especially during the transition stage, where seeking advice and coaching can make a huge difference in helping services leavers gain the confidence to back themselves and go for roles that they might not otherwise have considered.

In addressing perceptions of any industry, Heather made the very valid point that any potential applicant should endeavour to establish whether the culture of an organisation fits with their own values.  All three speakers concurred this required placing an emphasis on researching a prospective employer to determine the nature of its business and the behaviours of the institution and its people.  The military term’ time spent in reconnaissance…’ resonated with the audience and underpinned the importance of networking and work experience, which all help to unveil the real culture and fit of a company.

Q and A revealed the view of the employer and the role they can play in attracting more servicewomen into their ranks.  Whilst most companies want to employee more women, not all of them are aware of the significant potential talent pipeline ex-military women offer.  However, even enlightened companies often struggle to access servicewomen.  Issues of perception and deselection play their part, but employers also have a role in helping to break down the barriers to entry.  How a company approaches ex-service women, communicates with them and the insight and support they offer are crucial.  Linkages to employment transition services, military diversity networks, offering work experience, specifically addressing the relevant gender themes and a willingness to invest effort in the endeavour are all key.

After reaching out individually to each of the attendees, the feedback Matero received regarding the event has been extremely positive.  However, it is easy to talk, so Matero will now do more to support this important talent cohort.  This will take the form of setting up an active Matero ex-servicewomen’s mentoring programme.  Starting with those who attended the event, we will offer them access to a range of relevant mentors, one-to-one coaching sessions, support with CV writing and interview techniques, job research and access to Matero’s significant cross-sector network.  While we hope that this will lead to more women like Katie and Louise spending time serving in our ranks, if Matero helps other women find meaningful employment elsewhere, we will have played some part in helping those that have served the nation, while also helping to leverage their talents for the benefit of business.


Matero Consulting – empowering organisations with Purpose, Leadership and Culture

Matero has a commercially proven new ways of working methodology called MECCAR, which leverages military leadership experience of empowered mission purpose through agile decision-making for the benefit of business change agendas.  MECCAR codifies culture using a framework of process, tools and skills, which delegate authority, bring clarity in ambiguity and resilience to disruption when pace, precision, and the ability to thrive in uncertainty and pivot faster than the competition is key.

Mission Purpose, Empowerment, Communication, Collaboration, Agility and Right Behaviours (codified culture and leadership)




Our Values:

Accountability, Action Orientation, Agility and Decency