American Corporate Partners announced Monday a new mentoring program focusing solely on female veterans.
ACP and the Army Reserve signed a memorandum of understanding to work together on the Women's Veteran Mentoring Program initiative that offers yearlong mentorships for transitioning female service members who have served at least 180 days since 9/11.
After joining the program, each service member will be matched with a female business leader based on career compatibility. The mentor and mentee talk at least once a month, usually via phone or video call — the mentor can help with anything from resume writing to career guidance to tips on navigating a civilian workplace.
The original program, founded in 2008, is open to both men and women vets, but the company's founder noticed there was more that could be done specifically for women.
Sid Goodfriend, chairman and founder of ACP, said more than 7,000 veterans have completed the original program, and about 16 percent were women.
Goodfriend thought that number was low, but he discovered 16 percent is roughly the number of active-duty female service members. Even though the number wasn't that low relative to where it should be, he said he realized he should be evaluating whether they should be higher.
"My wife was the first woman partner in her division, and I'm probably a little bit more sensitive to women's issues than some people are," he said. "My employees are mostly women and my board is mostly women."
After discussions with his advisory board about diversity and speaking with a wide variety of female veterans and board members, "it struck me that perhaps we needed to do something more than we were doing already for the women who had served and were coming home."
One difference between the original program and the one for female veterans is how mentors are recruited. With the traditional program, veterans are paired with mentors from one of ACP's more than 60 corporate partners.
"We're going to open this program up to individuals who are successful women professionals whether or not they're associated with our companies," Goodfriend said.
Female entrepreneurs will be able to mentor veterans in the new program; however, if a female veterans prefers a male mentor, Goodfriend said the program is open to that, as well. American Corporate Partners is putting $400,000 toward the program, with a goal of matching at least 500 female veterans with mentors in the upcoming year.
Army 1st Lt. Alisha Guffey found a mentor through the original program in 2015 who helped her grow both professionally and personally.
Guffey, who was active duty for about eight years and is now in the Army Reserve, is working on a master's degree in international business but also has a passion for the media industry.
She was matched with Debbie Reichig, the senior vice president of media sales research and insights at 21 Century Fox's Twentieth Television.
"It's good to have a mentor when you're going through the process of grad school and you're trying to figure out what to do," Guffey said. "Had I not met with Debbie I don't think I would have pursued an internship in the media industry."
Guffey said she and Reichig spoke almost every week, and she was able to ask Reichig questions whenever she needed. Guffey said even though many opportunities for veterans exist, not every veteran knows how to navigate the system.
"When I might think I'm not going to be able to do this, she can step in and say, 'Look at your past history and your resume.' " she said. "I think that's very important for vets to hear."
Guffey said Reichig helped build her confidence, especially since depending on the HR process someone is going through, they might not always encounter positive feedback.
"Someone like Debbie can tell you what stands out and give you talking points for interviews," she said.
Reichig said women have a harder time adjusting to the workplace in general.
"Workplaces are still male-dominated and sometimes women just need that extra bit of encouragement to understand how to play the game," Reichig said.
Besides career advice, Guffey said Reichig taught her how to slow down and take some time for herself.
"I feel like I had a real friendship with her, but she also has a professional background," Guffey said.
"Post-graduation, I plan to go to D.C. for government work that meets at the nexus of my communications, security and business background and experience on a global platform," she said.
Army Lt. Col. Jeanne Hull, who has been in the Reserve for about two years after 14 on active duty, participated in the original program in 2015.
After transitioning from active duty in September, Hull moved into a consultant career path with an IT focus.
"[Without this program,] I would have been in a job I didn't like as much for a lot less pay and a lot less clarity about the future," she said.
Hull knew she didn't want a civilian version of her Army job, but she didn't have the time to go back to school, so she realized she'd be moving into a new career without much background experience.
"[My mentor] read over my resume and gave me an assessment of my strengths and weaknesses," she said.
Since Hull's mentor had experience being on both sides of the interview process, she and Hull would go over practice questions, which gave Hull more confidence going into the interview.
Hull said a major breakthrough was when her mentor helped Hull realize what she's worth in terms of salary — and it was $30,000-$40,000 more than she would have asked.
"Women tend to undervalue themselves more than men," Hull said. "Talking to [my mentor] helped me push back that barrier."
It also helped Hull apply for jobs at a higher level that she didn't think she'd be qualified to do.
"I think that our expectations of what we think we can do are lower than what they actually are," she said.