Representatives from nearly 100 Fortune 500 corporations, veterans advocacy groups and hiring firms took part in the first Employing U.S. Vets Conference in New York City on Thursday, discussing ways to bring more veterans and military families into workplaces nationwide.

The event — co-hosted by Military Times and VETS Indexes, a company that creates financial investment products based on the Military Times Best for Vets: Employers rankings — was designed to share best practices and challenges in post-military employment, and provide networking opportunities for experts working on the issue.

Keynote speaker Chris Cortez, vice president of military affairs at Microsoft and a former major general in the Marine Corps, told the crowd of nearly 200 attendees that his goal of building a “veterans-ready” workplace at his company goes beyond his 33 years military service.

“When we recruit and train veteran talent, we support the men and women who have bravely served this country,” he said. “We also bolster our companies and industries with incredible, innovative and dedicated employees.”

In recent years, Defense Department and Veterans Affairs officials have emphasized the potential value of hiring former military members, noting the leadership skills and mission-focused training they learned in the ranks. Cortez echoed that sentiment.

“Training and hiring veterans contributes to the health of a company by adding to its diverse and inclusive culture. Veterans embody diversity and we want veterans to come work with us at Microsoft. We believe it’s critical to have a diverse employee base that leads innovation and new ways of thinking.”

The day-long event included panels on military spouse hiring, Guard and Reserve employment challenges, establishment of a veterans culture within companies, and recruiting military talent.

Lorraine Wilson, director of investment products at JUST Capital, also spoke to the assembled business leaders about the importance of transparency in their veterans hiring efforts, both to hold themselves publicly accountable and so help set an example for other companies.

Organizers hope to repeat the event in the fall and make the conference a periodic event, to help push forward advice and improvements to firms looking to employ more veterans.

Under an agreement with VETS Indexes, Military Times receives a portion of fees generated from investments their products, but the rankings on which those products are based are not influenced by the company or outside advertisers. The editorial independence of the rankings is guaranteed in a written contract.

Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.

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