How Companies Can Support Veterans With a Focus on Intersectionality, Mental Health, and Giving Back

Sponsored by Prudential Financial

Charlene Petrozelli. Photo courtesy of Charlene Petrozelli.

Charlene Petrozelli. Photo courtesy of Charlene Petrozelli.

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Fairygodboss
May 21, 2024 at 10:18AM UTC

“According to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), more than 30,000 women leave the military every year and there are currently two million women veterans in the U.S. and Puerto Rico,” says Charlene Petrozelli, Prudential Group Insurance Vice President of Program Management and a veteran herself. “By 2040, the VA expects women to make up 18% of the veteran population.”

This growing group of women veterans will be looking for companies who will help them transition to civilian life, as well as to face other challenges such as “childcare for single mothers, financial insecurity, and other issues that are compounded for women because of stereotypes and gender pay gaps in the civilian world,” shares Petrozelli.

That’s why it’s so important for companies to have structures in place to support veterans as well as cultures “of accountability, strong ethical values, and purpose,” Petrozelli tells us. Luckily, she found all this at Prudential, which not only has a great, supportive culture, but also a fantastic set of employee groups.

Petrozelli at a Military Appreciation Night. Photo courtesy of Charlene Petrozelli.

At Prudential, they have eight business resource groups (BRGs), including VETNET, a BRG supporting the military, veterans, and their families. Petrozelli is the Co-Lead of VETNET, which she says is her proudest accomplishment from her 25 years at Prudential.

VETNET not only provides members with a chance to form a strong community — it also acts as a resource for giving back internally and externally. “We have a dedicated talent strategy for military and veterans, and we partner with various organizations to offer programs to help hire military talent, and provide resources once onboard to help ease the transition,” Petrozelli tells us. “Prudential has been and remains committed to military and veteran talent and military spouses and supporters.” 

Further, “our BRGs also work closely together to promote intersectionality,” shares Petrozelli. “For example, I am a veteran, a disabled veteran, and a woman. It is critical to recognize that we wear many hats.” And Prudential does just that, creating an environment that supports all employees regardless of race, gender, age, or background.

Here, Petrozelli took the time to tell us more about her own transition into a civilian job, her best advice for veterans, how Prudential supports her, and more!  

What was it like to transition from the military to a civilian job? Did you face any challenges, and, if so, how did you overcome them? 

I was in the Army National Guard; therefore, I was living a split of part-time civilian life and part-time military life, which was challenging. Once a month, and for two weeks a year, I had to switch to a military life, which is very structured, rank driven, and composed of a group of similar people. The military provides a sense of purpose. It is a mission-based, rank-driven organization with defined roles, and your day-to-day work can be a matter of life and death. 

Then, the uniform comes off and it is back to civilian life, which can be unstructured and feel chaotic. Your day does not always have the same routine, and you are not with the same people all of the time, which can cause loneliness. Further, you may be with people who cannot relate to your experience or understand how you feel a loss of identity. 

Petrozelli in the army. Photo courtesy of Charlene Petrozelli.

However, both roles have performance evaluation and expect you to complete objectives and make key decisions. So, while there can be challenges, look for ways to find similarities to pull from

What’s your #1 piece of advice for veterans, and especially other women veterans, who are looking for jobs right now?  

There are so many resources available that it can be overwhelming. As a mentor, I always start by asking people, “what makes you happy, and what makes you satisfied at the end of the day?” 

Attend a workshop, look for a mentor, and work with someone to ensure that your resume and LinkedIn profile show your transferable skills. There are many online resources that will help to enter your MOS and comparable career choices in the civilian world. Look for military-ready companies. Most importantly, be prepared. If you research the company before you interview and have your questions ready, you will lead the interview. 

Do you believe that your military background has provided you with any unique perspectives or talents that aid in your career today? 

Absolutely. In general, the military teaches leadership, discipline, attention to detail, structure, and transferable skills such as critical thinking, strategic thinking, collaboration, teamwork, problem solving, flexibility, coaching, training, and decision making.

Further, when you enlist in the military, you select your Military Occupational Specialty (MOS), also known as your job. My MOS was 71D, Legal Specialist. Thanks to the similar skill sets, my MOS set me up nicely to transition to compliance and risk-based roles in the civilian world.

Speaking of your civilian career, what advice do you have for someone new to the insurance and financial services industry?

First, the insurance and financial services industry is broad and there are many opportunities available. Be creative when looking; there are roles that you may not even be aware of available. 

Second, when you join a new company, look for a mentor outside your team or immediate organization. Many places will assign you a new-hire buddy, but a mentor is different. A mentor will help to educate you, provide industry and company insights, and help to guide your professional growth. As a “mentee,” you drive the relationship. Ask for and be open to feedback. Your mentor conversations should be a safe place. The mentor relationship will last long beyond your new-hire buddy and will focus on long-term goals and career growth. 

Third, look to join a business resource group if available. This type of group provides growth personally and professionally. It is a great way to meet people, network, and work on projects outside of your day-to-day, further developing skills. It provides opportunities to work with and volunteer in the communities as well. 

In general, what’s your favorite aspect of Prudential Financial’s culture, and how does your company help you succeed? 

Prudential is all about the people. We make lives better by solving the financial challenges of our changing world. For more than 145 years, Prudential has delivered on promises to customers and earned recognition as one of the most admired companies — that does not happen without people.

I am in my 25th year, and I stay because of the people and the culture that extends from the top, including the support from our CEO, his leadership team, and everyone else here at Prudential. We are a culture based on and driven by inclusion and diversity, which comes through in everything we do, internally and externally. I am especially proud of our commitment to the military, veterans, military families, spouses, and supporters. Prudential partners with many organizations within our communities to support our military and veterans, offering employees opportunities to continue to be involved, connect with others, and give back.  

Petrozelli and family. Photo courtesy of Charlene Petrozelli.

Is there anything else we haven’t asked about that you’d like to mention? 

Over the past few years, there has been an increased need to focus on overall mental health — and, when it comes to veterans, this is further elevated. In addition to possible feelings of disconnect from their military identity and lack of structure or routines, veterans may also deal with additional challenges such as PTSD and trauma from their experiences or combat. This can have a significant impact on re-entry into civilian life, personally and professionally. 

Post-9/11 veterans are dying at higher rates than Americans overall. In 2021, research from the Watson Institute International & Public Affairs found that 30,177 active-duty personnel and veterans who served in the military after 9/11 have died by suicide, significantly more than the 7,057 service members killed in combat in those same 20 years. Military suicide rates are four times higher than deaths that occurred during military operations. The Department of Veterans Affairs 2021 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report states that 6,261 veterans died by suicide in 2019, and the fact remains that veterans in 2019 reflected a suicide rate 52.3% higher than non-veterans in the U.S. 

For employers, it is important to understand that this may be impacting the veterans who they are hiring. That is why resources, such as business resource groups, can be key for veterans joining an organization, providing a sense of community, shared experiences, and an outlet for people to talk. It is also important to be mindful of triggers. For example, the withdrawal from Afghanistan last year was a significant trigger for veterans who served post 9/11. While veterans understood that and were there to support each other, many people without any ties to the military did not even realize the impact that had on our veterans. 

For those in need, help is available. There is now a national Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, dial 988.  There are also resources available through the Department of Veterans Affairs, Veteran Suicide Prevention | Veterans Affairs (va.gov), and many others. 



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