U.S. Army Veteran and Technical Training Manager, T-Mobile
In a personal essay, one veteran takes on the importance of diversity in the military and in civilian life.
When it comes to bias and diversity in the military and as a veteran, I’ve seen all sides.
I enlisted in the Army right out of high school in 2002. I scored high enough on my entrance exam to be a linguist, so they sent me to the Defense Language Institute for immersive study — which was a great surprise. After two years of linguistic and technical training, I was officially sent into the Army to work as an intelligence analyst. That came with an even more unexpected surprise: I was not only the lone Asian in my unit at that time, but I was also the only woman on my team. I pretty much was the diversity.
At that time, to be a successful woman in the Army, you had to almost turn your back on your gender identity. You didn’t want to appear too feminine, because then you wouldn’t be taken seriously. I tried to play down my differences as much as possible, to show that I was no different from anyone else on the team. I became very competitive. I ran just as fast, trained just as hard. I also started to lose sense of who I was as a woman.
I’ll never regret my decision to join the military. Those 10 years of experience are fundamental to who I am today. But looking back seven years later, I sometimes wish I had been truer to my authentic self. I now put a premium on embracing and supporting the whole spectrum of diversity. Interestingly, as a veteran, I find that I run into a different sort of bias.
Once at a job fair, a recruiter from a large, global company commented on my amazing resume, and excitedly told me he could probably fit me into an Area Manager role they had opening up. When I pointed out my military intelligence background and that I was working on my PhD in Adult Education, he dismissively replied they only fit veterans into roles within warehouse operations.
It wasn’t just that company, and it wasn’t just my experience — it’s a rampant problem for veterans who are transitioning out of the military. We’re pigeonholed into roles in security, sales, operations — even if our actual experience demonstrates completely different skills.
Fortunately, I eventually found a position suited to my experience at T-Mobile, where I now manage the technology training team. Seeing the broad cross-section of people at work, particularly within the company’s large veteran community, I realized that even I had a stereotype of what a veteran is supposed to be. The certain walk, specific haircut, and cookie-cutter demeanor I’ve always associated with veterans didn’t always align with the people I’ve met, and those experiences have further opened my eyes to the value of diversity.
I’m always very cognizant of bias when I’m hiring for my team. I don’t ever want us to become an echo chamber; another homogenous culture like I experienced during my years in the military, or the closed-minded companies that create job silos for veterans.
My own experiences have inspired me to give back to veterans and prioritize diversity wherever I can. I am a member of the Veterans and Allies Network at T-Mobile, one of the company’s six diversity and inclusion networks. I often volunteer at the veteran ally organization FourBlock, and I’m a mentor with Veterati, a nonprofit that pairs transitioning veterans with those already working in their desired fields outside the military.
People feel social pressure to be accepting of diversity, but I don’t think they all fully understand the value of having a unique voice in the room. Veterans can help supply that unique voice. I encourage you to have us in the room.