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Serving Those Who Served

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When most people think of military veterans, they acknowledge the courage, the selflessness, and the discipline it takes to serve. They’re grateful, recognizing the sacrifices that often accompany the choice to stand and take an oath to defend their country against all enemies. Not many people can do that.

When veterans return home, they often face unexpected difficulties in transitioning the skills they’ve earned to civilian life and the workplace. Yet veterans are a tremendous asset to any workplace. They bring outstanding leadership skills, a willingness to volunteer for challenging assignments, as well as an ability to adapt to various situations quickly. They have sticktoitiveness that allows them to press through obstacles and accomplish goals in spite of them. Of course, from a technology standpoint, veterans also bring an impressive and unique skill set to any organization or enterprise. You know when you hand projects off to a veteran, those projects will be taken across the finish line successfully.

By the time I was 12 years old, I knew that I wanted to serve. I went on to attend the United States Naval Academy and served in the U.S. Marine Corps for five years. In my post-military career, I’ve been passionate about veterans affairs and advocating on their behalf, and I have actively sought opportunities to contribute in that way. It’s what led me to become a board member of the Marines Memorial Association, a nonprofit organization that honors veterans and their families through education and service. And a few months ago, another valuable opportunity landed in my lap — I was asked to serve as the executive sponsor for Palo Alto Networks’ employee network group (ENG) for veterans, the Veterans Employee Network.

The Power of ENGs

For those who participate in the Veteran Employee Network, the group offers a way to connect with others who have similar backgrounds and perspectives. This opportunity is a global one as nearly all veterans share common principles of the workplace and ethics. Though we come from different areas around the globe and served in a multitude of ways, those of us with military experience naturally seek out others who share that background and commitment. An ENG provides a convenient venue in which we can seek out professional connections and friendships with others who have similar mindsets and values. And it’s a way to enable veterans to join together in service efforts, such as fundraising events or other opportunities to volunteer for the community. Plus, who better to offer support to a veteran than another veteran?

ENGs in general provide an avenue for expressing concerns to company leaders, and they can act as a unified voice for a population that may not otherwise be understood or considered in the decision-making process. An ENG can amplify members’ input, for example, on how to attract and hire veteran talent or engage or support existing employees. Palo Alto Networks’ Black employee network, Ujima — a group for which I was executive sponsor until recently — was particularly valuable in the summer of 2020 during a period of intense social unrest. The perspectives shared by Ujima members were particularly valuable in helping to shape how company leaders approached and made decisions about the organization’s messaging on the issue and how it would take care of its employees. An ENG allows leaders to take a group’s pulse, solicit feedback, and use that feedback to shape their actions.

As an executive sponsor, the responsibilities of the role are mostly strategically oriented. I offer suggestions for increasing engagement by our company’s veterans and how we might have more impact as part of the Palo Alto Networks workforce. I can help share messaging about events so that veteran and non-veteran employees alike feel welcome to attend and can benefit from the insights offered. And as a member of the executive team, I can act as a conduit for information so that the group’s input is truly heard by the people who need to hear it.

Diversity and inclusion are top priorities at our company, but I also believe that every company can do more to identify prospective employees who are veterans and tap into the talents and experiences they can bring to the job. The two areas are in fact complementary to one another and not mutually exclusive. That’s why all employees are welcome to participate in ENGs, not just those who identify as members. In the Veteran Employee Network, we have members who are related to veterans and are familiar with those experiences and challenges and perhaps have even lost loved ones who served.

It’s so important that we give employees the space to continue to be who they are in the workplace and to express what makes them unique. And it’s crucial that their colleagues and managers understand the distinct challenges they face and what attributes they can bring to the table. Being an executive sponsor or participant in an ENG enables this kind of exchange.

I often joke with my wife that on my tombstone, I want written, “Husband, father, United States Marine.” I only served for a handful of years, but it made such a huge impact on who I am, personally and professionally. Most veterans feel that way about their service; it’s a component of their personalities, and I’m proud to say that our ENG provides space in which to share that.

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