Published: March 11, 2021
Blue Star Community Changemaker: Meet Erica
Did you know that 22% of military spouses are unemployed? That’s three times higher than the national average. And it’s one of the major reasons why military spouses continually say flexible work is their top recommendation to help solve this issue, according to Blue Star Families’ annual Military Family Lifestyle Survey (aMFLS).
The reality is that military life is problematic because it’s unpredictable. Inflexible working hours, frequent moves, long-term training, and deployments make it hard for military spouses to find and keep work. And when there is stress on the service member’s family, it jeopardizes their readiness and the military family as a whole.
Take Carrie, for example. She’s an Air Force spouse and mom, and when her husband deployed, she realized her corporate position wasn’t conducive to their needs. “I had a very limited amount of PTO that wouldn’t afford me the opportunity to spend quality time with my family back home for the holidays while I was separated from my service member spouse,” Carrie said. She knew there had to be better opportunities out there that would allow her to utilize her skills while working from home.
But the path to finding remote work wasn’t easy for Carrie. “I struggled to find quality remote work opportunities that essentially weren’t considered “gig” work. I was scouring remote job posting boards questioning if it was ever going to be possible to land that oh-so-ideal remote position that allowed me to truly utilize my skillset and experience.”
And the difficulty military spouses face when it comes to finding quality employment affects the entire family unit. Sadly, you may be shocked to know this: 63% of military families report experiencing stress due to their current financial situation.
But what’s even more scary is that when service member families don’t feel financially secure, the readiness and resilience of our All-Volunteer Force can suffer.
In Carrie’s case, the financial implications and benefits of a dual-income household are essential. When she was unable to contribute to her family’s income, feelings of guilt and stress seeped in because she didn’t want her husband to have to bear the weight of being the sole provider. Not to mention, dual income is not a luxury for most families these days; it’s a necessity. And we know military families are no different in that regard.
So, what makes them different?
Military families move every two to three years, which is three times as often as our civilian counterparts. That means frequently finding and leaving employment, which isn’t easy and can sometimes feel downright impossible—so much so that some families are choosing to live apart to solve this problem. In fact, 40% of families who shared they were living apart on the aMFLS reported doing so to allow the civilian spouse to maintain employment.
There has to be a better option, right?
That’s where remote work comes into play. And remote work is where community changemakers like Erica McMannes are making a BIG impact for military families across the country.
McMannes is a Blue Star Families member living in Yorktown, Virginia, where her family is stationed with the Army. Tired of changing jobs every few years and annoyed to find herself in the “unemployed” category, yet again, she dreamed of a job she could keep—no matter where the military takes her family.
So, in 2016, she co-founded Instant Teams, which has since created a remote work solution for military spouses across the globe. With unfamiliarity and distrust of remote work, Erica worked hard to educate the civilian community about the possibilities of a remote workforce, paving the way for important changes. When the world was turned upside down by the global pandemic, the foundation that Erica created became more important than ever. “Our company has paid out millions of dollars in payroll for remote work and benefits to military spouses and military-connected professionals,” McMannes said. “Right now, we employ just under 300 employees and 96% are military spouses.”
McMannes knew from personal experience that military spouses are among those highly skilled, highly qualified individuals just waiting for the opportunity to make a difference. She also knew from the aMFLS that 63% of active-duty spouse respondents hold a bachelor’s degree or higher, and 26% hold a master’s degree or higher.
That’s why Instant Teams’ goal from day one has been to be the largest employer of military spouses. McMannes says it’s what drives her to get out of bed in the morning, serving as the catalyst to where they’ve grown over the past four years. “The aMFLS has been a great asset in our narrative and mission at Instant Teams,” she said. “All the data on remote work and military spouse employment really empowers our messaging and our drive to figure out where that business case is and how we can improve that messaging for really building high-quality remote teams with a military spouse workforce.”
For Carrie, the search for high-quality remote work came to an end when she connected with Instant Teams and secured a content writing position. “Finding an opportunity with Instant Teams meant, simply put, everything. It was a turning point for me,” she said. “It connected me to fellow military spouses, helping a fairly new military spouse like myself not feel so alone during what can be an isolating time, and allowed me to put my expertise to work.”
We know how important of an issue military spouse employment is, which is why we’ve teamed up with CSX, a Blue Star Families partner, through Pride in Service to not only shine a spotlight on but also thank Blue Star Community Changemakers like Erica for pushing for positive change in our military community.
“Based on findings from the aMFLS and multiple Pulse Checks, we understand that when military spouses can contribute financially with meaningful work, their overall well-being improves,” said Vicky Perkins, Blue Star Families’ Senior Manager of National Chapter and Programs. “And their service member doesn’t have to worry when they’re away because they know their family is happy and can focus on the mission at hand.”
For Carrie, finding a remote position allowed her to feel a greater sense of purpose. “I love my family – I love being a wife and mom, first and foremost. On the other hand, it’s so refreshing to genuinely use my education and experience on a team that truly values my work and input. Not to mention, in a role I’m deeply passionate about.”
Today, military spouses like Carrie have a fighting chance to carry out a meaningful career thanks to Blue Star Community Changemakers like Erica. Ultimately, they help military families take a deep breath, knowing there are committed, hardworking leaders in the community who are putting in some serious work to bring about positive change—especially change in the military spouse employment space.
“Together with CSX, we’re thanking Erica for her efforts,” Perkins said. “She’s supporting big change for our Blue Star Families members across the globe, and that’s why we’re honoring her as a Blue Star Community Changemaker.”
“CSX and Blue Star Families share a mission to empower our nation’s military and families to thrive,” said Bryan Tucker, vice president of corporate communications at CSX. Through our Pride in Service initiative, we’ve helped Blue Star Families launch and grow six chapters and through this we’ve noticed that often military spouses and kids are unsung heroes within these communities, and that’s why we created the Changemakers Award. We’re celebrating the standout individuals within our Blue Star Chapters, helping to build a community that makes life better for everyone. Erica is one of them, and we’re proud that she’s the first of several honorees for the invaluable work that she’s doing on behalf of military spouses across the country.”
It’s obvious why we’ve named Erica a Blue Star Community Changemaker! Throughout the year, Blue Star Families and CSX will continue to recognize a total of six Blue Star Community Changemakers. Together, we look forward to sharing their heartwarming stories at bluestarfam.org/changemakers.
Lastly, if there’s a topic from Blue Star Families’ annual Military Family Lifestyle Survey that you’re passionate about changing for the better, connect with us. We’d love to learn how we can support your journey to improve military life for yourself and others! #BSFChangemakers