Leidos Health Group President Liz Porter on Building a Career as a Military Spouse
Liz Porter, Leidos Health Group president, has had a distinguished career with the company spanning three decades, having held various roles since 1993. Her rise to executive leadership is even more impressive when considering her role as a military spouse, which requires tremendous strength and adaptability.
“The biggest challenge for military spouses is figuring out how to build a career when we know we’ll often move,” Liz says. This is likely a large part of why military spouses are underemployed compared with the general population.
In fact, when Liz and her college sweetheart, Adam, decided to take the leap into marriage, he was preparing to deploy to Japan for his service in the U.S. Navy. For Liz, becoming a military spouse meant immediately leaving her job at Lockheed Martin. But that didn’t mean she had given up on her career.
“With Adam’s support, I went around the base in Japan handing out my resumé,” Liz says. While she first worked as a conversational English teacher in Japan, Liz didn’t lose focus on her chosen career path and eventually earned a project management role in the Army Corps of Engineers.
Over the years, Liz has made sacrifices to support Adam’s military career, but she is quick to note that he has done the same for her civilian career. A few years ago, both Liz and Adam were working in D.C. when they learned that his next role would take him to either Hawaii; Stuttgart, Germany; or Memphis, Tenn. Liz was a senior vice president, and the couple knew it’d be difficult for her to find a role at this level elsewhere.
“While considering where to go, we saw that there were at least three flights a day between Memphis and D.C. Choosing Memphis meant I wouldn’t have to leave my job because Leidos has always been flexible about letting people work from other locations, even before the pandemic,” Liz says. “The culture here is incredibly supportive of that.” Once Adam moved to Memphis, Liz flew there every other week to be near him, working remotely Friday through Monday.
Thanks to their resilience and mutual support, both Liz and Adam, now a captain at the Office of Naval Intelligence, have enjoyed successful careers.
The qualities that helped Liz build her career
Military spouses who want to develop their own careers must overcome the professional upheavals that come with each new posting. Throughout their life together, both Liz and Adam found ways to support each other's progress, with each making sacrifices for the other at different times. Any time Liz needed to find a new role to best support Adam's next step, she met the challenge with a blend of assertive tenacity, networking, and open communication with Adam. Below are Liz’s keys to career development.
Communicate openly with your partner
Liz notes that it’s important for both spouses to be aware of career inflection points. And because civilian career paths are less clear-cut than those in the military, it’s essential to openly discuss them with your spouse.
“Have open conversations about how to make things work for both of you, especially leading up to impending moves,” Liz advises. “Look at all the options of what they can do and compare those with what you can do.”
She suggests considering whether there are locations or timing where opportunities overlap or are close enough in proximity to make things work. As Liz’s experience demonstrates, it’s not unheard of for military couples to live apart, at least temporarily. In fact, 16% of military spouses have chosen to remain in place rather than move with their spouse at least once.
Build and maintain a network
“It might be surprising, but it can be harder to find a job when returning from overseas,” Liz says. “What helped me when we came back from Japan is that I’d kept in touch with people from my first company. They didn’t have a job for me, but they still helped by putting me in touch with others. Thirty years later, I’m still friends with those people.”
Over the years, she’s not only maintained but also expanded her original network, which she leaned on each time she needed to explore new roles.
Tenaciously search for the right role
Beyond Japan, Adam’s service sent him to far-flung locations across the globe and throughout the United States. Each time they moved, Liz made a point to take her career into her own hands, and she and Adam discussed all options before choosing their next roles.
“Don’t expect someone just to give you your next job. Be tenacious,” she says. “Make a plan. Embrace fearlessness and take the risk of putting yourself out there. There will be a lot of rejection, so lean on your support structures. Then follow up. Call again and again. Have the fortitude to keep trying.”
Liz notes that while being a military spouse means you may have to give up good jobs multiple times, it also comes with the stability of knowing that at least one partner will have a full-time job with a salary and benefits.
“Use that guaranteed stability. Give yourself permission to find the right position,” she suggests. “Even if you have to accept some odd roles, think of them as a means to an end. Make new connections and use them.”
Get comfortable with assertive action
It’s worth noting that more than 90% of military spouses are women who, as a group, are typically less comfortable being assertive than men.
“Women have the tendency to put their heads down, work really hard, and hope that someone will notice and give them a promotion,” Liz says. “Even if you get kudos for doing this, it doesn’t guarantee you’ll advance. You have to advocate for yourself. Show how and why you’re ready for the next challenge.” She suggests that women should worry less about appearing selfish and start proactively asking for advancement opportunities.
Realize that being a military spouse is an asset, not a liability
As Liz has developed her career, she’s often leaned on the reservoir of resilience she built as a military spouse. Over time, she began to see how her unique experiences and perspectives helped her find success in both the personal and professional sides of her life—and she has stayed with a company that values what she brings to the table as a military spouse.
“Everyone here at Leidos is mission-focused, which I can appreciate as someone operating in the military culture,” Liz says. “We’re working to improve military health services, which I’ve experienced from both sides.” She says that using these services while also viewing them professionally gives her a unique vantage point as her teams consider how to solve the challenges.
“I don’t have to guess what things look like because I’ve experienced a lot of it, and that helps me relate to and build trust with our customers.” The ability to empathize with military challenges is valuable, especially as the military grows in its understanding of how family life affects military performance.
“Our military is increasingly recognizing the importance of supporting its families, and military spouses are essential in understanding how we make sure the military family is happy and stable,” Liz says. “We need our next set of leaders to address some of those challenges, and that's especially where military spouses can share their unique skills. Their diversity of thought and experience is essential.”
To help empower military veterans and their spouses to join meaningful missions as civilians, Leidos runs Operation MVP and hosts a regular Military Virtual Chat Series as part of the program.
Join us for the next Leidos Military Veteran and Spouse Information Session on May 18.