Meet Melissa A. Washington, a remarkable individual who has faced and conquered some of life's most challenging adversities. As a Navy veteran, small business owner, inspirational keynote speaker, author, and award-winning trainer, Melissa continues to educate and empower women veterans, guiding them towards fruitful and confident lives. She was kind enough to share her thoughts with Forever Warriors on transitioning from the Navy to entrepreneurship and how she actively gives back to the military community.
From Navy service to entrepreneurship
As the daughter of a Bronze Star Army Vietnam War veteran, Melissa was inspired to join the force from a young age. Melissa served in the Navy for over three years as part of the procurement team on board the USS Grapple (ARS 53) and USS Arcadia (AD 42). She served as part of the Unified Task Force by supporting ships off the coast of Somalia during Operation Restore Hope.
Melissa considered the challenges of a dual-service family (her husband remained in the force for 21 years) and turned her focus towards business. “I got out of the Navy early, as I didn't want a dual service marriage. I walked off my ship, the next month got married and the next month he deployed. Next year we will celebrate our 30th anniversary.” She earned a bachelor's degree in business management and made a transition toward empowering others beyond the military community.
Transitioning to a new path
Melissa's venture into the business world presented her with new challenges. Yet, she persevered, acquiring valuable skills and expertise to refine her business strategies. While her path eventually led her to a senior manager role at tech giant Oracle, the economic downturn of 2009 abruptly ended her time there. Undeterred, Melissa turned this setback into an opportunity, exploring the vast possibilities of social media while searching for her next professional role. Her tenacity and entrepreneurial spirit led her to discover a passion for helping people, securing a role in LinkedIn's Global Corporate Meeting and Events division team.
By tapping into her Navy procurement and tech experience, Melissa successfully planned and executed major LinkedIn events. She shares the humble ripple effect in her career development, "I wanted to help other job seekers, so I started holding LinkedIn workshops at my dining room table. This turned into speaking engagements and my first book, Get Back to Work."
Melissa engaged in a seamless transition by relying on transferable skills developed during her time in the Navy. Skills like time management, adaptability, an understanding of chain of command, and an overall larger view of the world have proved instrumental in her professional success.
Becoming a CEO and entrepreneur
Melissa's dynamic nature and diverse skill set have propelled her across various disciplines. She honed her business acumen from an early age, learning the ropes from her family's video store. Throughout her career, Melissa served as a professional social media trainer, recruitment manager, and advocate for active job seekers, connecting them with qualified career counselors. In 2015, she founded the Women Veterans Alliance (WVA) and assumed the role of CEO. Through WVA, Melissa provides practical resources, mentorship opportunities, and community support to fellow female veterans, helping them achieve their life goals. Additionally, as the president and founder of Women Veterans Giving (WVG), Melissa raises funds for women veterans' professional development and business funding needs, offering crucial support and confidence to facilitate their reintegration into civilian life. The most rewarding part of these endeavors? Melissa says, “Helping women with navigating resources and benefits.”
Women Veterans Alliance and Women Veterans Giving
Through the Women Veterans Alliance, Melissa continues to inspire, support, and collaborate with women veterans as they plan to take on the next stage of their career advancements. WVA is a powerhouse of a community. “We offer career and entrepreneurship, coaching, have the only online women veteran owned small business directory, membership, Women Veterans Publication, events- Engage Conference and Unconference, and speaker directory,” says Melissa.
Melissa is also the president and founder of Women Veterans Giving (WVG), an organization dedicated to recognizing and rewarding entrepreneurs. Specifically, WVG raises funds for women veterans for their professional development and business funding needs. WVG runs annual programs like the Melissa Washington Small Business Award and Beyond The Call Of Duty Award that provides the moral boost and financial support to elevate their professional growth and development. Also, it provided women veterans with the needed support and confidence to reintegrate into civilian life.
Writing "Get Back to Work"
Melissa authored “Get Back to Work: Smart and Savvy Real-World Strategies to Make Your Next Career Move" as a career manual to help individuals gain momentum in the workforce. Her detailed, real-world strategies include personal branding tips, network-building, and the advantages of following companies on social media. Melissa shares, "Take Care of Yourself is the 1st chapter. I put this in the first chapter as it's something we many times forget to do. Have your elevator speech ready and be able to adapt it to the person you are speaking with."
Advice for career starters and changers
Melissa distills the cornerstones of her success into invaluable advice for career go-getters. She says, “network, network, network. Build a LinkedIn profile and use it. Find a mentor.”
Accomplishments and awards
As a renowned keynote speaker, Melissa shares her extensive experience in shaping social media strategies with diverse audiences, including federal agencies, colleges, associations, nonprofits, and minority groups. Her insights revolve around LinkedIn, career reinvention, perseverance, and best practices for incorporating women veterans into talent pools. She believes in customizing every talk according to the preferences and priorities of the audience, and follows the point-story-takeaway approach to provide value every time.
Melissa received multiple awards and accomplishments for her tireless contributions toward supporting women veterans and training business owners. These include the LinkedIn Top Voice accolade, the 2011 recipient of the Sacramento Business Journal’s prestigious 40 Under 40 award, and the 2021 National Women of Influence award. Yet, Melissa's proudest accomplishment lies in empowering the military community, or as she puts it, “starting a monthly meet up which turned into a nationwide organization. This has impacted thousands of women veterans and their families - economically, socially, & mentally."
Truly an inspiration
Melissa is an inspiring figure who continues to empower the women veteran community through a dedicated support network. She emphasizes the importance of discovering one's self-worth and serves as a testament that it is never too late to turn things around in the most challenging situations, by leveraging positive networks and reinventing mindsets and capabilities.
At Forever Warriors, we foster change and career growth for the veteran community. The practices and teachings of Melissa Washington align with our goals in transition and sustainment as well as show a truly harrowing story of a female veteran. We honor all-female Veterans on this day. If you would like to learn more about Melissa and all of her incredible work, visit her website here. If you would like to join our tribe and get in on all military community events and information, click here.