By Ross Brown
I’ve always known strong women in my life. My first influence was my mother who broke the mold after the Korean War by attending Emory Law School. She was one of two women in her class; the majority of her classmates were Korean War veterans using their GI Bill to attend law school.
I also learned at a young age that my grandmother was an incredibly smart and resilient woman and was, in fact, much brighter than my grandfather. Had she lived during a different time, she would have had much greater earning potential than him.
Growing up with two women who challenged stereotypes and conventional thinking helped shape my earliest feminist stirrings. From childhood on, I questioned the notion of gender stereotypes that men were somehow superior to women.
But I admit that I was still a product of my environment.
As a student at West Point and then an officer in the Army for nearly 30 years, I chose a profession and lifestyle that is very male-centric, and one might say, hyper masculine. While I always carried that piece of me that understood women are every bit as capable as men, my everyday life was surrounded by men leading and carrying out important and life-threatening missions. However, in combat in Iraq, I served with a woman named Emily and she was the only female in my one thousand person cavalry squadron. It was around this time that we were just starting to integrate women into all-male combat units. Emily would remind me again of the false narrative regarding a lack of innate equality between men and women. Emily graduated from West Point with honors, was a college soccer player, and her keen intellect resulted in a far better understanding of the enemy than we would have had without her. Emily was smart, tough, and every bit the soldier as anyone else with whom I served.
On the battlefield and at home, I encountered fearless and successful women. While I was dating, I knew I wanted to marry a woman in the tradition of those I grew up with, someone who would be a thought partner, an equal in all aspects of our lives and in our relationship. I found in my wife a wonderfully strong and intelligent woman who I am thankful everyday to be able walk through life with.
But it wasn’t until I met my daughter and held her in my arms as a newborn baby that feminism became at the forefront of my mind on a daily basis. I instantly knew that I wanted my daughter to have all the opportunities to succeed and to have equal footing with men. How could anyone want less for their daughter than they would for their son, I thought. As I watched her grow and saw the world through her eyes, I felt astutely the obstacles she might face simply because of her gender, because she was born into a world where women weren’t treated equally to men.
When I have been able to do so, I worked hard to ensure that the voices around the table were diverse and that women were included in all levels of decision-making. JPMorgan Chase is also committed to that mission. Every day I see outstanding female leadership, including three of the ten highest positions in the firm being led by women. We all carry biases that prevent us from fully understanding the plight of those who are different. Recognizing those is the first step to becoming a better colleague and person. While I claim to be a feminist—I still have work to do.
I believe we need to continue to encourage women to participate in STEM, financial services and other fields where men have traditionally dominated. Obstacles still exist– women must have equal footing so that they don’t have to work twice as hard for half as much reward. As young women see more experienced women succeed financially and in key leadership roles, then they will be encouraged that they too can succeed and companies will understand the need to recognize women in leadership positions. I am encouraged by what I have seen here at JPMorgan Chase and invite my daughter and other women to join our ranks.
I can only hope one day to meet my granddaughter and, holding her in my arms like I once did my daughter, know that she’ll be paid equally for the work she does and have all the opportunities that her brother has. I also hope she’ll be as proud as I am of the strong women who came before her and continue to help her grandfather—who is a perpetual work in progress!
Ross Brown is managing director and head of Military and Veterans Affairs (MVA) for JPMorgan Chase. In this role, he oversees programs and initiatives related to MVA’s strategic pillars: Veteran Employment, Small Business, and Acquisition and Development. A graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and longtime Veteran of the US Army, Ross brings nearly three decades of military and public service experience to the Firm. Prior to joining JPMorgan Chase, Ross was a senior executive (SES) in the U.S. Department of Defense.