Women in Spotlight at Annual William Blair Veterans Day Celebration

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Retired Command Sgt. Maj. Michele Jones and Veterans’ Alliance Co-Chair Sarah Owen
From left, retired Command Sgt. Maj. Michele Jones and Veterans’ Alliance Co-Chair Sarah Owen (a former Marine) during William Blair’s Veterans Day event

Retired Army officer Michele Jones, the first female command sergeant major of the U.S. Army Reserve, shared her inspirational story of serving in the military for over two decades and her lessons learned with William Blair colleagues at the firm’s annual Veterans Day celebration on November 11.

Reflecting on this year’s Veterans Day, which marked the 30th anniversary of the Desert Storm and Desert Shield operations in the Middle East, Command Sgt. Maj. Jones called on the audience to remember all veterans, particularly women.

The story of American women in the military world, from the Revolutionary War to the Civil War to the global war on terrorism, is often overlooked. She said it has often been a story of serving without compensation, serving without recognition, serving without officially being able to join the ranks.

“One of the things people always ask me is: what is the difference between a man’s service and a woman’s service in the military?" CSM Jones told the online gathering of staff. “There is one unique difference. Every woman who has ever served in the military volunteered, every last one,” she said. “For a man’s service, they could have been drafted, which women were not.”

Event marks 6th anniversary of Veterans’ Alliance

The event marked the 6th anniversary of the hosting group, William Blair’s Veterans’ Alliance, which has 35 veteran members. This year, the group co-hosted with the firm’s Women’s Alliance, another business resource group created to support women in the workplace.

CSM Jones enlisted in the Army in September 1982. During her active duty assignments, she has served in most major contingency operations including the Operations Desert Shield and Storm, Restore Hope, Provide Comfort, Joint Endeavor, Nobel Eagle, Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. The assignments took her throughout Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Qatar, and Uzbekistan.

“When I came in 1982, the opportunities for women were very small,” CSM Jones recalled. “But I joined anyway. Now I’m proud to say that every career field in the military is open to women … combat arms, combat support, service support, everything.”

In October 2002, Jones became the 9th command sergeant major of the Army Reserve, making her the first woman to ever serve in this position. In this role, CSM Jones was the principal enlisted advisor to the chief of the Army Reserve and in charge of overseeing 1.2 million enlisted soldiers and their families. After 25 years of service, she retired from the Army Reserve in 2007. Her leadership qualities continue to stand out as she travels the country as a motivational speaker.

“You must be loyal in the military," she said of women's roles in military service. "We are strategists, we are team builders. We lead but also learn how to follow.”

It is that mission, CSM Jones said, that continues to inspire women to volunteer.

In responding to what she sees as the future of women in the service, she said: "I see the numbers increasing. Women veterans are the fastest-growing demographic now, and women continue to join at a fast pace."

Support of veterans and their families

Retired Army Brigadier General Steve Curda, currently executive director of the veterans support group Illinois Joining Forces, also spoke and underscored CSM Jones's point.

“Women have served in American wars and conflicts throughout history," he told the gathering. "Only in 1976 they were admitted to our military academies. During the Persian Gulf War, more than 41,000 women served and deployed in combat zone. Today over 700,000 women have served, post-9/11.

“To say that women veterans are trailblazers really is an understatement. Women veterans continue to break barriers today, modeling national service for generations to follow,” Brig. Gen. Curda said. “And women have used their skills and experience from their military service to make achievements not only in the service but by contributions to their communities and become public service leaders. Our nation is committed to recognizing and honoring these achievements and providing women veterans with benefits and services they have earned and deserve.”

Jacqui Robertson, head of inclusion and diversity at William Blair, was one of several colleagues with family members serving in the military who spoke at the event. Her son is currently an active duty Marine.

"We miss him but again he is serving a greater purpose,” Robertson shared. “We have many in our family who served. My father, my brother, my grandfather, many of our cousins. But somehow, it’s so different when it’s your child. It took me a while to understand. I’ll tell you, if it hadn’t been for my military colleagues at William Blair, I could not have made the journey with the same level of confidence. I just couldn’t."

Crain’s Recognizes William Blair’s Tye Clark for Leadership on Veteran Issues

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