Ruth Bader Ginsburg (RBG) was a true American hero known in pop culture for her dissent collar. [Side note: a dissent in the legal world is the flip side of the majority. Whenever RBG gave a dissent she wore a specific lace collar.] The famous dissent collar is a reminder that we can respectfully disagree and stand up for what we believe is right. We can defend those that are less fortunate than us, and those that cannot stand up for themselves.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg didn’t just talk the talk or write the dissents, she lived by the way of her words. RBG was a woman in a male-dominated field and she did not let her gender or being a mom slow her rise to the top. She showed us that we can be a mom and graduate top of the class at Columbia Law. As a working mother, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her husband, Martin, truly shared all household and parenting duties.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a trailblazer for women’s rights and equality. In one of her famous dissents she pointed out that women in male dominated fields are reluctant to make waves by filing lawsuits over small amounts. Read more about RBG’s life and dissents here.
Facing Gender Inequities
As a woman and mother in a male-dominated field this dissent resonates with me personally. It was obvious to me that my less experienced and knowledgeable male colleagues were promoted more than their female coworkers. The discrimination was not blatant and would have been hard to prove. I slowly became the thorn in their side. I applied for every promotion and was passed over nine times as often as my male colleges, even ones with small children. There was always an explanation, “Nicole, you’re just not ready,” or “You’re not a good fit for the office.” Every time I asked for feedback and improved. I was sad but I picked up and tried again.
The discrimination became more apparent when I became a mother. After the birth of my first child, I only took 5 weeks of maternity leave, and upon my return, I faced clear discrimination. I was removed from special projects and faced lower performance ratings. Another mom told me that I changed since becoming a mother. At the time, the feedback was supposedly from a friend, and not official. However, I was no longer working with her and she did not have the opportunity to observe my work. I asked her what specifically she was referring to, and she told me about a meeting that she did not attend. She also explained that a male supervisor requested that she speak with me about “being a mom.” Gender discrimination is so pervasive in the workplace that even other women perpetuate the problems.
Asking for Help
After my daughter was diagnosed with autism, I spent many mornings in my supervisor’s office literally crying. I opened my heart and soul to him about the difficulties my family was facing. After a few years, a lateral position became available in Tennessee, only a few hours’ drive from my parents. As soon as I found out the Tennessee supervisor was retiring, I requested a hardship transfer to that office. The agency offered me a downgrade to the non-supervisory position in the same office. I guess my true RBG started to shine, and I turned it down. I pointed out that the agency allowed eight of my male colleagues to transfer without a hardship justification. My request was ultimately denied.
Like Ruth Bader Ginsburg I wrote my way out of the situation. I filed an Equal Employment Opportunity complaint, which the agency eventually settled. Although they did not admit wrongdoing in the settlement agreement, during negotiations they admitted that I was treated unfairly. This admission and the ultimate settlement did not heal the wounds I had experienced but did give me a little vindication after all of those years. Gender discrimination is still a problem in my field, and I actively fight it in every way I can.
Today I salute Ruth Bader Ginsburg for being an inspiration to all working moms and proving you can create positive change in the world and be a mom. You can have it all.