I like to think of myself as woke. As an HR professional and fellow member of the human race, I acknowledge that others come from different experiences and backgrounds than I do. I appreciate the hardships and struggles they have had to endure.
What never ceases to amaze me is that, even when you think you can relate to and appreciate someone’s plight, you can never really understand the full picture. For those of you who have sat in on my diversity trainings in the past, you may remember me telling you my story of how amazed I was that Mary Tyler Moore was considered a ‘pioneer for women’ when she passed away. As a Millennial (yes, I’m admitting it), it was difficult for me to comprehend how an actress portraying a professional woman working in New York was regarded as ‘ground breaking’. At the time it was. RBG’s story is no different.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a phenomenal woman. I knew this before she passed, but like many of you this week I continue to learn so much more about her life and the many obstacles she had to overcome. One story that I read spoke about the trouble that she experienced finding a job after graduating 1st in her class from Columbia Law. She was blatantly denied opportunities strictly based on her gender. Despite her glowing recommendation letters from top legal minds in the country, she experienced rejection after rejection for clerkships. She was beaten down and disappointed. Finally, a law professor from Columbia, Gerald Gunther, reached out to a US District Court Judge and refused to recommend any potential future Columbia grads if he did not accept Ginsberg.
This story speaks to the power of the “ally”. Had Gunther not extended his hand and advocated for Ginsberg, she may have given up and become a housewife in Oklahoma. During this time of national and worldwide unrest, I am reminded of the power that we all individually have to help those who need an extra hand and an advocate. Someone who knows this person’s ability who can make sure the world sees it too. Someone who can help “pave the way”.
I’ll also take this opportunity to say thank you to all of the women in business who have “gone before me” and forged the road that I now travel. Unlike business women in previous generations, I have the luxury of surprise when I hear these stories of gender discrimination. For those of you who have faced this fight first-hand, please know that although the younger generations can never fully understand your journey, we recognize that we stand on the shoulders of the great women who have come before us.
And let’s celebrate Ruth this week. Be her Gerald Gunther by using your power to be an ally. Continue paving the way for others.
Rest in Peace, Ruth. And thank you.