Last week, our country lost a superhero. On Friday, September 18, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away, leaving behind a pervasive legacy as a key contributor in Supreme Court rulings that brought diversity, equity and inclusion to the national stage.
As we mourn the passing of a beloved social justice figure and gender equality pioneer, Pope Consulting reflects on her great legacy and honors her relentless dedication, particularly for women’s rights in the workplace.
The Legacy of Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Ruth Bader Ginsburg was the second woman to sit on the distinguished bench of the U.S. Supreme Court, serving as an Associate Justice from 1993 to 2020. To date, she is one of only four women to serve as a Supreme Court justice – a shocking statistic as there have been 114 Justices since the establishment of the Court in 1790. In over two decades on the Supreme Court, Ginsburg played an integral role in many famous rulings.
As a judge, many saw Ginsburg as moderate-liberal, given her strong stance in favor of gender equality and workers’ rights. She is most known for her compelling dissents, which always captured an unquestionably respectful and powerful argument. Facing gender discrimination herself, Ginsburg became interested in the role of women in the eyes of the law after being denied the opportunity to even interview for a Supreme Court clerkship in 1960—despite her stellar academic record—simply because she was a woman.
To many Americans, Ginsburg was a trailblazer who changed the landscape for working women. Since the start of her legal career, Ginsburg was a staunch advocate for the rights of women, believing that a person’s sex bears no necessary relationship to ability. She was also strategically brilliant in her approach. Recognizing that most courts were filled with male judges, Ginsburg’s first big case fought for a single man, never married, who was denied an IRS tax deduction for the care he provided for his 89-year old mother. At the time, the statute held that men could only take this deduction if they were widowed or divorced. Ginsburg won the case, and once the courts recognized that men were being discriminated against, Ginsburg was able to use that same precedent to overturn hundreds of federal statutes based solely on gender.
During the 1970s, she served as the co-founder and director of the Women’s Right Project of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), arguing hundreds of gender discrimination cases before the Supreme Court. She appeared before the Supreme Court and won five out of six landmark civil rights cases that forever changed gender equality and laid the foundation for future women’s rights advocacy.
Ginsburg’s work with the ACLU inspired women in workplaces across the nation to work together to overcome adversity and discrimination. Our CEO and co-founder Patricia Pope saw this firsthand at Proctor & Gamble, where female engineers were tasked with “hosting” their younger, recently graduated counterparts who would be interviewing for open positions open. They took the opportunity to combat gender barriers at work by encouraging the new recruits to ask tough questions about the issue in their interviews. This tactic grabbed the attention of male managers and set off a chain of self-reflection in the industry.
As a strong supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment, Ginsburg believed that “women and men should stand as full and equal individuals before the law.” Throughout her career, Ginsburg defended affirmative action, women’s reproductive freedom, and gay marriage, securing advancement in civil rights for millions of Americans.
Her legacy has impacted our country’s history and will continue to influence our progress as a diverse and inclusive nation for generations to come. Most notably, Ginsburg’s dissent in landmark case Ledbetter v. Goodyear resulted in equal pay legislation signed into law in 2009.
Ledbetter worked as a supervisor for Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company for almost 20 years and did not earn the same salary as her male counterparts for the same work. In a five-to-four vote, the Supreme Court denied her claim, ruling that discrimination must be reported within a certain time period of when the prejudiced decision was made. Ginsburg recognized that this technicality does not account for those who are unaware of the pay discrepancy nor the continuing implications of a pay discrepancy on every single paycheck, which effectively results in discrimination against workers every pay period.
With the help of Ginsburg’s dissent, millions have protection by law against pay discrimination. Now, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act requires employers to ensure their pay practices are fair and non-discriminatory. We are reminded of the importance of Ginsburg’s work in a statement from former President Obama in response to her passing. He states “Justice Ginsburg helped us see that discrimination on the basis of sex isn’t about an abstract ideal of equality; that it doesn’t only harm women; it has real consequences for all us.”
Carrying The Torch
In a 2020 Gender Pay Gap Report, researchers found that the difference between the earnings of women and men has shrunk over time, but only by incremental amounts each year. Still, there is a disparity in how much men and women are paid for equal work – women make only $0.81 cents for every dollar a man makes. In the report, earnings data demonstrate that this gender pay gap is wider for women of color, women in executive-level roles, and women in certain industries and states. Specifically, this gender pay gap widens for people of color, with the largest discrepancies reported for American Indian, Alaska Native, African American, and Hispanic women, earning just $0.75 for every dollar a white man earns.
We encourage you to join us in carrying the torch and making real change happen in workplaces. To attract and increase retention of diverse talent, it’s important to commit to the core values of not only diversity and inclusion, but also integrity and equity.