Last week, a personal hero of mine died. I really didn’t know much about her until she became a guiding force on the Supreme Court. I wouldn’t be so presumptuous as to say I am as smart, noble, accomplished and disciplined as she. But we began our careers in a similar way. She had three strikes against her: she was female, Jewish and a mother. I was the same: female, Jewish and then later, a mother. I would add one more strike: ambitious.
I graduated Berkeley when there were few realistic choices for a young woman: you could be a teacher, a nurse, or a childcare worker. Don’t get me wrong, those are all noble, necessary, difficult and rewarding professions. My daughters-in-law are both: one is a nurse, the other a teacher. They are changing the world in their chosen professions. I respect each of them greatly!
But that’s not where I wanted to go in my life. I really didn’t know what I wanted to do. I just knew I wanted my life to matter. I was good at math and I graduated with degrees in Economics. It made total sense to me, this very objective way of measuring progress in our world.
My first two bosses were women. I didn’t think that was unusual at the time but looking back, it was. The first taught me countless ways to do my job and second was rather remote. She gave out assignments and did her job well. I looked up to her.
Little did I know that I would not be perceived as a professional by my next bosses, all of them men. Most of the men in my chosen field as a financial/feasibility consultant viewed me as a sister (little or big), a daughter, a granddaughter, or from many men, as a conquest. Yes I mean, predatory men who only wanted one thing. Even if I had acquiesced, I had to be better at my job than my male contemporaries and I couldn’t make mistakes.
I worked in several corporate environments, many times as the only female professional. I was looking for my place in the world. There was no glass ceiling for me. I could barely get out of the basement!
I was the assistant to the Dean of a prestigious art school. He put me in charge of “women’s lib”, whatever that meant! He fancied himself a founder of the movement. He never looked me in the eye. All he could do was stare at my breasts. I tried to minimize my contact with him until he was fired for some other inappropriate infraction. Whatever it was, it was kept secret. Probably sexual harassment.
One rather crude boss, the head of the company at which I worked, walked into my glass-walled office and said, “Wanna f__k?” I mention glass walls because we were so exposed. I couldn’t react, and I wondered if he wanted to just do it there, on my desk!
I worked at the biggest and most prestigious department store chain in the United States in the Area Research department headquartered in Cincinnati. My boss told me directly, “You’ll never be head of the Los Angeles office because you’re a woman.” Thank you, Marshall, for your honesty.
After Marshall told me I would never be head of the Los Angeles office because I was female, I went to see Gloria Allred. Surely I could do something about this so obviously sexist company! She told me I could sue, but likely I would never be hired by anyone in the industry again. I decided to leave. I couldn’t afford to be out of work.
This company was sued for sexual and racial harassment. They beat the rap, of course.
Another boss took me to lunch at a lovely downtown hotel. I thought he was going to give me the good news of a promotion. We had an enjoyable lunch and as we were waiting for the check he said, “let’s get a room!” I don’t know why, but I was stunned and speechless.
At a certain point in my career I called it quits. I started my own company. I marketed myself as the alternative to the old white guy, all of my competition being either old or white. I was female and young: good luck Jill.
One thing I will say about me: I never give up. Just as RBG never gave up. It simply wasn’t an option. And I never complained. That too was not an option and there was no one to complain to.
I was a woman acting like a man. The world wasn’t ready for that.
Fast forward to the turn of the new century. Inch by inch, I had moved forward. I became a respected consultant, called by some as the best in the country. I never became rich. That wasn’t my goal. I love the work and I love helping companies create new entertainment, retail and cultural facilities. I have a loving family, grandchildren, a thriving practice, and a great life. Yes, I ‘ve made it, yes I have it all. But boy it wasn’t easy!
Today, I mentor young professionals at every opportunity. I love giving back and helping them at every turn in their careers.
I thank you RBG and mourn your loss. I hope when I am gone, that in my own small way, I am known the way that you are.
Rest in Peace, Justice Ruth Ginsburg! The world has lost a moral giant!
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