Sunday, September 27, 2020

RBG and Gender Equality

I have been thinking a lot about RBG's death and her legacy. I did not realize that so many rights I have were new to women in my lifetime. By the age of 22 I had my own credit cards, a car and an apartment without male co-signers. I have never thought of that as revolutionary until now even though those changes came for women in the US after I was born.

The university I attended only became co-educational a couple years before I was born. I would suspect if I went back and looked all of the schools I applied to have similar histories, yet by the time I went to school they were 50/50 female/male. Integrated, co-educational institutions are what I grew up with thanks to RBG and others and I definitely took that given for granted.

While at university, the fliers for getting a credit card were everywhere for men and women. As the poor college student I was, who was an Econ major, I knew I should build credit by using my credit card and paying it off monthly and I needed the cash float.

When I graduated from college, I had a good job lined up. With the credit I had established and the job I had lined up, I was able to buy (or rather finance) a car on my own. My first car was a Toyota Corolla that I put no money down on and charged the tax and title fees, but I had a car, a credit card and I had a job that would provide me with income to cover the monthly payments, and my rent and other living expenses.

By the time I got married a few years later I added my husband to my credit cards and we consolidated our accounts into my bank account (since I knew how much was in mine and he did not know what was in his and both were equally low balances).  Something that would not have been possible the decade before I was born.

I was lucky that I chose a place to work that strove to be a meritocracy. However, Corporate Finance and Corporate leadership are male dominated. Women last year held a record high number of CEO positions at Fortune 500 companies and still just 7.4% Fortune 500 CEOs were women. Yes, that is right, less than 10% still - 50 years after higher education opened up to women. While my employer worked deliberately to improve retention and promotion of women across levels, when I left after 20+ years the percent of woman at each level in Finance and Accounting was similar to when I joined the company.

Over my career, I was regularly the only woman in meetings. Around the year 2000, one meeting sticks out in my memory.  We were living in Geneva, Switzerland at the time. I was the only women in a meeting of about 15 people to get approval for the launch of Swiffer in the Balkans. The President of the region turned to me and asked, "since you are a housewife, I am curious what you think about this launch reco".  My first reaction was to think I am a Finance Manager and since I am here working full time I am most certainly not a housewife. I quickly realized I should take advantage of any opportunity I was given to share my business thoughts and establish my credibility as a strong thinker and leader which I did, but I felt like what I was bringing to the table intellectually and professionally was secondary to my assumed role as the primary house cleaner. 

Like so many, I admire and am thankful to Ruth Bader Ginsburg for her legal acumen, her strength, her perseverance and the changes she enabled that I have benefited from.  I read an article recently where someone had asked RBG what number of female Supreme Court justices she thought would show that women had reached equality. Her response was 9, and that men had filled all 9 roles for a very long time. I have been conditioned to think about equal as 50/50, but she makes a good point: history has not been equitable.  I also admire RBG's vision and ability to think expansively about equality, without which I think far less progress would have been made towards equality in many different areas. 

I am down to just two more treatments, so in slightly more than two weeks I will be finished with chemo. I'm looking forward to feeling better and having energy and figuring out what I can do with it to drive positive change.


  1. Beth -
    What a beautifully written piece. I keep saying you truly should be a writer. Your account of how your career and life unfolded with many of the benefits made possible by those brave ladies who came before you gave me pause to think about my own life and the changes I've witnessed as well as the subtle and blatant sexism encountered throughout my career and in everyday life. Still. It's there. whether purchasing a car or in everyday encounters. I was there when P&G first starting hiring women into the finance function and the walls they hit and doors slammed hard in their face. I used to joke that the glass ceiling really should be viewed as the steel glass can be broken. Yes, there has been significant progress...but still so very far to go if we are to experience true equality as women and for minorities. It's sad and frustrating to see it at the highest level of government. RBG stood for so much beyond making it to the Supreme Court. She paved the way on so much but there is a huge void now. Sadly...the powers currently in office will do whatever they can to take us back. YOU, my dear friend, can make a difference by writing and building a network of others who can push forward RBG's ideals and beliefs....for your sweet girls and all women who carry this fight on....with her spirit being right beside us! Get done with that chemo and then let's catch up! You are fierce and fabulous and will soon be ready to drive positive change and you have those two beautiful daughter warriors right beside you!

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