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If You Can See It: Women, Business & Politics

In 2022, we are "living history." Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson has officially been confirmed for a seat on the Supreme Court. As the first African American female Supreme Court Justice in this country, Jackson's ascension is historic and different. While every confirmation process for the high court is always analyzed, this confirmation also speaks to where we [as a nation] have been, reveals where we are now, and clearly indicates where we still need to go.

Making The Court Look "More Like America" 

While Judge Jackson will bring a fresh perspective to how our constitution is viewed and applied, her very presence on the court breaks color, gender and socio-cultural boundaries, creating a ripple effect touching every aspect of our lives. Clearly, this means there is a lot about this confirmation to be examined. As a business blog, while politics is not its mission, Judge Jackson's experience still has relevance for this space. Why? Among many other things, this moment will transform African American women's status in the workforce including what is considered acceptable presentation as a professional in her workplace. To be clear, while the laws about workplace presentation have changed, attitudes about it have not.
When making this appointment, one of president President Biden's goals was to make the court "look more like America." With her confirmation, the business world* will have to broaden the spoken and unspoken parameters for how professional women can more accurately reflect that goal which is no small thing. Better ketanji brown jackson.jpeg

Women, Professional Norms, Identity & Heritage  

Her confirmation and its process exposed the embarrassing fact that race & gender discrimination are still "alive & well" in this country. How? It revealed the cold reality that Jackson's flawless qualifications and achievements were still seen as somehow "insufficient" to get broad bi-partisan support. Certainly, part of the reasoning for this is simply political partisanship. However most of it is far uglier. Polished and poised, Jackson met the moment without sacrificing her identity and heritage as a proud African American woman. How? Regardless of the change in state & federal laws, there is something known as hair bias in the business world which is still very real. These hearings were in effect, her "job interview." Jackson set aside unspoken attitudes about professional [Black] women by wearing her hair in loose but neatly coiffed braids. Why does that matter? Although braids worn in the workplace are now legal, they remain symbolic and controversial.. In order to avoid any appearance of discrimination, state and federal laws had to be created in order to inform business policies standards. However, in many quarters, such laws have not necessarily changed attitudes or the unspoken business "rules of the road" for getting ahead. Jackson's presentation for the confirmation process will now force the business world to align unspoken rules with the new laws.

Changing *If You Can See It You Can Be It

Many have said that Jackson has given new meaning to the important phenomenon "if you can see it, you can be it" Her confirmation transforms what's seen as "possible" for African American women and girls which can reshape their future goals and aspirations. Her appearance in braids adds a new dimension to those changing possibilities. What remains to be seen is how quickly it all filters down through the body corporate.

 

*Note: these styles are no longer considered unacceptable or controversial away from one's workplace


January 31, 2009