Why the New Judge Matters

I remember when the “Supremes” were three young girls from Detroit pumping out hit singles for Motown Records.

Well, like the song says, “Time, time, give it time no matter how long it takes.” In fact, it has taken 220 years (the US Supreme Court was established in 1790) for the world to see the possibility of three women “Supremes” serving simultaneously on the bench of one of the most influential courts in the world.

If confirmed, Elena Kagan will be the fourth woman to serve as a Supreme Court Judge. But, this will be the first time that three of the nine sitting judges will be women.

This is a serious turning point in the history of women and it hits three of my hot buttons so hard I want to yell Hooray!

Hot Button #1 
“Breaking the Context Barrier”

Elevating Kagan to the bench is important because it helps put women in a new context. The more familiar society becomes with women in roles historically characterized as masculine, the greater our ability to transcend our gender.

People like to put things “in context.” They like to consider facts relative to the situation because it helps them predict the results.

Women in traditionally male roles or jobs are often placed in a negative context. People have trouble imagining them in these positions – they foresee all kinds of difficulties and conflicts and obstacles to their success.

But every woman who breaks a barrier and blazes a trail ultimately helps all of us.

Hot Button #2 
“The Power of Three”

A Wellesley Center for Women study showed that increasing the number of women in an organization increases the likelihood that women’s voices are heard. The authors argued it takes three or more women to achieve the critical mass that can cause a fundamental change in the boardroom or corporate culture.

One woman board member captured it this way.

“One woman is the invisibility phase, two is the conspiracy phase but three women is mainstream.”

Hot Button #3
“I Hear High Heels in the Hallway”

Having three or more women also changes the way that men communicate and behave says the National Association of Corporate Directors in Washington D.C. Men become more inclusive and open.

One corporate secretary reported that, “People talk differently now that there are more women.” The workplace had become collaborative, more creative and less hierarchical.

Such is the advantage of adding more feminine energy to a room full of directive masculine energy.

For much of my career I was the only woman in the room. I always held my own with most of the men I worked with. But they held me to a higher standard and scrutinized my every move. I was out of place to them – I was out of context.

It was such a relief when we started having more women in management and more women on the board. I had someone to continue the discussion with during the bathroom break!

And So …

And so we are inching toward the day when it is just as acceptable to have women judges at the top level as it is to have men.

Kagan’s appointment will increase the acceptance of women in the highest tiers of society. The sound of high heels clicking down the great halls of the Supreme Court will have an ongoing, trickle-down effect for women in the workforce and lead to critical mass in other fields as well.

Supreme Court judges are expected to be brilliant and accomplished – but we no longer believe they all have to be men. Women have will critical mass on the bench. They will be in a natural context and they will leverage the power of combined male and female energies.

And that is the power of three.