Do women have to be overqualified for top position?

President Biden’s nominee for the United States Supreme Court, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, begins her Senate confirmation hearing today. It marks a historic moment for our country.  If she is confirmed, Judge Jackson will be the first Black woman, the sixth woman, and the third Black justice to be on the Supreme Court.  For nearly two centuries, the Court's bench consisted exclusively of white men - of the 120 Supreme Court Justices since its creation, 115 have been men and 117 have been white.   

Before Judge Jackson was even nominated, the criticism began.  When Justice Stephen Breyer announced his retirement, President Biden pronounced that his pick was going to be a BLACK FEMALE judicial scholar.  Some, though, people just heard the “Black Female” and not the “judicial scholar” part.  At first, the criticism was directed at President Biden himself, saying the announcement was “offensive” and was a disservice to Black women because he should pick the “most qualified.”  One commentator even alluded to the notion that no Black woman can actually be the most qualified.  Some in Congress even said that the President is filling a quota.  (Quotas ---that’s 1980s rhetoric and unlawful for employers to implement.)  The potential nominee was being denigrated before even being nominated. 

I actually debated the point of whether President Biden should have said out loud that his next nominee will be a Black female scholar. Many friends and colleagues (both male and female) thought that the President shouldn’t have said it out loud—the Black female part.  Mostly because, it is marring the reputation of whoever is nominated.  Rather, he should have quietly picked a Black female to be the nominee. I disagree.  What is wrong about being intentional toward making sure the highest court in our country actually reflects our country? I am glad he said it out loud!  

Then, the President nominated Judge Jackson stating “I believe it is time that we have a court that reflects the full talents and greatness of our nation.” And immediately the specific criticism started.  Some in the media began asking for her to release her LSAT score.  I don’t recall whether the topic of LSAT scores came up during the confirmation process for last three SCOTUS nominees.  Others proclaimed that because she graduated from Harvard Law, she’s an elitist.  Meanwhile, all but one of the current Justices attended Harvard or Yale Law School.  Are they elitists too?  

All this begs the question--Is Judge Jackson being held to an impossible standard?     

Yes!  There is a huge body of research that evidences female candidates to reach the top of any field have to often work twice as hard and essentially show they are “more” than qualified for the role.  And, for minority women—it is exponentially higher.  Despite Judge Jackson’s stellar legal resume, impeccable education, varied legal experience, and notable judicial insights, there will be still be criticism. 

In the end, NYU School of Law professor Melissa Murray says it best:  “[Judge Jackson] is a candidate genetically engineered for this position, [i]t’s almost like she was developed in a lab for this moment.” 

As I reflect on all this, I am reminded by what Brené Brown discussed in her book, Daring Greatly, and how she coped with the criticism around her first Ted Talk.  She was inspired by Teddy Roosevelt’s speech in 1910—seems apropos here – 

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again,because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause;who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.” 

Judge Jackson is bravely in the arena.  She has, as many women (particularly women of color), more than earned her place.  She has armored up, and became a warrior ready for battle in a system where the odds are stacked against her. Over the years, she has been “marred by dust and sweat and blood, but strives valiantly.” And, most importantly she “knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if [s]he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.” 

I don’t think Judge Jackson will fail.  The battles she has triumphed over has more than prepared her for this moment. And, to those spectators not in the arena, criticizing from afar—I can’t hear you!   


Diversity, equity, and inclusion has been the bedrock of our firm since we opened over 75 years ago. As we like to say, it is in our DNA. We believe that to foster diverse leadership and urge diversity of thought, we must do what we can to advance the conversation about diversity, equity, inclusion, accessibility, and belonging in the workplace and the communities in which our workplaces thrive. Through our blog, we share our insights from the perspective of both an employer and employee, regarding emerging issues that affect diverse leaders and workforces. We hope you enjoy our tidbits of legal and practical information, wisdom, and humor. Thanks for joining the conversation!


* indicates required
Back to Page