Tory Burch is one of America’s richest self-made women, with a net worth of $850 million by Forbes’ estimate. But when she started her preppy-chic lifestyle brand in 2004, Burch wasn’t exactly taken seriously. “It was called a vanity project,” Burch said at the Forbes Women’s Summit. “I was introduced as a female CEO. I was like, ‘When is a man introduced as a male CEO?’”
Burch’s experiences in the workplace inspired her admiration of Lilly Ledbetter, the ultimate equal-pay activist. The fashion icon and feminist trailblazer discussed the wide-reaching impact of the gender pay gap at a conversation moderated by Cosmopolitan editor Jessica Pels at the Forbes summit.
Ledbetter had worked as an area manager at a Goodyear plant in Alabama for 19 years when she received an anonymous note that revealed she earned 35%-40% less than men in her position. It devastated Ledbetter, in part because that withheld pay could have helped her support her family. “This affects everybody across the family, including men,” Ledbetter said. “When you talk about equal pay, it’s a family affair.”
She filed a sex discrimination case against Goodyear that she won but then lost on appeal. The case made its way to the Supreme Court in 2007, which overturned the $3 million verdict, ruling that she should have filed suit within 180 days of her first unequal paycheck despite the fact that she had no knowledge of her unfair treatment. Ledbetter acknowledged that the issue of pay discrimination has improved since the passing of the federal act, but the fight is far from over. In 2017, female, full-time workers only made 80.5 cents for every dollar earned by men.
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