By: Krysta Kearney
“Everybody, know your worth, understand it and add 25% for what you deserve because we all deserve it.”
Jennifer Justice is a revolutionary, a rebellious woman who has spent her professional career fighting in the front lines of gender equality. With her success as a brilliant attorney, she has become an influential mogul in today’s workforce. After many highly accredited accomplishments including having been the personal entertainment attorney for 17 years to music’s powerhouse Jay-Z, she decided to start her own company, The Justice Dept. which is a consulting and law firm advocating for women.
“Our vision is to accelerate the success of women, women owned businesses and women focused brands to achieve equality and diversity in the market, workforce and workplace as it should be.” - The Justice Dept. website
In January of 2019, The Justice Dept was born. They focus on strategy, business development and legal management predominantly for women. It is one part law firm with the other being a consulting firm that does management strategy, building brands, working with female founded companies and helping them achieve success. Justice is more passionate about this than any of her ventures of the past. It’s her goal to help women not only understand their worth but also fight for it, for all women to know the value they hold and despite their busy lives, no matter what their goals are in life, they are capable of achieving them. It’s all about building a network of women. They work mainly with women that are already in executive level positions and help them break inequality barriers at the top levels of their given industry. Focusing on putting more money into the hands women who have money so they can change the ways in which the women in those roles in the future control business. It’s all about spreading the message, being seen, heard and making an impactful change.
Justice was born into poverty. In both her immediate and extended family, she was the first to go to college. Most didn’t graduate high school, her mother was pregnant at 16...it’s the cyclic way of her family’s world, generational poverty. She always knew that she didn't want that lifestyle for herself. Growing up without money didn’t stop her from pursuing success, in a way it encouraged her, knowing that she wanted something different for herself. Having spent her whole childhood in various small towns outside of Seattle, WA she applied to college and was accepted at the University of Washington with the financial help of various grants. This was a huge adjustment for her, she had trouble fitting in, as she had never really been around scholars in her life, it was hard to relate. At the time, Seattle had become the center of the grunge music scene, it was exploding and Justice was deep in it. She took a look around and realized a lot of the bands had started to make it big. That’s when it dawned on her, she decided to merge her passions, music and law. She thought to herself, ‘That’s what I’m gonna do, I’m gonna go to law school and be an attorney for bands.’
She knew that Cornell University was one of the best of the best. It’s an ivy league school with an incredible and highly accredited law program, so she applied and was accepted. Once again, it was hard for her to fit in as most students came from very affluent backgrounds. She felt very out of place but knew the program was right for her and she fell in love with the east coast.
“People would ask, ‘Where’d you prep.’ I was like, I don’t even know what that means...you know, where’d you go to prep school? What’s so wrong with public school? I often felt like I was hiding my background. People would judge me. Or not even me, but judge my family. It was just so foreign to them, people were like...what? Yes...I know what government cheese tastes like, I know what food stamps look like.”
When visiting NYC while attending Cornell, she instantly resonated with it, she knew it was the place for her. Everything about it just fell into place, she finally felt like she fit in and loved the spontaneity of it, the culture, the movement.
“Everyone is on a subway car, you can be worth 10 cents or 10 million dollars. It’s such a melting pot.”
Within a year of living in NYC she became an entertainment attorney at Carroll, Guido and Groffman LLP. One of her first accounts was hip hop artist Jay-Z, who then was very little known outside the Burroughs of NY. Within three years she rose up and was made partner. Over the years she represented a number of other talents like Mike Ronson, Outkast and Slipknot. It wasn’t until then, once in her career, a professional attorney that she realized just how much inequality there is in the workplace. At first, she didn’t know it existed because she wasn’t in a world of business.
“Once I got there I didn’t only realize how unequal it is, but it’s so bad! I still don’t understand why it’s not a national emergency, to be honest with you, I don’t know why it’s ok. When in other segments of population people are all up in arms but when it comes to women, it’s fine.”
At the time she was representing a lot of executives, some being women. She recalls a client, a male, in a director-level position who was making 130,000 a year. At the same time, another client of hers who was a female, and a senior director was only getting paid 90,000. Justice was outraged. Dumbfounded that the margins were literally that large.
“That kind of started my quest and passion for gender inequality in the workplace.”
As her career advanced she worked more and more with people in higher paying positions. Those numbers started to become a difference of 1.3 million and 900,000. Although the margins were the same, the higher the income bracket becomes a very large gap in pay difference.
She started getting involved in various groups and workshops supporting gender equality. At the time they were far and few. She read every book she could get her hands on. She notes how hard it was to find informative books. Instead of women’s rights focused books, she found titles like one by Barbara Corcoran, ‘If You Don’t Have Big Breasts, Put Ribbons on Your Pigtails.’
In 2010, Jay Z asked Justice to join his entertainment firm, Roc Nation full time, to work in-house. She became the general counsel and EVP, doing marketing and business development, expanding it into the empire that we now know today. It was then where she started working for artists, doing the same thing that she did for Jay -Z, turning hobbies and passions into careers. Her roster includes artists such as Rhianna, Beyonce, Kanye West, Santigold and Shakira.
After working with Jay Z for 17 years she decided it was time for a change, a challenge, to level up and prove her capabilities. She went to work for the live experience company known as Superfly where she was president of corporate development, helping them build their artists rosters and expanded their revenues by 65% during her time there.
“My tenure was coming to an end and I thought, ‘Ok. I’ve been working for men and making them money by day and trying to overthrow the patriarchy at night. So how can I meld these two things?’”
Hence, the Justice Dept. began. Considering all of her combined experiences both professionally and personally, she has found herself in the right place, during much needed times. Two years in, she is proud with where The Justice Dept. is, they are doing great work and helping a lot of women, just people in general. All of her ventures have led her here, to serve justice for all women, be a voice for many. She feels it’s her duty, to make a difference. It’s important for her to carry her legacy forward, pave the path for her children, so they can thrive and live in a more equitable world.
“We represent boss ladies to make them money. We work with female (and woke male) entrepreneurs, executives, talent, brands and creatives in all stages of their careers and businesses, focusing in the areas of tech, consumer product, finance, media, entertainment and fashion.” - The Justice Dept website
Justice says women are hardly any better off than they were in the 1950s. She went on to say that a 2019 study (by the World Economic Forum) shows data that it will be 208 years before women in the United States will make the same amount of money as men. Yes, that’s right...208 years, it’s outrageous.
“Every woman should know that. Everybody should know that! It’s not to have a bitch session, it’s not like lifting women up is to push men down, but women need to be lifted up. No one else is doing it, you know.”
Both women and men need to acknowledge how unjust these statistics are and not only recognize but take action. If everyone plays their part, no matter the size it’s a step further in a unified direction. Maybe we can all just take a little insight from Justice, it’s not easy all she does. Being a single mother to two and working relentlessly to help women today while making an impact for the future. Take a small glimpse into her reality and project that into your own life, it’s a step in the right direction. Small actions can make a big impact.
“There’s this quote, something like, ‘I might not see the fruit of the tree but I can plant the roots.’ This is gonna be a long hall but I cannot leave this earth, without looking at my daughter and my son and knowing I tried the best I could to make this world a better place because this world will be a better place when women have the same amount of money as men, it just IS going to be.”
Q + A
Was it intimidating at first? Leaving your world and moving across the country?
“I had imposter syndrome all the time, I thought, can I do this, am I good enough, why me, all those things. It was super intimidating but I also kept thinking, what else am I going to do? What am I going back to? Where could I go? For me, I didn’t really have a choice, it just wasn’t the life I wanted to live. I wanted to have choices, I wanted to experience things, I didn’t want to be held back. So I kept moving forward no matter how hard it was.”
Do you have advice for women who are trying to make leaps in their life
“I think the easiest thing to say is, what would a straight white man do, and then do that.”
What are some things that have helped you along the way?
Justice was very honest and said there is importance in therapy, its healthy. Finding a circle of friends that become your family and a tribe of people who support you no matter what you do, that are there for you in business.
What is the importance of a tribe of women?
“It is absolutely necessary. They don’t have to be the group of women that you go out with and have drinks with on the weekends. They can be the women who have walked in your shoes as well, have seen the same things, confronted with the same sexism, unequal pay, issues with being a parent and a mother. That tribe of women can be there for you for your confidence, and you can be there for them, it’s a mutual thing.”
What are some thoughts you say to yourself for encouragement?
“These thoughts are not true. There is no basis of reality to this. I’m doing great work and if not me, then who?”
What do you take with you the most from your upbringing?
“Anything is possible, I’ve proven it, I came from nothing and I could move forward. It’s not just that but it’s also perseverance and not giving up. There’s always a way. Money isn’t going to buy you happiness but it adds a lot of convenience and the ability to make choices you can when you don’t have it. Be dependable, be reliable, be on time, be a good worker. These were all things that were ingrained in me from a very young age.”
What are some of your greatest achievements?
“Leading a life less traveled. I haven’t done anything traditionally. Because of it, my life is full and I’ve made my choices. Nobody else’s opinions of what my choices should be, have weighed into the broader scheme of things for me. If that is going to college when I wasn’t expected to or suppose to, or moving 3,000 miles away when I wasn’t supposed to, never getting married, which all women are expected to, having kids on my own terms, and being a single mom to them. Leading two jobs…deciding to start a business. I’m proud of all of those things because they were brave and are part of my quest and ability to learn.”
What does the word Moxxi mean to you?
“Having the courage to stand up for things and trust your instincts, and to go against the grain.”
“Lady domination. Spread the word.”
Head over to The Justice Dept. website to learn more about what they do and also about Jennifer Justice! Click the picture below.