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What Kamala Harris’s Ascendance to Vice President Means to Me

Watching Kamala Harris sworn in as the first woman, Black woman, Asian woman vice president of the United States was a profoundly moving and surreal moment for me.

After an incredibly disturbing and terrifying 2020 marked by the murders of George Floyd, Breyonna Taylor, Ahmaud Mauberry and so many others, I’m still in disbelief that Kamala Harris is vice president!

But I’m also inspired. Her story is my story (in some ways). Like many women of color, I’m navigating being the “only” person of color in many rooms I walk into.  Harris’s ascendance to the heights of political office inspires women of all ages, including  young girls and boys. I can only imagine what Kamala Harris has endured throughout her career and how many rooms she’s had to walk through, command, to get to this point.

As remarkable a first this is, Kamala Harris as VP is also a reminder that progress is happening, but incredibly slowly. There remain far too few examples of black and brown leaders: Roz Brewer, who will become Walgreens CEO in June 2021 is just the first black woman CEO to lead a Fortune 5oo company. She was followed just recently by Thasunda Duckett, who will head TIAA. Netflix’s Chief Marketing Officer Bozama Saint John leads one of the most innovative and successful countries.

As a U.S. society, we still exist in the realm of “firsts.” According to data from LeanIn.org., Black women, who make up 7.4% of the U.S. population, occupy 1.6% of vice president roles and 1.4% of C-suite positions.
So how do we move from a “few” to many? The new Biden Administration is one of the most diverse cabinets ever, and not by accident. Here’s what we can learn from the new administration:

• Diversity to succeed must be intentional. It’s an active mindset. When we walk into rooms, we have to look around, open our eyes. Who’s here? Who isn’t?

• We – especially people leaders — need to provoke the conversation, even if it’s uncomfortable. It’s a sensitive subject for some, but brushing it under the rug or delegating it to the diversity team has not led to significant progress. Hoping and wishing for diversity won’t get us to where we need to be.

• White leaders need to step up. President Joe Biden in selecting Kamala Harris made it clear that his administration would be different. Diversity is not for black and brown professionals to solve, especially when most of us do not control the P&Ls or hold decision-making power.

• Diversity must be part of the business conversation at all levels of organizations, particularly at the highest levels, even the White House! If we view diversity through the lens of a business imperative, we remove the awkwardness and we focus on who needs to be in the room to formulate a plan and to put words into measurable goals, strategies. And then we check in to make sure our plans are working. We talk about diversity as commonplace as the state of business.

Lastly, we must let go of the notion that there is a lack of  brown and black talent. If you’re not finding it, change your strategy. There are incredible organizations like ColorComm, the nation’s leading women’s platform addressing diversity & inclusion across the communications’ and marketing who can partner with companies to promote job openings and find talented candidates..

In this time of racial reckoning, we can all challenge ourselves to think differently about the kind of work environments we want to have. Not to mention, numerous studies show that diversity contributes to more successful businesses. 
Let’s do this. Are you with me? 

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