Kamala Harris: Redefining What it Means to Be a Woman in Power
This time last year, only a few people outside the US knew the name Kamala Harris. Now, most people in the world know who she is, what she has achieved and what she stands for.
In this case study, we take a look at her leadership journey as well as what her appointment as Vice President means for leadership moving forward.
Kamala Harris and Joe Biden’s election victory means that Kamala is the first woman as well as the first Asian-American and the first African-American to be elected Vice President of America. Setting new “firsts” is something Kamala is no stranger to - in 2017, she became the first South Asian-American senator in US history and she was the first black female attorney general of California.
Over the last 231 years, white men have held the role of Vice President and the appointment of Kamala signals an enormous achievement for women and has highlighted that improving diversity is at the front and centre of US politics.
This is important not only for the future of American politics but for the impact Kamala’s appointment will no doubt have on other areas of leadership.
Diversity and Inclusion have been a mainstay of HR strategies for a while now, and most leadership teams recognise the business advantages of having a diverse workforce. Yet, this hasn’t necessarily been applied to the boardrooms and leadership teams which are where some of the most important decisions are made.
As Forbes put it, many executive boards remain “male, pale and stale”. (Forbes, 2013).
Just like Kamala’s victory will impact many industries and sectors, the appointments you make to your leadership teams will trickle down through your entire organisation. So when you focus specifically on diversifying leadership, you will feel the benefits from top to bottom. These include:
Identifying and meeting business objectives
Having role models and mentors for your staff
Better reflecting your customer base
Diversity of thought and personality
Kamala’s journey to reaching this milestone has involved breaking down a lot of barriers and overturning beliefs of what a leader should look like and how women should act.
Female leaders face many obstacles, not least of which is likeability and being punished for attributes that their male counterparts would be rewarded for. While men in positions of power are rewarded for being strong, assertive, direct and dominant, women are penalised for being too assertive, too goal orientated and too strong-minded.
Likewise, if women are too empathetic or compassionate, they risk having their capacity to lead brought into question.
But, just like Jacinder Ardern has shown that leading with compassion can be highly successful, Kamala Harris has shown that being tough, ambitious and aggressive in the support of her people and mission is a strength, no matter her gender.
Studies show that when women exhibit stereotypically masculine traits commonly associated with leadership like assertiveness, they are less-liked, but this isn’t the case for Kamala who has been applauded for the way she conducts herself. And rightly so as her actions are directly tied to her mission to provide for the people she is responsible for.
“What I want young women and girls to know is: You are powerful and your voice matters,”
However, it’s important to note that as well as this, Kamala is warm, humorous, patient and respectful.
She has shown that to her, true leadership means loyalty, honesty and preparation.
“Anyone who claims to be a leader must speak like a leader. That means speaking with integrity and truth.”
She is an inspiring demonstration of the opportunities available when glass ceilings are smashed and how leadership is changing for the better.