Libby McCaughey
16 days ago by Libby McCaughey

Kamala Harris makes history as the first female and woman of colour to be elected Vice President: “I am the first, but won’t be the last”

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“What I want young women and girls to know is: You are powerful and your voice matters”

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris paid tribute to the women on Saturday, particularly Black women, whose shoulders she stands on as she shatters barriers that have stopped women from obtaining the highest levels of ranking power in the White House for more than two centuries. 

“Tonight,” she said, “I reflect on their struggle, their determination, and the strength of their vision to see what can be unburdened by what has been. And I stand on their shoulders.”

Harris has broken glass ceilings throughout her career, having been elected the first Black woman to serve as San Francisco’s District Attorney and later California’s first Black woman Attorney General. She became California’s Junior U.S. Senator in 2017 and developed a reputation for posing tough questions during Senate hearings to Trump administration nominees, including now Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

So why is Harris’s appointment so important?

It’s no secret that women have historically faced huge challenges and greater barriers to achieve gender equality. Across geographies and income levels, disparities between genders persist in the form of pay gaps, uneven opportunities for advancement and unbalanced representation in important decision-making.

Kamala Harris has secured her place in history like so many amazing women before her, as a vital person in the movement for equality and diversity.

The election of Kamala Harris as the first Black-Indian vice-presidential candidate in history provides renewed hope for diversity and inclusion both inside and outside politics. It’s no small feat to have a woman of colour as a role model in such an important and visible position.

There are fewer women than ever in leadership positions, making it hard to envisage oneself near the top as a female worker. Deanna Strable, Executive Vice President and CFO at Principal Financial Services, told McKinsey:

“The lack of women in C-suite positions is a self-perpetuating cycle. Because we don’t have many females in the C-suite, young women don’t see role models or potential paths towards executive-level leadership and are more likely to deselect themselves out of higher-level leadership roles.

There is no clear-cut way to solve systemic issues of equality and representation but there are steps businesses can take to help improve their diversity and, just as importantly, inclusion. Here are a few steps that we have seen our clients and other organisations take that have had a meaningful impact:

Lead from the top down –You will struggle to make real change without diverse leadership. While monolithic executive teams may have the best intentions, without the input of diverse opinions, you can only achieve so much. Furthermore, companies with diverse boards outperform their competitors.

Create diverse project teams –Diversity is not only important at leadership level, but also within projects themselves. Diverse teams are proven to show better results and their work is also more likely to diversify customers and clients.

Review interview panels –It’s a well-known fact that people tend to hire in their own image. By diversifying the people who conduct your interviews, businesses can help eliminate this internal bias.

Train your interview panels –In addition to diversifying your interviewers, it is wise to ensure they receive unconscious bias training and are aware of what bias they may bring to the interview process.

Create a culture that values inclusion –It’s impossible to highlight just how important inclusion is when looking to improve diversity. By creating a culture where all people feel like they have an equal voice you are much more likely to retain a diverse team. This could include representative groups or societies, allowing religious holidays outside of annual leave, and ensuring that necessary access and equipment is available to those with disabilities.

Celebrate diversity –By acknowledging and celebrating diversity, businesses can better align their teams and create an atmosphere where individuals don’t feel left out. For example, firms can allocate money to Employee Resource Groups, bring in a diverse range of speakers, look to include gender pronouns in their email signatures, and, most importantly, ask their teams what would make them feel better represented.

Don’t set finger-in-the-air objectives –While effective when used right, diversity quotas and targets can be a hindrance if they aren’t thought through. If you are going to set these, they should be well researched and achievable. Otherwise, review softer objectives, such as how making efforts to improve diversity has impacted staff wellbeing, rather than looking to tick boxes.

Be transparent –For many businesses, improving diversity is still a learning curve. If you have set objectives, be open about what they are and how close you are to achieving them. By being clear about what you are doing, and open to any feedback, your team will show more trust in you and you are more likely to have their support in your

It's important that no matter your political opinion, you are actively working to make your workplaces more diverse and inclusive. Kamala Harris's appointment is a step to towards positive change and is a real success story, paving the way for young women and people of colour, let's keep this momentum going. For more information on Women in Leadership, take a look at our white paper on how diverse FTSE 100 companies when it comes to women in senior roles. Download Below.

The Female FTSE Board Report is an annual publication looking at trends in female representation on FTSE 100 and FTSE 250 boards, this is our take on the research and is available to download for free using the form below.​