Since the US presidential election, I've spoken with a lot of people about "what it means" to have a Black, South Asian woman as Vice President, and honestly, I've struggled to place my feelings.
So many women I know, particularly those who are older and have lived through many more years of gender bias and women's rights movements than I have, shared with me feelings of pride and hopefulness at witnessing this moment in history. And many of my peers shared their relief and excitement at Kamala Harris as a symbol of the progress we have been fighting for.
I don't disagree with any of these women. And in some ways, I felt similar emotions swirling around in my jumbled brain during the post-election, holiday season haze. But I also felt skeptical. And if I am being honest, a little resentful.
I grew up being told in school that the United States prides itself on our foundations of liberty, democracy, and equality. By that logic, it simply should not have taken 243 years to get a woman of color into the office of Vice President, and I know I am not alone in this view. At the same time that Harris's position might symbolize progress, it also highlights how far we have yet to go. How many more years will it be until as many women have served as Vice President as men?
Come Inauguration Day, I still had this prevailing sense of ingratitude, which also made me feel guilty. Throughout the opening ceremonies, I kept thinking I should be happier, more celebratory.
And then Harris stepped forward to be sworn in, and the floodgates opened. Much to my surprise, I was overwhelmed just by seeing her on the platform, and my tears started flowing. There was something about the reality of Harris occupying that space, smiling through her oath of office – it hit me how I had never seen a woman, let alone a woman of color, stand in that spot.
That physical reality somehow brought it home for me, and I finally found some clarity in my emotional jumble. I'm not grateful for Kamala Harris as a symbol; I am grateful for her service because she is qualified for and dedicated to her work. More importantly, I am grateful to live in a country that can evolve, elevate its standards, and recognize her accordingly.
Towards the end of the movie The Avengers: Endgame (this is related, I promise), there is a climactic battle scene in which all of the central female heroes group together to take on a horde of enemy troops. The first time I saw the film, that scene gave me goosebumps. I remember feeling viscerally excited to see all these women banded together, center stage, taking names.
But when I left the theater, one of my friends commented that he felt the moment was overly dramatic, and that the filmmakers made too big a production of the scene. I pointed out that when an all-male group of heroes gets a big cinematic moment before a battle, he doesn't think twice about it.
For him, highlighting an all-female group of heroes just felt unfamiliar and uncomfortable. For me, it felt validating. Filmmakers were finally recognizing and representing women in a new way. Just like seeing Harris step forward to be sworn in, it mattered to me to see women where I haven't really seen them before. It shows us what is possible, it validates our humanity, and it celebrates our diversity. It is the stepping stone to inclusion, representation, and equality at all levels, in all forms.
Of course, the same thing is true outside of politics and entertainment. Corporations cannot underestimate the value of representation in leadership positions and on advisory boards. Diverse perspectives in these positions often help contribute to more innovative and inclusive policies. More significantly, however, diverse leadership can positively impact employee engagement. If leaders are more sensitive to our unique identifies, experiences, and expectations, employees feel more supported, included, and more engaged with their work and workplace.