Political affiliations aside, history was made when Kamala Harris was announced as the United States vice president-elect earlier this month. This is the first time a Black and South Asian woman born of immigrant parents is poised to join one of the highest offices of power and influence.
Kamala Harris is already becoming iconic in that she represents the opportunity not had by the women before her as well as the opportunities to come for the young women who hope to succeed her someday – and know it’s possible because she was the first.
Being the first comes with expected notoriety, but the powerful and moving nature of Harris’s election as the first of those who share her identities goes deeper. It represents the breakthrough of identities that are historically and currently marginalized at points far below the level of office she has succeeded, and the combination of which is often treated as many reasons why her election should not have happened. As shared by her niece, Meena Harris, in an op-ed earlier this month, it is also a validation of the ambitions women have despite facing adversity to their gender, race, sexual orientation and otherwise. A woman’s ambition has not only been legitimized, but also celebrated – even iconicized as inspiration for female leaders to come.
This rhetoric, which has only just begun to gain momentum, is not a quick and easy news peg for clicks; it is critically needed.
In parts of the country where women and girls are treated as inferior to their male counterparts, this is especially the case. In industries such as technology where leadership positions are largely held by men, the gender ratio at large remains dismal – not to mention the sparse state of racial diversity. Of note, Harris’s election also dismantles the myth that an HBCU education does not properly prepare one for success as she is a graduate of Howard University.
The importance of examining these learnings lies in their potential to spark the rewiring of systems that have wrongly existed because of bias and misconceptions. It is important not only for the opportunities it will bring for women, but also for all of the places that will now win the impact of women who will be freer to inspire and work, contribute and lead where they were once hindered.
From T-shirts with the NASA logo exclusively hanging in the ‘Boys’ section of a clothing store, to “boy’s club” cultures in undergraduate Computer Science departments that dissuade would-be female CS graduates from completing their course of study, the divide starts young and continues into adulthood. Women technologists who have been in the industry for decades reflect on their paths and pivot points as anomalies rather than inevitable – a highly paradoxical pattern within the most progressive industry in the world.
This election was more than a contest between two potential leadership