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Harris is also the first Black and South Asian American to be elected vice president.

USA TODAY

In a suffragette white suit and pearls before a cheering and honking crowd in Wilmington, Delaware, Kamala Harris sent a poignant message to Black and brown women and girls.

“While I may be the first woman in this office, I will not be the last,” Harris, the daughter of immigrants from Jamaica and India, said in Saturday’s victory speech. “Because every little girl watching tonight sees that this is a country of possibilities.”

The senator from California is the first woman, first Black person and first person of Asian descent to be elected to the nation’s second-highest office in 244 years, and some hope her ascension will be felt beyond the public sector.

“As a Black woman myself, I am counting on it, that we will take this watershed moment and use it as an opportunity to break down barriers for women of color,” said Dnika Travis, vice president of research at Catalyst.

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Others are more skeptical.

“I wish I could say that I thought Kamala Harris’s ascension to the vice presidency would portend a change for Black and brown women in corporate America, but there’s nothing really to suggest that will be the case,” said Adia Harvey Wingfield, sociology professor at Washington University in St. Louis.

“I do not mean to downplay Kamala Harris’s achievement. It is a momentous one that has important and critical symbolic and representational significance,” said Wingfield, whose research focuses on racial and gender inequality in professional occupations. “But there’s no reason to believe that her singular accomplishment is going to mean a wholesale shift in corporate policy, culture and norms. And that’s what it would take to see a sea change for Black and brown women in those settings.”

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris speaks at The Queen theater in Wilmington, Delaware on Tuesday. (Photo: Carolyn Kaster, AP)

Eight years of President Barack Obama did little to boost representation of Black men on the nation’s corporate campuses and in its office towers, says University of Iowa assistant professor Victor Ray.

This year, after George Floyd, a Black man, died under the knee of a white policeman in Minneapolis, major corporations issued statements of support and pledges to address the racial chasm in their organizations. The outpouring was unprecedented after decades of corporate silence on racism and police killings in the United States, yet corporations still have little to show for it. 

“The numbers in corporate America at the top of the hierarchy haven’t changed that much up or down. You see these little blips when there are things like the protests around George Floyd, and then things tend to return to a kind of equilibrium,” Ray said.

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