September 1, 2020

Big Changes in Big Leadership

by Wendy Ryan in Blog Roll, Leadership

With the nomination of Kamala Harris for Vice President of the United States, we heard an echoing rally cry from people of all gender identities, races and geographies. As the first Black woman and first Indian woman on a major presidential ticket, she is also known as an outspoken leader in the U.S. Senate.

At Kadabra, we couldn’t be more thrilled to see Harris on the Democratic ticket, because it’s a sign that our collective thinking around leadership is evolving. And while the tide may be turning, there’s still much work to do.

Unless people see leaders who look, sound and come from backgrounds similar to theirs in prominent leadership roles, they are much less likely to aspire to those roles. With Harris elevated to a place of high visibility and international leadership, so many more young people in the United States will see themselves as potential leaders someday, too.

And if we’re going to be a society that values diversity, equity and inclusion, we ought to celebrate that the door is now wide open for millions of girls and people who hold marginalized identities. This is huge.

It’s also important to note that people who are inclined to be allies of Harris need to be active in demonstrating their support with their dollars and votes. Part of the reason this is so important is because we know she’ll be subject to greater scrutiny and be asked more prevention-oriented questions. White male counterparts don’t typically get questions like, “How will you know what to do if this happens?,” and, “How will you balance your family obligations with the demands of the office?” and finally,  “Are you sure you’re ready for this position?”

Someone who looks like Joe Biden will have a different experience than Harris will (and already has).

Like we saw with President Obama, we may be tempted to think progress ends with a nomination or an election. But we quickly become complacent and don’t follow through on walking our talk. The media and other influencers must be aware of their own bias and seek out strong allies and accomplices. Collectively, we must stand up to show respect and support for Harris as a qualified candidate if we are to create a fair playing field – regardless of our political preferences.

The big takeaway for organizational leaders?

People who don’t look like the majority of leaders in your organization bring with them a whole different set of resources, including their networks. They bring fresh ideas, new talent, and ultimately help catalyze the conditions required for innovation. That’s the value of diversity.  Without it, most organizations won’t innovate quickly enough and eventually they will become obsolete.   

When we don’t make a conscious effort to network with people who don’t look like us, naturally  tend to hang out with more people like us. Our friends and colleagues usually have similar backgrounds and experiences. Even if you think of yourself as anti-racist, when you analyze your network chances are you’ll find that the people you spend most of your time with look and sound like you.

At the same time, it’s not about choosing a person of color or someone who does not identify as male.  Tokenism has no place in organizational leadership.  Rather, there needs to be an equal push for equity so that people of different cultures and backgrounds have the same access to opportunities at scale, not just as one offs, as their white, male counterparts.  

For example, boards shouldn’t require people who hold marginalized identities to have more work experience or an Ivy league education to qualify for a board seat or executive leadership role than their white, male counterparts.  But sadly, we see this happen all the time.  

How aware are you of your own mindsets and unconscious biases around leadership, diversity, equity and inclusion? Download our Self-Awareness Guide to get started on doing the work yourself.