There was so much excitement in the country four years ago when Hillary Clinton ran an historic campaign to become president. It was a moment soon dampened by loss despite her tremendous gains in the popular vote. So the disappointment began swiftly and the way the country has struggled since economically; with the virus; via race relations and immigration; has been devastating. And that’s why Senator Kamala Harris might just be the sunshine we need after the storm. But that’s only half the story. Kamala Harris may finally shine a spotlight on the growing power and influence of women of color; as leaders and as the electorate. And we are here for it.
Kamala Harris: An Early Star
Even before throwing her hat into the ring as the Democratic nominee for president, Harris was a star who left her mark in California and nationally from the start of her career. Born in Oakland, Calif., Harris burst onto the stage winning a heated San Francisco district attorney race in 2003 having run against her former boss. This quote from the San Francisco Chronicle speaks volumes about Kamala’s trajectory (and comparison to another popular, Democratic star, Gavin Newsom who became mayor that same year):
Harris, a deputy city attorney who spent two years as a prosecutor in Hallinan’s office, defeated her former boss, 56-44 percent. She was the top vote-getter among the four candidates running for citywide office Tuesday, outpolling mayoral winner Gavin Newsom by more than 3,000 votes.San Francisco Chronicle, December 10, 2003
Kamala then became the Attorney General of California in 2010 and was re-elected in 2014. And while it seems as if she has been a United States Senator for ages; Kamala only won the seat that Barbara Boxer vacated in 2016. And with that win, she again made history as California’s third female senator, the second African-American woman and the first South Asian–American to serve in the Senate.
Highs and Lows of Style & Substance
More recently, it has been Kamala’s 2018 appointment to the Senate Judiciary Committee that cemented her mark with the American public. It’s hard to forget her clear, cutting questioning of Rod Rosenstein, Jeff Sessions, Kirstjen Nielsen, Brett Kavanaugh and Bill Barr (amongst others). In every instance she was sharp, clever and unafraid in her investigations. Sessions famously stated that Senator Harris’s questioning made him ‘nervous.’ And it was clear he was not alone.
When Kamala began her campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination she was an early frontrunner. Kamala’s pointed comments related to Biden early-days opposition to busing in the first debate gave her a lead. But that lead dissipated after the second debate where Biden and Tulsi Gabbard lobbed — some reasonable others untrue and unfair — criticism her way. There is some suggestion that without firm and clear positions on issues such as healthcare, Kamala sealed her own fate. In early December 2019 she pulled the plug on her campaign.
The Bigger Picture Kamala Harris Brings to Life
Without a doubt, Kamala is a sharp, experienced, more-than-obvious choice to be Biden’s VP pick. Biden’s legacy we hope will have been to clean up the damage inflicted by Trump and give a youthful, vibrant, intelligent next generation of leaders a fighting chance. The potential picks for Biden’s cabinet can only give us hope that we might finally see a government that looks more like its constituents.
But there is more to what a Kamala Harris vice presidency might mean right now. She is a symbol of something powerful and unsung in our country. And that is the influence and leadership of women of color.
Women of Color Leading in Business & Politics
While politics have dominated the headlines, as a website focused on women-owned businesses, we are acutely aware of how women of color are the foundation of small business growth in America. These small businesses are dotted across the country and year-after-year the influence of this cohort grows. And now, in many cases, its women of color, and specifically African American/Black women, who are fighting to save these businesses and the cities in which they operate. From Chicago to San Francisco, Washington DC to Atlanta we see a new generation of diverse leaders fighting a virus and climate causing economic and person ruin. So while Kamala is a star and the leader we need in her own right. She also represents a trend toward a strong and growing group of leaders that are finally getting the recognition and opportunity they deserve (although there is still a long way to go).
…it is important to note that women of color are not monolithic. And we must pay attention to the differences in race and ethnicity that drive respective communities. But together there are nearly 37 million eligible women of color voters in the U.S. and those numbers are growing. Women of color aren’t just sitting on the sidelines – they are playing key roles in elections, from voting themselves to motivating and influencing the votes of others in their communities. This energy and activism, especially among Black women was clear in the last major election...“The Political Power of Women of Color”, Gender On the Ballot
Women of Color Driving Small Business Growth
Each year American Express releases a report on the state of the women-owned businesses in the US. The last report in 2019 highlighted that these businesses grew 21% from 2014 to 2019. But firms owned by women of color grew at double that rate (43%). And for African American/Black women the rate was even more robust; growing at 50% over that same four year period. Even more striking, as of 2019, 50% of ALL women-owned businesses in the US were owned by women of color. But here is the catch…these businesses generate significantly less revenue than their white-women owned counterparts. As that disparity grows, here is why we need to take note:
The disparity has an enormous effect on the U.S. economy. Four million new jobs and $981 billion in revenue would be added if average revenue of minority women-owned firms matched that of white women-owned businesses.American Express, The State of Women Owned Businesses Report, 2019
It’s a staggering figure that was reported well before the country was stricken by the Coronavirus. And that makes this fact all the more important to reflect upon now. If women of color are creating, building, leading small businesses at record rates, then our collective support can help to prop up the US economy.
The Leaders Leading Through the Pandemic
And finally, we come back to politics and another reason that the high-profile appointment of Kamala Harris to the Biden ticket is a moment to reflect upon. As with small business, women of color, are beginning to play an outsized role in politics at both the national and state level. In the 116th US Congress, of the 127 women serving, 37.8% (48) are women of color. Of the 90 women serving in statewide elective executive offices 17.8% (16), are women of color. And, finally, of the 2,156 women state legislators serving nationwide 25.3% (545) are women of color. It’s not enough but it’s momentum.
The Mayors Fighting the Virus and Inequality
Most high-profile right now have been the women of color running the nation’s cities as mayors. Of the top 100 cities in the US, ten have women of color as mayors. But even more notable are the five Black women leading a top 20 city by population. This includes the third largest in population, Chicago, and the eighth, Phoenix. As well as other smaller but very high-profile/in-the-news cities, such as Washington, D.C., Seattle and Atlanta. See the full list here.
|Chicago||Lori E. Lightfoot||3|
|San Francisco||London N. Breed||15|
|Fort Worth||Betsy Price||16|
|Charlotte||Vi Alexander Lyles||20|
Supporting women. Supporting women of color. It’s not just good for society it’s great business and good politics. Diversity of thought helps everyone. It’s not just a nicety it’s an imperative. Ideas are borne of opportunity. We often marvel at the products and services we uncover that are invented by women and think ‘wow, why didn’t someone think of that before.’ Well, the truth is they did, there just wasn’t the support to get it made. And that holds true across the board, the more we are representative of all… the better the economy, the stronger a society and the more everyone wins.
But for starters, let’s do all we can to ensure Kamala Harris and Joe Biden win. And win big.
If you would like to volunteer or donate to the Biden Harris campaign you can find details here.