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The Power of Role Models

Carolyn Leighton

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"I may be the first woman... but not the last"
--Kamala Harris

History was made as the first woman, African American woman, Asian woman and daughter of immigrants became the first Vice President-Elect of the United States of America.

As I watched multi-city interviews of countless women and girls of all colors and ethnic backgrounds, I saw in real-time the profound impact Kamala Harris's election has made for each of them.

As I watched these interviews, I thought about my own experiences as I started my career in the '60s and my first business in the '70s - visiting friends whose mothers were stay-at-home housewives, watching TV, seeing only white men in political positions and spokespersons for companies.

I remember how shocked I was when, in the late '70's, I went to my first trade show in Las Vegas to build my first business and the few women I saw there were scantily clad women hired to lure visitors to their booth.

While I loved and admired my mother, I did not realize how fortunate I was to have as my role model a well educated mother, who defied the norms for women at that time, ran a business as a partner with my father. I only realized years later the profound impact that had on my life and the choices I was able to make.

Now in 2020, I continue to hear stories from women who share the enormous effort it takes every morning to mentally prepare themselves for a work day that includes: dismissiveness, discounting, racism, sexual innuendos in their daily work life as, ironically, companies spend millions of dollars on diversity programs.

My Call Out to all Executive Teams:

- Do you really know what is going on for women in your company culture?

- Have you looked at your management team to discover what kind of role models your company is providing employees to aspire to?

- Do you have strong male allies at the top of your organization?

- How long has it been since you arranged for an outside assessment to get the real facts, and not depended on insiders to provide editorial thoughts to you?

- Is your company's culture costing you through:

A) Lost opportunities to excel through innovation and best practices?
B) Lost opportunities to attract the best and smartest women?
C) Lost opportunities to win the loyalty of a growing population of female customers and vendors?

Until your company makes diversity and inclusion a commitment and a non-negotiable business imperative at the executive level, throwing millions of dollars at diversity and inclusion programs will not yield the return you desire.

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