The Power of Role Models

Carolyn Leighton

November 10, 2020

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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.

Opinions expressed by the author are not necessarily those of WITI.

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