INK BLAST | CHEERS FOR BLACK AND BROWN WOMEN ROLE MODELS IN PUBLIC LIFE
Starting with First Lady Michelle Obama, prominent intelligent, educated and powerful black and brown women will inspire, validate, reassure and motivate young women who have lacked viable role models in key areas like politics, corporate America and social leadership.
As simple as it may seem, the example of a woman of color serving as a Senator, in a cabinet position or on a board of directors has an immediate mirror effect.
Countless little girls can easily see themselves in women like Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, Avon CEO Andrea Jung, PepsiCo Chairwoman Indra K. Nooyi or U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice. The usual “when I grow up I want to” can now be filled in with “serve on the President’s Cabinet,” “lead a Fortune 500 company,” “work in international relations.”
Growing up in the South Bronx in the 1980’s I rarely saw important Latina and black politicians or public servants to inspire me to follow in their footsteps. My aspirations were set by watching successful men, and dreaming of one day being “a female something.” I thought that succeeding as a woman would make me an exception in male professions, almost regardless of the field. I thought about being a female lawyer, a female pilot, a female writer, a female university president, even a female Supreme Court judge.
That’s no longer the case.
Today, little girls everywhere will not need to think it’s exceptional that they can be corporate leaders, members of Congress, secretary of something, or hold a high post in the White House. Seeing women like EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, Cecilia Muñoz, who heads the White House office of Intergovernmental Affairs, and White House Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett opens up layers and layers of possibility.
On the corporate side, women of color represent 13.4 percent of the U.S. workforce, with more than five million holding managerial and professional positions. But in the Fortune 500 companies we only account for 1.7 percent of corporate officers and top earners (the five highest-paid employees in a company), according to Catalyst, a research firm.
Leaders like Xerox President Ursula Burns and former MTV President Christina Norman ignite curious young minds to explore the possibility of one day assuming those posts. They also give mothers and fathers role models to point to when their daughter comes home eager to reach for the stars.
So, during this women’s history month, please share these examples — or some of your own — with the young girls in your life.
Juleyka Lantigua is a writer whose work has appeared in books, magazines and newspapers around the country.
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