With my best friend aboard a shotgun and my two dogs in the back seat of my Buick Encore, I made the road trip from Washington, DC. in Chicago last month for the ordination and consecration of Paula E. Clark, the first female bishop and first black bishop in the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago. She’s also my mother.
I’m incredibly proud of her, but sometimes it amazes me that women’s premieres are still celebrated.
History has proven that diversity, equity and inclusion are necessary for businesses, organizations and systems to grow and thrive. Studies have shown that, among other benefits, having more women in the workplace improves employee retention and engagement, broadens outlook, and improves collaboration. Having women in leadership positions has also been shown to specifically increase profitability.
And yet, women are often absent from the top positions, or are just arriving. In the past few weeks alone, all of these entities have named their first female CEOs: Outward Bound, Massachusetts’ Blue Cross Blue Shield, Central West Virginia Regional Airport Authority, HistoryMiami Museum and many more.
A 2021 Women in the Workplace study by McKinsey & Co. in partnership with LeanIn.org, found that women make up a smaller percentage than men in the overall US workforce. And women of color are falling behind everyone else — white men, white women, and men of color — at almost every step of the organizational food chain, from entry level to senior level. But the differences were greatest in leadership positions. Women make up about a quarter of senior executives, and of that, only 4% are women of color.
Before becoming the first black, South Asian, and female vice president of the United States, Kamala Harris learned a thing or two about “firsts.” She became San Francisco’s first black prosecutor and California’s first female attorney general. (And, as my sister in Greekdom, she’s part of Alpha Kappa Alpha’s “first and best” sorority.)
“My mom would look at me and say, ‘Kamala, you might be the first to do a lot of things, but make sure you’re not the last,'” Harris said during a speech at Spelman College. in 2018.
My mother’s election in December 2020 was also historic. And as I spent the weekend in Chicago supporting her proudly and tearfully, many people noticed the important perspectives she brings to her new role.
My mother suffered a brain injury in April 2021, just before her consecration was originally scheduled. In her recovery, she had to learn to walk and talk again.
Bishop Clark was consecrated on September 17 while wearing sparkling red Nike Air Jordans, a celebratory choice in place of heels as she is still working on her balance.
At the end of the service, I saw three black girls taking pictures at places where my mother was standing during the service, wearing “church clothes” with their Nikes – one girl even had red Jordans.
I now realize how lucky these girls are to have a role model like my mother. They had a church leader who had braids and brown skin, and who wore sneakers like them.
In order to foster the next generation of female bishops or business leaders or vice presidents of the United States, young girls and women must be more widely represented in positions of power.
As Vice President Harris’ mother reminded him, we need to look beyond firsts, to create opportunities for seconds, thirds, fourths and more, so that by the time these girls have the my mother’s age, having women in charge, especially black women, is no longer historic.
Micha Green is content editor for The Baltimore Sun. ©2022 The Baltimore Sun. Distributed by content agency Tribune.