The First but Not the Last: Madam Vice President

Today’s inauguration marks the beginning of the Biden-Harris administration and the historic Vice Presidency of Kamala Harris. Kamala Harris’s trailblazing rise to Vice President has changed the face of politics in our country, and today’s transition of power brings other shifts to the landscape for gender in national politics.

With a potentially unprecedented number of women, LGBTQ+ people and people of color making up the Cabinet, the incoming administration has followed through on the promise to reflect the diversity of the American people.

Our Gender on the Ballot team has been tracking the female nominees for key roles in the Biden-Harris administration. Many of the appointees are trailblazers who will be the first woman, or woman of color, to hold their posts:

  • Janet Yellen: Yellen will be the nation’s first woman Secretary of the Treasury, pending her confirmation.
  • Neera Tanden: If confirmed, Tanden will be the first woman of color to lead the Office of Management and Budget.
  • Avril Haines: Haines will be the first woman Director of National Intelligence if she is confirmed.
  • Cecilia Rouse: The Chair of the Council of Economic Advisors will be led by a woman of color for the first time, pending Rouse’s confirmation
  • Tina Flournoy, Rohini Kosoglu, Nancy McEldowney: These women will hold the three top positions in VP Harris’s office—making history as the first all-women team in these posts.
  • Deb Haaland: Congresswoman Haaland will be the first Native American woman Secretary of the Interior if she is confirmed.
  • Katherine Tai: Tai will be the first woman of color and first Asian American to serve as U.S. Trade Representative.

At the Barbara Lee Family Foundation, we have worked for 20+ years to increase gender parity in politics, conducting research on obstacles and opportunities women face in politics. As our country’s first woman Vice President, Kamala Harris will play a key role in re-shaping old school views on female leadership. Here’s what we’ll be looking out for, based on our research:

 Kamala Harris’s 360-Degree Leadership

Vice President-elect Harris has defied the tired myth that women candidates aren’t electable as men (as noted in BLFF research). As second-in-command, she will continue to shatter stereotypes about who is fit to lead the country—and she is sure to continue inspiring other women and girls to run for office. VP Harris will also bring the whole of her lived experience—as a Black, South Asian American woman and the daughter of immigrants—to her work. The value of having her perspective on critical policy decisions cannot be overstated.

Women Leading During Times of Crisis

We are in a singularly difficult time for our country, with the overlapping crises of far-right extremists, the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic turmoil, and crisis surrounding racial justice. BLFF research reveals that women leaders have to do more to prove they can handle a crisis than their male counterparts. Our research also shows that voters want a leader who prioritizes communication and who is in touch with their lives during a crisis. Voters are looking for a leader who listens, both to experts and to affected populations. They know women take a broad view during a crisis because women are multi-taskers by nature.

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have set out to implement a wide-range of executive orders to target the most urgent crises affecting our nation: the economy and the coronavirus pandemic. We’ll be watching to examine how this administration, particularly the Vice President, tackles these challenges and how gender affects public perceptions of leadership.

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