Joe Biden Fulfilled a Campaign Promise When He Chose Kamala Harris as his Running Mate. The Important Lesson no Leader Should Miss

Earlier this year during one of the Democratic primary debates for president, former Vice President Joe Biden declared that if he became the nominee for president, he would select a woman as his vice president. This week, he made good on that promise by selecting Senator Kamala Harris as his running mate. Harris is the first Black woman and first Asian-American woman nominated for either president or vice-president for any major party.

The move is a win for representation and inclusion. When just over half the population in the U.S. is female, and nearly forty percent is non-white, it makes sense that candidates for the highest political offices in the country are more representative of the people they are serving.

Why representation matters now more than ever

Representation matters. When you see yourself or who you aspire to be reflected in leadership positions, it is meaningful in that it signals what is possible for you. It helps you feel seen. It helps you feel like you belong. 

In addition, when those who are in leadership are representative of the people they are serving, they are better equipped to address the needs of those they are responsible for. That’s because they have a better understanding of the issues that concern their constituents.

Of course, these benefits of representation aren’t just important in government. They are equally as critical when it comes to building and running a business.

And yet, many businesses have a representation problem. It is especially a problem in leadership positions, marketing teams, and other areas that have a great impact on both the employee and customer experience.

Increasingly, consumers are starting to become more vocal about their frustration with the lack of representation with the brands they interact with. This discontent with a lack of representation has come up frequently in the last few months during the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement and large-scale protests around the world in response to the killing of George Floyd. 

As brands started making statements about their commitment to the Black community, anti-racism, and diversity, inclusion, and belonging, many were called out if the people in their company — particularly the leadership teams — didn’t have Black people or lacked diversity in general. The sentiment was that it felt disingenuous to say you care about a segment of a population when in fact it wasn’t reflected as a priority in your hiring decisions. As a result, people are starting to abandon brands where they don’t see themselves reflected in the personnel or in their marketing.

The right way to approach representation in your company

As you work to become attract more diverse customers, make representation a priority. Commit to ensuring your customers can see themselves among your team, at all levels. And as you do, make sure you also create an environment that enables a diverse team to thrive.

I keynoted a conference last year, and one of the questions from the audience came from a gentleman whose company was trying to hire diverse talent. He noted that they were having trouble getting candidates on board because they didn’t want to be “the only” person of color on the team.

I advised him that being “the only” is a difficult position to be in, and sometimes comes off as tokenism, which isn’t a comfortable position to find yourself in.

As you’re trying to diversify your team, it doesn’t stop at getting one person on board who is different from the rest. Work to evolve the culture of your organization to be one where diversity and inclusion are embraced, welcomed, and valued. One where being different is a valuable asset. One where a diverse team can feel like they belong, and are well-positioned to thrive.

Then you you, your team, and your customers can reap the benefits of representation.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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