What we can learn from the American election

Claire Abji , 13 November 2020

Straight after the American election results were announced, I read a post that said “make sure to wear shoes ladies, there’s glass everywhere.” Unless you’ve been avoiding the news, the metaphorical glass smasher of the moment is obviously Kamala Harris. 

Vice-President elect Harris stands to make history as the first female and first South Asian and Caribbean Vice-President in American history. In a world where women have been leading their countries for decades, this may seem irrelevant to some. To me, this is groundbreaking. There is a woman of colour in one the of the most powerful jobs in the world, and there has never been one before her.

To people everywhere, Kamala Harris stands as a beacon, reminding us of the possibilities of hope. She represents the end of oppressed, silenced and suffocated voices in the United States. Her presence alone will again allow millions of Americans to feel emancipated from the threat of violence. For those of us who stand in solidarity with the African American community, her election allows us too to exhale.

As a woman of colour myself, I know that representation can be the difference between life and death, opportunity and inequality. In our sector, representation can be the difference between affordable housing and homelessness. We have seen the data and the numbers are still telling us we are not doing enough to provide fair housing for people of colour. And we still do not have enough diversity in leadership to affect this change. We know that when people who have similar lived experiences as you are in decision making positions, your experience is counted, your needs are remembered.

In the UK we are yet to see a person of colour lead our country. That doesn’t need to impact the way that housing associations move towards better opportunities for underrepresented people. On 30 November, the NHF and its Equality, Diversity and Inclusion in Housing member group will be publishing a report looking at how far the sector has come – and how far we still have to go. As a sector we should be addressing the inequalities that our communities and stakeholders experience when engaging with us. We should be taking action towards greater representation in senior leadership roles. Our organisations should be leading the way and encouraging other sectors to drive their equality, diversity and inclusion.

Like Kamala Harris, my children are of South Asian and Caribbean descent. Today they will look across the proverbial pond and see a leader that they can relate to. A woman who has made history in her industry and represents hope and intersectionality in the United States.  

There are indeed pieces of the glass ceiling everywhere, and I’d suggest that we all wear our shoes for the foreseeable.

Find out more about the equality, diversity and inclusion work at the National Housing Federation and look out for the new report which launches on the 30 November.