Kamala Harris and the visuals of female leadership


As a Korean-American female who has rarely been in environments with women of color in leadership, I was overjoyed to see Kamala Harris sworn in as Vice President of the United States.

Just the visuals alone gave me pause, and am trying to unpack why:

A woman of color elevated in a position of power

Seeing Kamala Harris presiding over an important institution like the Senate, the Senators seated below her mostly white and male, shocked me with its unusualness. I was further surprised at unusual this felt.

Only in the past few years I have started to be in environments where I’m the only female-of-color in a meeting of predominantly white men. And I’ve noticed in these meetings, I have an actual physiological response where my heart rate elevates and I get nervous in a way I don’t with other groups. I’ve attributed this to my cultural upbringing, where males > females, white > color, and struggled to not let this affect the consideration or respect I give to ideas based on who is saying them.

Yet I know I’m not the only woman of color who struggles with this bias, especially those who were raised in countries where male hegemony is accepted and championed. And Kamala Harris presiding so comfortably and with so much authority as a woman of color challenges this accepted reality.

A warmer style of feminine leadership

In interviews and speeches, the Vice President somehow conveys warmth and humor while maintaining her toughness and intelligence. I’m used to seeing women leaders who exhibit a more male, dominant, abrasive manner, and attributed these qualities the reason they’ve survived in upper ranks. Yet Kamala Harris, while being a complete BOSS, also shows obvious joy and love in her work.

In fact, her joking and laughing while presiding over the Senate surprised me — what if people think she’s not serious enough? But then I realized this probably came from my own biases of how I think females need to present in male-dominated environments.

Melanin in leadership

I wanted to express my joy on Inauguration day (while also keeping occupied amidst the endless news coverage), and doodled with some Animal Crossing pixels and watercolors.

While choosing darker colors to draw the Vice President I realized how unusual the darker colors felt to me, how my default is toward peach-white tones when drawing people or choosing avatars. Even when I select my own avatars, I tend to go with paler skin tones; probably a leftover from my days in Korea where women aim for a porcelain white and whose greatest enemy is the sun.

A new silhouette

Just LOOK at this:

SF Chronicle Datebook

Compared to a more traditional female silhouette:

New York Times

Enough said.


I’m looking forward to more visuals and stories of Kamala Harris as Vice President. Just seeing her during Inauguration Day shifted so many personal narratives for me, and I’m hoping for others as well.

User Experience Designer