While we see a lot of women in the workforce today, and women of color are predicted to be the majority of American women by 2060, there remains a large disparity at the top of the economic food chain. Of Fortune 500 companies’ 38 women CEOs, only three are women of color, and none are Black or Latina.
A new book from Vasudha Sharma, a Renton resident and member of the Mayor’s Inclusion Task Force, advocates for women of color in more leadership positions in the U.S. She uses this data and more to explain why, for women of color, it feels more like a concrete ceiling than a glass one.
Using a combination of national data, personal experience and narratives from local diverse leaders, Sharma spent the past year writing and reflecting on this book, titled “Why She Must Lead,” to uplift diverse women in the workforce.
While “Why She Must Lead” is Sharma’s first book, she has a history of writing on social justice in columns published by various newspapers serving the Asian and Indian populations. Spending the last 12 years as a Renton resident, Sharma said her experiences in the city have enriched her quest to understand what can be done to fight systemic barriers. Besides her time on the mayor’s task force, where she said she works on how inclusion is defined in Renton, she also had a unique position learning from diverse people around her for her book.
She said many local leaders supported her effort to write this book, and some were interviewed for it, including state Sens. Mona Das and Manka Dhingra, Future for Us CEO Sage Ke’alohilani Quiamno and Sukarya USA Chairperson Meera Satpathy.
“For any author when they are writing a nonfiction book, the people who have touched their lives are of big importance. All these people and population (of Renton) in their own way affect my life and helped me write the book,” Sharma said.
Sharma said her biggest discovery while writing the book was the importance of sharing your own story.
One of Sharma’s personal stories she tells in the book centers on her role as the mother of two boys. She said she wants them to have successful careers, good citizenship and achieve what they want in life, and also be feminists and take a central role on the conversations of equality in home and at work.
“A lot of times we feel our story is not important, and because nobody talks about it, nobody would care. So I had to learn that if I didn’t tell my experience as a first generation immigrant woman, it wouldn’t be fair for me to comment on the (lack of conversation) on bias,” Sharma said. “It’s hard to talk about because we are the ones experiencing it… but if we don’t create that dialogue, we can’t bring any kind of compassion or change in our communities.”
The title of her book received some negative feedback for being too bold in the beginning. Sharma argues the title emphasizes the necessity of more women in leadership positions, and calls it her personal manifesto, advocating for those women.
For her, this book is for that woman who has fallen behind due to the leadership gap, and has fought the barriers and bias in our society.
“(Women) have fought hard, not only to prove themselves time and again, but we are also constantly judging ourselves on our potential. (We do this) so much so that women sometimes put themselves at a disadvantage and they are not able to get to the positions they deserve,” Sharma said. “(The book) represents women who’ve faced those inequities, and they must lead, and they should lead, and they shouldn’t be subjected to any kind of disadvantage because of it.”
Sharma said she’s also had people dismiss the work as a “women’s empowerment book” and has a chapter dedicated to the myth of empowerment. She emphasized it’s an advocacy book, taking an evidence-based approach to inequity at the office, not an empowerment book. The end of each chapter includes self-reflection questions to make reading a guided experience, she said, without trying to tell the reader exactly what to do.
As the book is released, Sharma said she hopes people read it and see a strong voice advocating for increased opportunities for women of color. She also hopes people will see why advocacy for women shouldn’t be frowned upon.
“They see women in the workplace, but don’t see the barriers causing a leaky talent pipeline (to leadership),” she said. “We can’t keep ignoring these issues in leadership positions, they can’t keep throwing everything under the rug.”
“Diverse voices need to be heard. It’s not just something I think. It’s a fact.”
“Why She Must Lead” is available through Kindle and for hardcover preorder. More information is at whyshemustlead.com.