Vasudha Sharma’s new book Why She Must Lead: Bridging the Gap Between Opportunities and Women of Color is a manifesto about the situation of women, especially women of color, but embraces all women, including minority and transgender women, in the United States today. Vasudha is herself an immigrant to the United States. Originally from New Delhi, India, today she resides in the Seattle suburbs, where she is a wife, mother of two boys, and doctor of physical therapy. Her educated voice of advocacy is what this country needs as America’s racial landscape changes. As Vasudha states in the book, drawing upon a study by the US census, by the year 2045, people of color will be the majority in the United States, and by 2060, women of color will represent the majority of women. That reflects the world our children and grandchildren will inherit, and they do not deserve to experience the same sexist and racial issues we currently face. As a result, it is time women’s voices are heard.
Making use of painstaking research, Why She Must Lead explores the situation of women of color today, primarily in the workplace, and then discusses ways to improve this situation. Vasudha draws on her personal experiences in India and the United States as a woman seeking to help other women. Early on, she realized the importance of feminism and came to believe that equity is a human right. In these pages, she shares the barriers and biases that stand in the way of making equity a reality for women. While women are making progress in senior leadership positions, they are still underrepresented at every level of the workforce. Vasudha explores numerous steps to promote fairness and inclusion, including through workplace recruiting and retention. She advocates for more mentorship and sponsorship of women of color. She discusses the role men can play as allies in advocating for women’s advancement in the workplace. While admitting the concept of “empowerment” may seem threatening to men and organizations, Vasudha reveals how those fears are based on myths and a misunderstanding of what equity and empowerment means. Finally, Vasudha encourages successful women to pay it forward by helping their sisters.
Throughout the book, Vasudha does not shy away from stating hard facts and revealing the truths many don’t wish to talk about. Based on her personal and professional experiences, she states, “the most prominent attribute of a successful woman is her ability to speak up for herself.” If women do not speak up for themselves, they are often ignored or passed over for advancement. Often, biases exist that management is not even aware of in promoting men over women. Some of these include a belief that a woman will just work until she gets married, that she will leave when she has children, or that advancement is not as important to her as her family life. Such myths need to be dismissed. While women have long talked about the need to break the glass ceiling, Vasudha reveals that for women of color, it is a concrete ceiling. However, the most pressing problem is not a ceiling but a broken step on the ladder of advancement. She offers solutions for how to repair the ladder.
Vasudha highlights that while many men are open to helping women advance, they do not always realize the false biases and prejudices that may cloud their judgment and make them unfair to their female colleagues. They may also make sexist assumptions. For example, mansplaining often happens in the workplace, in which a man feels he must speak down to a woman to explain something to her. Because our society has come to believe women should be advocated for, the discrimination against women has become more subtle and results in microaggressive behaviors, like mansplaining, that are often invisible.
Vasudha brings all these issues into the open while embracing men as allies and providing clear processes for how they can help women move ahead. One of my favorite passages in the book centers on Vasudha’s role as a mother to two boys:
“People often ask me, since I am a mother of two boys, why I am still such an advocate for women. Wouldn’t this make men secondary? I always have the same answer; I am responsible for my sisterhood, who face the same challenges as I do because of the broken system, and I have an obligation to help my boys understand and acknowledge the importance of equality in the household and professional world. I want my boys to step up and take the central role in the conversation.
“Even when I was waiting for my sons’ arrival in the world, I envisioned for my sons: compassion, good citizenship, excellent college educations, successful careers, and achieving whatever they strove for in their lives. Also, I wanted them to be feminists like their dad.”
Vasudha’s meticulous research and well-thought-out arguments will open the eyes of male and female readers. I believe every manager and human resources professional needs to read this book. I also believe all women, especially women of color, will benefit from reading it. Perhaps most importantly, Why She Must Lead reveals “why she must speak up.” Vasudha has spoken up with this book, and hopefully, her message will spread. As she states near the end:
“I don’t believe change can happen one person or one couple at a time. Currents of culture carry the wave of change. To create those currents, we need to stir the stories and bring them to the surface. That’s why I am sharing mine. Also, I don’t want to project that I know it all when it comes to finding solutions to equality. I had a good set of challenges and flaws. The truth is, I learned more by sharing them.”
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