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Stacey Abrams: Women Can—and Will—Hold As Many Top Jobs As Men

September 20, 2018, 12:20 PM UTC

IN THE LAND OF OPPORTUNITY, what do Americans really think about the potential for women to lead? The answer is, at least on the surface, dispiriting: Despite gains marked by the faint sound of cracking glass ceilings, many of our fellow citizens do not expect that women will ever catch up to men on this front. A new survey from the Pew Research Center finds that nearly half of respondents say men will continue to hold more high political offices and top business positions than women in the future.

Yet, even in light of the skepticism signaled by these results, I am not convinced. Instead, I look at the unprecedented surge of women running for office this year, at the rising number of female executives reshaping the world of business, and I know that we are closing in on equality. While I am not surprised that a majority of Americans also say that women seeking to lead must do more than men to prove themselves, that will not stop us. Generation Z will see the progress come to fruition, I hope, but I know change began generations ago.

Georgia Rep. Stacey Abrams, the Democratic leader in the Georgia House and a likely candidate for governor in 2018.
Abrams is the Democratic nominee for governor of Georgia. If elected, she would be the first black woman governor in America.Kevin D. Liles — The New York Times/Redux
Kevin D. Liles — The New York Times/Redux

Indeed, I stand as a witness to the capacity of women to carve opportunities out of hardship. My mother grew up in abject poverty in Mississippi, an elementary school dropout. Yet, with the support of women around her, she returned to school and graduated as class valedictorian—the only one of her seven siblings to finish high school. She became a librarian and then a United Methodist minister. While my parents both worked full-time, we still grappled with the scourge of working-class poverty. But my entrepreneurial mother used her research skills to consult. And, along with my dad, she even ran a soul food restaurant for my great-aunt.

In her second career as a minister, my mother defied a legacy of chauvinism to become a leader of our community, overseeing a church that served as a hub, offering parenting classes, a food pantry, after-school programming, and—in the wake of Hurricane Katrina—a lifeline to those ravaged by loss. My parents never ceased to struggle, but in witnessing their lives, I learned more about natural industry and leadership than in any classroom.

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Perhaps the reason some people doubt women’s ability to reach parity is because they haven’t had women like my mother in their lives. In her tenacity, I saw ambition and ingenuity laying down a road map I still follow. Early on in my career, I co-launched a small business that started strong, only to founder when we couldn’t secure capital for expansion. Undaunted, my partner and I started a new company dedicated to solving that very problem, and we have helped move capital to entrepreneurs, many of whom are women and people of color.

I HAVE A SOUL-DEEP belief that women will continue to rise. And I think Americans believe it too—just look at how they tell Pew that women leaders excel in compassion, empathy, and honesty. I have seen the proof in my each of my endeavors, whether in business, law, government, or nonprofits. I see it in the women I have recruited, trained, and helped elect, in the female business leaders whose work I’ve invested in and supported.

With numbing regularity, annual studies remind us how few women lead our biggest companies, and how we can practically fit the name of every CEO with melanin on a single Post-it. Announcements about incremental progress—hiring the first woman to lead a certain company or the first person of color to win a certain elected office—come with great fanfare. The clever jujitsu of such moments is how we then celebrate these unicorns, forgetting that this is 2018 and long past time for “firsts.” We can toast achievement, but we must continue to demand more, to demand parity. So let’s get it done.

Stacey Abrams is a Democrat running for governor of Georgia. If elected, she would become the first-ever black female governor of any state.

A version of this article appears in the October 1, 2018 issue of Fortune with the headline “The New Face Of Power.”