When US president-elect Joe Biden takes his place at the White House in January, he will do so with two powerful, professional women by his side: his vice president, Kamala Harris, and his wife, Jill Biden.
Harris became a stepmom in 2014, two years before being sworn in as a US senator representing California. As she navigated her new role in her step-kids’ life (they reportedly call her “Momala”), she had to contend with missing family milestones because of her work. In a 2019 essay in Elle magazine, Harris wrote frankly about the challenge of being there for her family and the time that her job demanded. Her step-kids are older now—Ella is in college, Cole works in Los Angeles—but Harris understands the juggling act that working moms have to contend with. “Time is precious, and so many of us understand the struggle to seek balance,” she wrote in Elle.
In 2009, the same year her husband became vice president under Barack Obama, Jill Biden became a professor at Northern Virginia Community College. The job, which she still holds, was the latest in a series of teaching positions—she has taught history to teens living in a psychiatric institution, English in a high school, and writing at Delaware Technical & Community College.
When she married Biden in 1977, she became a stepmom to Beau and Hunter; in 1981, the couple had a daughter, Ashley. Jill Biden has said she intends to keep teaching when she moves into the White House, which would make her the only first lady in US history to maintain a job outside of her official duties. “If we get to the White House, I’m gonna continue to teach,” she told CBS in August. “It’s important, and I want people to value teachers and know their contributions, and lift up the profession.”
Harris and Jill Biden are setting an important example, normalizing working moms at a time when many of America’s working moms are under even more pressure than usual. Already the pandemic has forced an estimated 800,00 American women out of the workforce, whether because of layoffs or because of a crush of new responsibilities at home given the interruptions at daycares and schools.
Joe Biden has already taken other steps to show that women will be important in his administration. Five of the 14 members of his Covid-19 task force, announced today, are women. US president Donald Trump’s 27-member task force includes only two women.