Kamala Harris’ husband Doug Emhoff breaks gender stereotypes by putting her career ahead of his as second gentleman

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Jessica Guynn and Charisse Jones, USA TODAY
Published 3:00 p.m. ET Nov. 12, 2020

Vice-president-elect Kamala Harris isn't the only one making history in her household, as her husband will be the nation's first 'second gentleman.'

USA TODAY

On the campaign trail when his wife was seeking the Democratic nomination, Doug Emhoff was the dutiful political spouse. Now, he plans on filling the same role in the White House.

The 56-year-old husband of Vice President-elect Kamala Harris is quitting his law practice by Inauguration Day to take on his duties as second gentleman, flipping gender norms at a level the nation has never before seen.

“This gives us a model and it is a fabulous model,” Dartmouth College professor of business administration Ella L.J. Bell Smith told USA TODAY. “Mr. Harris is totally comfortable stepping back so his wife can show her brilliance, grace, grit and power because he wants her to succeed.” 

What’s more, Emhoff, a successful private attorney from a corporate world where white men like him often take the lead, is stepping into a supporting role to the nation’s first Black and South Asian woman vice president.

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As such, he could set a powerful example for workplaces and executive suites across America, says Michael Useem, director of the Wharton Center for Leadership and Change Management.

“His position is going to be extremely visible and his behavior is going to send a message,” Useem said.

Emhoff seems to have heeded the advice President-elect Joe Biden gave him during the first joint appearance with Harris as his running mate: “Doug, you’re going to have to learn what it means to be a barrier breaker yourself.”

People keep asking Emhoff what his own priorities will be. “Everyone’s got an opinion on this, which is nice to hear,” Emhoff said. “Which means people are actually excited about the prospect of someone like me in this role – and I get that.”

Doug Emhoff, husband of Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, D-Calif., greets the crowd during a get-out-the-vote rally in Columbus, Ohio on Nov. 3 (Photo: Paul Vernon, AP)

That excitement comes as the coronavirus pandemic has set back the careers of working mothers.

Emhoff took a leave of absence from his law firm DLA Piper to support Harris on the campaign trail. Leaving his law practice before the inauguration avoids any conflicts of interest or the perception that DLA Piper would profit from its connection to the vice president.

Former second lady and future first lady Jill Biden has said she wants to keep teaching at a community college after her husband is sworn in as the 46th president, just as she did when her husband was vice president.

Roughly 865,000 women exited the labor force in September, compared to 216,000 men. The following month, there were almost 2.2 million fewer women in the nation’s workforce than in February, before the pandemic, according to an analysis by the National Women’s Law Center.

Women who remained employed were more than three times as likely as their male partners to be handling the bulk of household and child care duties, according to a report by LeanIn.org that looked at over 40,000 workers.

“Particularly at a time when Americans are having really difficult discussions about a division of … chores, of child care duties in their home because of the pandemic, I think this example is so important,” said Andy Challenger, senior vice president of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, an outplacement company, which helps with job searches, executive coaching and corporate restructuring.

Harris and Emhoff will also be a high-profile example of a relationship dynamic that is more typical than some may realize. 

“There are so many couples where the woman is the breadwinner today but you don’t see it in public life that often, particularly in our political life,” Challenger said. “Seeing that day in and day out over the next four years or more, it’s just going to normalize that version of a relationship.’’

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An entertainment lawyer and father of two from Southern California, Emhoff’s Twitter bio reads: “Dad, @kamalaharris hubby, lawyer, wannabe golfer, advocate for justice and equality.”

Emhoff and Harris met on a blind date in 2013 after being set up by a friend and married the following year. Harris became “Momala” to his two children, Cole, 26, and Ella, 21, from his first marriage.

During a recent fundraiser, Emhoff said many of the issues he would want to focus on as second gentleman are justice related, particularly “access to justice.”

Kamala Harris' husband Doug Emhoff breaks gender stereotypes by putting her career ahead of his as second gentleman

President-elect Joe Biden, and his wife Jill Biden, with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and her husband Doug Emhoff in August at the Democratic National Convention at the Chase Center in Wilmington, Delaware. (Photo: Andrew Harnik, AP)

He recalled being shocked, as a young lawyer going to Los Angeles’ Superior Court, by all the people lining the halls in need of legal help.

“Just tugging at my, at that time, double-breasted jacket to say, ‘Help. Help,'” he said. “It was just so impactful.”

But his main job seems to be second gentleman.

Asked by a 9-year-old in an online “Ask a Grown-up” session sponsored by Fatherly what he would do if Harris got the nod from Biden.

“Well, first I’d say ‘Yay!'” Emhoff replied. “And then I’m just gonna do what I always do, Atticus. I’m going to support her because it’s really important for men and even young boys to support the strong and wonderful women in their lives, and I’m going to do that, and I hope you do that too.”

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