We tell our daughters and the women we love to get an education and reach for the stars. We assure them that the world is theirs to conquer. Yet most of us face a dark truth. Equality, and the opportunity for economic advancement, is not available. In fact, in Minnesota women are not even protected from discrimination on the basis of sex, which is why I am working in 2018 on behalf of passage of the Equal Rights Amendment.

In many cases, women never accumulate the wealth or power of white men. A Black woman’s odds of experiencing real equality, or realizing a natural progression to a promotion are low. 

For example, Nikki is a 25-year-old college graduate. She is a Minnesotan who is articulate and talented. Last year she concurrently worked multiple jobs, averaging 60 hours per week, and earned $35,000. She is Black. 

When women or people of color are 
not in the room, I believe the white male 
power paradigm — a historic construct of 
dominance and inequality — is maintained. 
We know what this looks like: there is a level 
of comfort with the “sameness” factor. 

Unfortunately, in order for those already 
in the room to remain comfortable, they are 
perpetuating exclusivity. Power is maintained 
by those who are “in” the room.

When leaders exercise their voices and 
power to create change where it is needed, 
humanity is strengthened. When we allow 
ourselves to engage with those who don’t 
think the way we do, look the way we do, 
or show up the way we do, we enhance and 
maximize social impact. 

I know what it’s like to be the forward 
thinker in a room full of men and not be 
heard. I know what it’s like to discount 
yourself because you are a woman — or a 
Black woman, in my case. 

I know that many of us are victims of the 
trickle down of inequality. This is why passage of the 
Equal Rights Amendment is important to me, 
and why both women and men must support 
the efforts to legislate equality for all people. 

It is both a blessing and a curse to be equipped with a voice that articulates inequities. A blessing, because we recognize that our voices are not only powerful enough to challenge systems, but that our voices can greatly impact systems. A curse, because there is an indelible fear that we have been entrusted with a mandate to challenge systems — and the burden of not doing so could be costly. 

When we are granted a seat in spaces where the potential for change may occur, we must use every second and every breath to change norms. I believe the Equal Rights Amendment will challenge organizations to examine inequities, and to have conversations about what change looks like. 

Our world is full of people who are skilled strategists. They confidently change and improve systems and processes. Yet what is really needed to overhaul age-old systems is bravery and boldness. 

There are individuals who believe women and minorities are not being treated fairly or paid fairly in the workplace. I believe passage of the ERA will give those individuals the leverage they need to make things better. 

Women are brilliant change makers who can be both brave and bold. It is important for each of us in 2018 to ponder what we can do to place such a distance between “then” and “now” that we don’t even remember the reign of inequality.

Most days I wake up and ask myself these questions: What 
can I do today to change the world I live in? When I’m gone, 
what will people believe I’ve done to change systems that 
needed to be changed? Have I done all I could do to ensure 
individuals have been treated equally and fairly? If I have 
been silent on issues of inequality, what are the reasons?

De'Vonna Pittman is an author, community engagement specialist, and project management expert. She is committed to facilitating dialogue that empowers women, their families, and the communities they live in. 

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