By Dawn Hafner | Senior vice president, Des Moines

Closing the gender pay gap is a popular initiative among women especially. But did you know that Aug. 22, 2019, was Black Women’s Equal Pay Day? That means black women had to work all of 2018 and until this day in 2019 to catch up with what white men were paid in 2018 alone, regardless of their occupation, level of education, or years of experience.

On average, black women in the U.S. are paid 39% less than white men and 21% less than white women. So, while we work on the gender pay gap between women and men, what can we do to also close the severity of the gap for women of color?

One area we can each create education around is how our country’s systems, bias and history directly impact people of color on a daily basis.

White privilege is defined as "inherent advantages possessed by a white person on the basis of their race in a society characterized by racial inequality and injustice."

White privilege is an uncomfortable topic for many white people. Ignoring it does not mean it’s not a reality. When the topic of white privilege comes up in conversations, the lack of empathy, education and understanding is still discouraging. Here are just a few comments I’ve heard:

"I don’t know what privilege I had. My family was dirt poor. We had nothing."
"I don’t know what ‘they’ want me to do about things now. I wasn’t around during slavery."
"I don’t understand the Black Lives Matter deal. I think all lives matter."

Here are a couple of specific examples of what white privilege has looked like in my life recently:

It’s me never once having a conversation with my two white teenage boys about what to do if they are pulled over by the police, but my sister and brother-in-law having careful, difficult conversations on the same topic with my brown-skinned nephews.

It’s me attending a fundraising event not noticing anything unusual while my friend of color left feeling hurt because of the way her people were misrepresented. It’s me listening to her explain to me what felt offensive and why. It’s me acknowledging with humility my own limited perspective that didn’t see what she saw until it was pointed out to me.

Here are some resources I’ve found helpful to open up awareness and encourage difficult but necessary conversations in this area. Experiencing any one of these will open your heart and mind and improve your leadership, because empathy is a crucial part of leadership. Empathy can only be present when apathy ends. It all starts with expanding our own awareness.

  1. Documentary – "13th" by Ava DuVernay.
  2. Documentary series – "When They See Us" by Ava DuVernay.
  3. Book – "The Sun Does Shine" by Anthony Ray Hinton.
  4. Book – "Just Mercy" by Bryan Stevenson.
  5. Book – "Raising White Kids: Bringing Up Children in a Racially Unjust America" by the Rev. Dr. Jennifer Harvey (a professor at Drake University).
  6. Book – "How to Be an AntiRacist" by Ibram X. Kendi.
 
I would love to see others add to this list with even more resources in the comments of this article online.

If being a benefactor of white privilege makes you uncomfortable, remember you can use that privilege to do good, create awareness and educate others to make a difference. Commit yourself to getting uncomfortable. Have higher-level dialogue. Welcome self-examination. Open yourself up to discover what you don’t know. Most of all, care enough to make this a priority in your life.

Dawn Hafner is senior vice president for a Des Moines financial company and on a mission to bring more soul to the business world. You can find her work at www.dawnmhafner.com, in her book "The Mapmaker – Your 33 Day Journey Towards Daily Presence," and at the podcast The Solstice Space, available on Spotify and iTunes. Contact her via email.