White Women Aren’t Discriminated Against, According to Wash. State

By Chris Hoenig

White women aren't discriminated against, according to the Washington state DOT.Good news: White women aren’t discriminated against. At least, not according to officials in Washington state.

The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) commissioned a disparity study last year to determine which underrepresented groups are still experiencing discrimination, particularly when it comes to public-works contracts. The result was a 678-page report that said that businesses owned by white women are awarded enough contracts that they can be excluded from the state’s list of minority-owned businesses and are no longer subject to the federal Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) program. The DBE program is a set of codes that requires contractors to hire minority-owned businesses to complete a certain percentage of the project.

The WSDOT is asking the U.S. Department of Transportation to remove white women from the DBE program after 31 years on the list of minority-owned businesses. “The study revealed that Caucasian-women-owned firms actually received more contract dollars than expected,” WSDOT Assistant Communications Director Kris Rietmann said. “Lacking evidence of discrimination against Caucasian-women-owned businesses in the local marketplace, WSDOT cannot include them in contract-specific DBE goals.”

White women aren't discriminated against, according to the Washington state DOT.Local business owners don’t agree. “They [men in the industry] don’t want to talk to you, they don’t want to deal with you, they’re very uncomfortable dealing with you,” said Colleen Hallett, owner of Mobile Electrical Distributors in Seattle. “I have salesmen come in here and bypass me and go straight to my male employees even though I’m the boss.” Women in Highway Construction, a new group representing white female business owners, is threatening to sue.

“This is a war on white women, and we’re not going to take it sitting down,” said Mary Guthmiller, who owns DBE Electric. “It’s going to cost the state of Washington a lot more grief and trouble to fight an injunctive action, which we are willing to take if necessary to protect our right to be able to exist as businesses and participate in the program that we fought hard alongside our other minority businesses to even have any little bit of this construction dollar.”

Women business owners told WSDOT officials at a public meeting that the study was not comprehensive enough and looked at the wrong data, such as contract dollars won by white-women-owned businesses rather than the amount they were actually paid. “It would be devastating if the DBE program for women businesses like myself would be taken away,” said Tina Benson, who owns T-Max Trucking and Silver-Streak Trucking. “We’ve worked really hard to get to where we are.”

Meanwhile, the study found that businesses owned by Blacks, Latinos and American Indians are still subject to discrimination. “While the other [DBE] firms got little to no work, white-women-owned firms continued to get work for that time. That was good for that group, but the other firms didn’t get much work,” WSDOT Office of Equal Opportunity Director Brenda Nnambi said.

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11 Comments

  • The one question that I have is why were white women out on a list as “minority” in the first place? White women are not a minority in this country statistically. And I can tell you from experience working with an agency serving small business that African-Americans and other actual minorities are shut out of government contracts at the expense of white women – whom gov agencies could still claim is helping “minority” businesses. No one is saying that white women are not discriminated against in business. Washington State is delusional if they think that is not happening on a regular basis. But as an African-American woman, I can say that those businesses run by white women also discriminate against minorities. So what are we really gaining by having them included in that particular category? I have always said that Affirmative Action has been twisted to help more white women than African-Americans. Yes, ALL WOMEN need special provisions to help level the playing field in business. But it also needs to be acknowledged and further studied how white women are not only the oppressed, but also the oppressor and what that means in terms of their inclusion in “minority” programs like these. Perhaps they can have a program just for women – for we all know that when we talk about “women” in America, we are talking about white women. Thus the common phrase “women and minorities” as if minorities don’t include women as well. Then they can have a program for actual minorities. Lumping white women’s interests in business opportunity access with minorities is flawed from the outset.

    • Luke Visconti

      I understand your points—and agree with you that the chief beneficiary of “diversity and inclusion” programs has been white women. I also agree about what is meant behind “women and minorities.” However, if white women are discriminated against (as you assert and as the data show), then they should be included in a “minority,” and I think it’s a mistake to parse what constitutes a “minority.” Luke Visconti, CEO, DiversityInc

      • White women are not a minority that should be included in the category of minorities – non white people of color. That was the target group of the original Civil Rights Act of 1964. All the other gropus have been “annexed” on to the Civil Rights Act.

        I quickly discovered at the end of my first year in law school (years ago) that the “woman” category meant a white woman, and not a Black woman of color. Black women are lumped in the Black category with Black men. This is the “de facto” reality for Black women of color competing in business and every other field.

    • Agree!

  • I’m sorry, but no one will ever convince that white women are minorities and are suffering and any way, shape, or form in the same way as African-Americans and other minorities have and continue to in this country. These groups have always been forced to take a back seat while white women get what is considered “just” for them. Example: Suffrage was necessary for ALL women, but the only ones who truly benefitted legally from it in America were white women – while African-American women were denied the right to vote and participate in the political process. Corporate America’s knee jerk response to the need for more diversity is to hire a white woman as a high-ranking executive- regardless of the myriad of talented and qualified minority women and men out there. And I really wish that white America would stop telling me as an African-American woman that I’m supposed to take a back seat to the interests of white women – who also participate in such discrimination of African-American women in equal measure, if not more, than men. Such historic and continued discrimination and the lingering effects of such is the reason we need to parse what is or is not a “minority.” So, you are trying to tell me that I should be more concerned with white women’s business opportunities than the myriad of minorities out there who are shafted at a much higher rate out of government contracts than white women?. Even the article states that the situation for white women has improved significantly, while the situation for African-Americans and Hispanics has remained stagnant. With white America (including white women) refusing to hire and promote minorities, their ability to start their own businesses and maintain them is crucial. Mr. Visconti, I follow and appreciate your work in the area of diversity. You are doing what few white Americans are doing today, trying to become a part of the solution instead of part of the problem. But you have to be aware that you are seeing this issue from a lens of privilege. I would advise you to read Bell Hooks, Patricia Hill Collins, etc. to understand what I am trying to explain to you about the experiences of African-American women in relation to white women. And, again, I assert that lumping white women’s interest in access to business opportunities with minority concerns is flawed from the outset. The issues are very different.

    • Luke Visconti

      Although I’m not saying that you should be more concerned about white women’s business opportunities than your own, I see your point. However, I differ from your point of view (even though I agree that it’s flawed to group Black and white women together). I like to drive change and I’m a pragmatist; I almost exclusively work with corporations that have intent to improve (because I don’t waste my time with organizations that are not serious) and that may make me more optimistic about the ability to move the issues(s) forward more rapidly by working together.

      That said, you’re right, I am aware I view things from a privileged perspective (even though I was named an honorary Black woman at Spelman College and I’ve been a trustee of Bennett College for over nine years). I’m very aware that the most discriminated against group in America is Black women.

      Thank you for your two comments. You made me think. Luke Visconti, CEO, DiversityInc

  • As a white woman, I feel like I am discriminated against more than any other class of female. I believe it is because there is resentment toward white women that stems from mass media’s portrayal of white women as entitled and taken care of. This leads females of other classes to have contempt for us that leads to hostility. Actually, it seems that hostility toward white women is openly tolerated. If I started listing the hostile moments that I’ve endured as a result of being both white and female, I just can’t envision the end of that list. Not only are our own men frequently nasty to us, but both males and females of others races feel politically entitled to dehumanize our existence. As a white women who has my act together, I am often approached as though I came from a spoon-feeding rich family and so I didn’t have to work for anything and therefore haven’t earned the right to receive respect. That is wrong. That’s not what I came from and I’ve worked very hard. And even it were true, all humans are entitled to respect. There is a misconception that just because our white men appear to have an easier time than anyone else of climbing the corporate ladder and getting ahead, that that goodness is automatically extended by our white men to us. It isn’t. It really isn’t. Such “partnership” between white man and white woman is more so fiction than reality.

    • Luke Visconti

      Our DiversityInc Top 50 data show that gender is a larger axis of discrimination than race, but they also show that white women have been the primary beneficiaries of diversity-and-inclusion management. That said, of the DiversityInc Top 50 companies, only 25.9 percent of senior management (CEO and direct reports) are women—despite the fact that more than half of bachelor’s degrees have been earned by women since the late 1980s. This percentage is 20 percent higher than the Fortune 500!

      It is important to point out that the diminished percentage of women at the most senior level (in comparison to educational attainment) is proof that there is no meritocracy and that it is senior-management malfeasance that produces these results. Further, I’ve heard from three companies that the lowest engagement scores they have are with their most senior women executives! If you ran an airline like this (overt discrimination in talent development), there’d be late and cancelled flights every day and the entire industry (in aggregate) would have not made a profit since inception. If you ran Wall Street banks like this, we’d have periodic crises brought about by “bubbles” exacerbated by illegal collusion and market manipulation where the perpetrators get off with fines that come nowhere near the profit raked in (no prison) and the victims lose trillions of dollars with almost no compensation. Oh, wait a minute, that’s what actually happens!

      Disturbingly, the solution is not at hand. Percentages are increasing for women in management but not quickly, and I’ve seen segregation when it comes to most women’s professional or resource-group functions that I attend (I’ve attended hundreds of them).

      We have a long way to go. Luke Visconti, CEO, DiversityInc

  • Very funny!

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