By Chris Hoenig
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.”
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.