Helping to Eliminate Workplace Discrimination

Recently, an associate of mine attended a national conference where one of the guest speakers, during their opening moments on stage, started calling out acknowledgments to attendees of various minority groups. After calling out a few, they said, “Anyone that is not Caucasian, please stand up to be acknowledged.” My associate said not only did she feel uncomfortable, but her accompanying friend, who qualified to stand, chose not to stand up. They both discussed the inappropriateness and uncomfortableness of that moment and how it had no place at the conference, which was an all-encompassing environment. Something like a shout-out to everyone who made the journey from around the world would have been much more appropriate and inclusive. My associate did not share the gender or ethnicity of the speaker, so I cannot comment as to their possible insecurities or motives behind their need to rally yet deflate and alienate many.

I shared with my associate that although qualified to capitalize on the quarter-Hispanic bloodline qualifying me to have stood up, more harm than good would accompany it since the language was not passed down with the bloodline. I have a daughter with a Hispanic married name and, ironically, a common Hispanic first name, who speaks conversational Spanish yet does not share enough bloodline to qualify for Hispanic minority status—no ability to governmentally capitalize. Yet if someone called her out, other than pointing out “she is Caucasian” because they knew she was lying, does it really matter?

This year, at the suggestion of my husband, with mixed emotions, I received my WMBE (Women and Minority Business Enterprise) certification as a female-owned company. I appreciate the insight it has provided, yet I have found, like most things, that without me pursuing the business this certification lends itself to, it may or may not be an advantage to display, depending on those viewing its perspective and my purpose for obtaining it.

In a recent construction feature, a female construction business owner commented regarding a question on improvement over the years in terms of women in senior leadership roles in construction. A segment from the article read, “It depends a lot on the individual company. Some companies will claim that they lean more towards diversity and inclusion than they actually do.” I agree, along with the fact that progress is also defined differently by different people; people gravitate toward the familiar and tend to see what they are looking for.

Every day, I meet people in the workplace who, if I visually connected with online or in person, I would be unable to detect from their appearance a molecule of their ethnicity, minority status, or perspective on diversity and inclusion. They have names such as Rebecca White or Robert Black, yet their mothers are 100% Hispanic, Asian, or Black, and, for whatever reason, visually, you can’t tell. They would need some accompanying identifier or to make a point to tell me. Stealth often can work to their advantage if bilingual or able to spot reverse discrimination because they recognize it and use it to reveal their status and educate the uninformed in the workplace.

All too often, I meet English-as-a-second-language individuals who are new arrivals to the US, yet their written, verbal, and professional acumen far exceeds another who has been born, raised, and educated stateside.

In comparison, we then meet those who, despite the visual that identifies them, or even when it does not, make it a point to share with us their insecurities as they relate to who they are or how they feel others perceive them. My biggest pet peeve is when women think they missed an opportunity because they are female or when someone young, old, or of another ethnicity feels the same. The same holds true for someone’s sexual preferences. There are just some things that are between you and God above, and if you feel insecure about your personal choices and preferences, it is not for your co-workers to validate, especially if they need to do so disingenuously to maintain their own security in the workplace from confrontation, reverse discrimination, and social non-conformity.

Webster defines discrimination as “the unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people or things, especially on the grounds of race, age, or sex.”


In the US, the area of practice called discrimination law covers incidents of unequal or unfair treatment based on a person’s age, disability, gender, national origin, race, religion, sexual orientation, genetic makeup, and other personal characteristics.

The essential needs of all human beings in the workplace are Acceptance, Appreciation, Support, Encouragement, Affection, Respect, Security, Comfort, Attention, and Approval. Affection is not romantic in any way; it is affirming words and gestures (from a comfortable distance, may I add). Also, these ten needs are measured differently for different individuals. DiSC is an excellent tool for you to learn how to communicate effectively with others to get what you need to complete your job functions and satisfy your emotional needs in the workplace for mutual fulfillment. For instance:

“D” styles fear being taken advantage of

“i” styles fear rejection

“S” styles fear losing security

“C” styles fear criticism

DiSC helps you recognize triggers and thought patterns that may lead to you feeling discriminated against or making someone else feel discriminated against in the workplace.

  • If your main priority is a “D,” you may be competitive, and when feeling like you are not in charge or in control or something is out of your control, you feel like others may be discriminating against you because they are allowing others to have opportunities to lead rather than you.
  • “i” styles may overpromise and will say yes when they may need to say no. When they learn to follow through or limit the tasks, they take on to what they will realistically be able to deliver, they gain respect from their peers and overcome feelings of discrimination or rejection.
  • “S” styles are prone to helping everyone else but themselves. Recognizing the need to know when they should take time for themselves helps them to overcome the feeling of being taken advantage of or discriminated against in the workplace.
  • “C” styles who learn to share responsibility in the workplace with their associates typically will overcome their need to control everyone in the workplace. When they overcome their fears of constructive criticism and sharing information through professional collaboration with others, they will feel less rejected, discriminated against, and overlooked for opportunities in the workplace.

What happens within small business environments? There are only so many positions to fill and so much time in a day to work on filling them when vacant. In construction, contractual obligations dictate the budget and timing to fill. Finding the match for a position is critical in every business environment, but especially in small businesses. Most business owners hold an active role in the day-to-day operations of a small business, so they do not focus on hiring despite the need to be involved with it ongoing for success. Sometimes, there is a person with human resource responsibilities, but typically from an administrative, coordination, and compliance perspective, supporting the executive leadership but not privy to the intimacy of the role and the team associated with it daily. This is where you see what you are looking for in people when interviewing. Larger organizations, typically, are more diverse for multiple reasons: more staff assigned to hiring, more job openings creating more job searches, generating more candidates that typically apply, along with certain employee milestones and sometimes governmental compliance requiring them to hire by bloodline over qualifications, culture, and conformity, thus requiring more corporate policy and oversight than in small business.

Visually, if you walk into an office and the first people you see are of the same gender, with blonde hair and blue eyes, you might jump to conclusions if you are different and feel like you don’t fit in. Later, you find out that nothing is discriminatory, and the employees they hired were qualified candidates. They chose not to pass on offers and wait for someone to apply who looked different yet had the same credentials as the one already wanting the job opportunity. You either make the choice, if qualified, to receive the offer to work at a place where, on the outside, you may look different, or you make a choice to feel different and move on.

  • If you have any doubt, move on.
  • You see color, or you see qualifications.
  • You seek to bring acceptance, or you crave acceptance.
  • You communicate to verify, or you communicate to justify.
  • You get to know, or you assume you know.
  • You fear rejection, or you embrace the opportunity.

When an employer passes on a candidate, 99.9% of the time, we can receive logical feedback on why that decision was made. If a candidate assumes sexual orientation, most likely the candidate said something to elude thoughts of past or future potential discrimination or something not aligning with company core values. More often than not, it was their experience in construction processes, projects, software, or adversity to travel, hours, and so on, and the candidate must have a mirroring lifestyle environment to feel secure in their job.

Another example is when someone assumes it is national origin/race, yet the candidate assumed or mentioned traits associated with their heritage and assumed discrimination by saying something like, “I do or act ____________ because I am _______________.” The employer heard justification or excuses instead of conquering.

Does real discrimination exist? Absolutely, although it doesn’t need to happen to you through ignorance and complacency. Communicate to understand, adjust to align the truth, and execute by finding the right employment match where your needs are met, and you feel accepted. The construction industry is full of opportunity, and if the industry is right for you, then there is a right opportunity for you out there.

America is known as “the melting pot” of the world, where diverse cultures and ethnicities come together to form the rich fabric of our nation. May your workplace represent a melting pot of like minds and combined talents to deliver success.

To Accepting Your Part in Overcoming Discrimination,

Suzanne Breistol


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