MGAC Inner Voices is an interview format podcast where a diverse mix of employees are interviewed to share their perspective on challenges they have faced in the A/E/C industry as a result of their identity—including race, ethnicity, religion, age, gender, sexuality, ability, etc. By discussing the experiences of our staff, our hope is that their stories will have newfound and powerful resonance with the audience—both to comfort others in similar situations and to encourage those in positions of power to bring about positive, actionable changes to workplace environments for all A/E/C professionals, regardless of their identity.
In our first episode, Bryan Gamez (MGAC Assistant Project Manager, Los Angeles) sits down with Brandey McDonald (MGAC Project Manager, Washington DC) to discuss various DEI topics and the importance on being your authentic self, unapologetically.
Bryan: Hi, and welcome to "MGAC Inner Voices," a podcast digging into issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the architecture, engineering, construction industry. We want to preface this podcast by letting you know that we are not experts in all things diversity, equity, and inclusion. We wanna share our stories and discuss how, together, we can create better outcomes for all of us in the AEC industry and beyond. My name is Bryan Gamez. I'm a Project Manager at MGAC, working and living in Los Angeles, California. And today, we will be speaking with Brandey McDonald, and it is my honor to introduce her. Brandey?
Brandey: My name is Brandey McDonald, and I am a Project Manager with MGAC. I work out of Washington, D.C. where I'm based, and I've been with MGAC for over two years. I've actually been in the construction industry for now 12 years and counting and wonderfully counting. And just so you know, I am black and unapologetically black.
Bryan: We love that, Brandey. We love that.
Bryan: I am so happy to have you on this podcast. I am so interested to hear about your experiences. I've been in the construction industry for about five years. I've only met a handful of black women, and I love that you're so empowered and I love your energy.
Bryan: I wanna begin our conversation by asking you, how has your identity affected you in professional spaces? And are there challenges that you've faced in your career because of your identity?
Brandey: So, you know, I would say that, Bryan, you know, more so than anything, I've been really, really lucky. I haven't faced a lot of challenges in my career in regard to my identity. I don't think I have, let me just say that. Let me just be very honest. When I listen to others who are like me and who are from the African American community, I don't have the same stories as they do, you know, those who have encountered a lot of racism or anything else. I don't have a lot of stories. I do have stories, but I don't have a lot of stories. And so, I would say that more than anything, what has affected me in my professional space is, I'll be honest, being a black woman in the construction industry or just being a black woman, period, just being a professional black woman, we have to be very careful.
Black women are very strong. We have the reputation of being very strong. And then you add the construction industry on top of it or a woman that sits in the construction industry and you've gotta add a little bit more strength to that person. So, we have to be careful more than anything else to make sure that we don't become deemed as the angry black woman walking around. The way that we would react in some ways, some people would look at us as being aggressive. I look at Michelle Obama and how people just really talked about her when she came out, and she just voiced her opinions, and she wasn't quiet, and she was very knowledgeable, and she was very educated, and it was very intimidating for people when they deemed her the person who was an angry black woman. And so, I think that more than anything we as black women in the industry – that's the one thing that I would say how my ethnicity really affects me more than anything that I might have to go a little bit easier or switch up the way that I would say something to someone because of maybe my dialect or because of the way, you know, how my energy is or anything else. Someone might think that I might be being aggressive when I'm actually not being aggressive. I'm just being who I am.
And so, I would say that that's, you know, that's one thing that has really affected me as far as my identity as being a black woman in this industry, that I'm always conscious of the fact that, "Okay, Brandey, don't go overboard. Don't use your hands, don't make a face, or don't push your neck," because somebody might say, "Oh, she's angry. She's an angry black woman."
Bryan: You know, Brandey, I'm not a black woman, but I am gay and Latino and I'm also proud of my identity. So, what you're saying right now resonates with me. You're mindful of your actions, your words, and you almost seem to accommodate people around the table.
Bryan: And as you say that that's just part of our experiences, but I'm happy that you are empowered to speak your own voice. You are going to say it how it is.
Brandey: Yeah. Definitely, I would say that those that I work with, any of my colleagues that are in MGAC with me, there are times, definitely, when I've been sitting next to someone and perhaps a contractor says something wrong, and I have to say what I have to say and the way that I say it... And I had a colleague say, "Oh, boy. There she goes. Angry black woman. There she goes." And I have to laugh about it. And I'm like, "I'm not angry. I'm just being assertive. I'm just asserting myself.”
Bryan: On the topic of the concept of an angry black woman, do you think that that concept continues to affect you today in the workplace on construction sites because you have referenced it just now?
Brandey: Yeah. I will not lie. You know, I probably have a bit of a reputation, not necessarily for being the angry black woman, but for being someone, again, who speaks my mind, and who's very direct, and basically gets the job done. And a lot of times when people see women who are like that and who have no problem voicing what's on their mind, you know, within a professional reason, of course, I think that most people kinda say, "Oh, okay. Well, she's different from the rest," or "Wow." I've been labeled aggressive. I have. I will tell you that, Bryan. I'll be very honest. I've had a client call me aggressive. I did find that out. And I just looked and said, "Okay, I'd rather be aggressive than not be aggressive and not get any work done."
It is shameful that I do have to taper things from time to time just because of who I am as a black woman, as a woman in general, that makes me be the way that I am. It carries with us as black women. I will tell you whenever I see another black woman in this particular industry, which again, as you said, there are just not very many of us. There are quite a number that sit on the contracting side, but actually, to be a part of this world here on the A/C side, you know, you really just don't see a lot of us. And so, I know for a fact when I do see a woman on this side of the business, she's gotta be one tough cookie, one tough cookie.
Bryan: I'm really happy that you are sitting on this side of the table.
Brandey: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
Bryan: Have you ever had to adapt who you are as a person in the workplace and what has motivated that and how has that affected you?
Brandey: So, I will say, as I said before, you know, of course, I've had to adapt, whether it was my own dialect, or my mannerisms, or anything else because, again, you know, black women are colorful. We do certain things and we move certain ways that some people wouldn't normally really accept that in a professional environment. But I will say another thing that is really prominent, you know, as far as what has affected me, myself, and I know others is the way that we wear our hair. Most people don't really think about that. I have my funky hairstyle that's really like a frohawk. This industry is a lot more lenient. You know, Bryan, before I came into the construction industry, I was in banking and municipal finance. At that time, my hair was very straight and had what we call creamy crack. I hate to say that, but it was, you know, the perm. That's what we call it. And my hair was very straight and it was to my shoulders and even prior to me moving into the construction industry, my hair, even at a natural state, it was still straightened. When I transferred out of the finance world, I know I was able to really find myself and feel more comfortable because on this side of the fence, I don't have to wear a suit every day and I didn't have to wear pantyhose. You know, at the time, I was wearing pantyhose, and high heels, and suits when I was a banker because I was a commercial banker and also in municipal finance where, you know, of course, you're dealing with institutional clients.
And so, when I came onto this side of the fence, it was much different and it was a much more relaxed atmosphere. And I finally was able to breathe and say, 'Okay." And at that time when I did transfer over to construction, that's when the natural look was really starting to come about. And so, for me, it was really a sigh of relief that I could actually wear my hair at a natural state, and now nobody says anything to me about my hair and my funky hairstyle or my funky glasses that I wanna wear or anything else because, again, it's just construction. And, of course, I do remain professional at all times, but again, I think that's one thing that we, as black women have had to deal with over the course of time of, "Should I put a wig on? I'm going on an interview," or "I'm going in front of a client. Maybe I should put a wig on and something that's more straight where they're not intimidated." I do work in public work and I just so happen to be lucky that my clients are, you know, they look like me, a number of them look like me. And so they're not going to judge me, but if I were to be on the federal side perhaps and I were dealing with the, you know, with the Department of Defense, one might feel a little bit different because of my natural hairstyle. And so that's something that we have to think about before going in front of clients in this industry.
Bryan: I have to say that I'm speaking to Brandey right now and I can see her and her hairstyle is amazing. I would say you are looking flawless.
Brandey: Thank you.
Bryan: And I love your glasses.
Bryan: So, I'm happy that you're able to feel comfortable in your own skin now. I had a black roommate and she would go through hours of straightening her hair and she would say, "This is just something that I wish I didn't have to deal with." And now, she's feeling her natural self and she works actually in the Senate here in California. And I love that she is embracing that aspect of herself and for yourself as well, Brandey, I think that's an important topic to talk about and also have people be aware that that's part of your DNA and this is how you're expressing yourself. I love your hair; I love your look, and I'm happy that you're so confident in it, as you should be.
Brandey: Thanks. I appreciate that. Yeah. It's definitely been difficult, and I have seen other friends go through it. I've seen those walk into the office with braids in their hair and people look at them and say, "Oh, you got your hair...", you know, or just whatever else. And I think that people don't really realize that we as black women, you know, our hair... We're taught to think that our hair is our crown because that's what we were taught as little girls and that it depends upon what generation we come from. My mother really believes that her hair is her crown. I'm trying to get my mother to go natural. She won't even go. It's a confidence thing for us. And so, I need people to really understand when you see a black woman and you like her hair, don't touch her hair. Don't ask, "Oh, can I touch your hair? Can I do...?" It's just not right. And I think that people need to understand that we do deal with our levels of insecurity from time to time with our hair. There's a lot of us that are still dealing with it. I'm not dealing with it. I'm very proud of the way that my hair is. I've had people say, "Wow, that's a really funky hairstyle." And I said, "You know what? That's right and I love it." But there's not a lot of people who are like me, who would actually feel that way. So, we just need to be more people to understand that.
Bryan: Do you have any advice for women out there who are still struggling with that aspect, especially within the construction industry, AEC industry as well?
Brandey: Yeah. I would definitely say just be yourself. This industry is much different. This is not banking. One can actually be themselves. I had a friend who mentioned to me that her daughter was actually going through a bit of...she's an architect and people in the firm that she worked for would criticize her a bit or pick on her because she was very fashionable. And I just thought to myself, "She's in architecture. Architects are artists. Why would she not be able to express who she is from an artistic perspective of how she dresses, how she wears her hair?" And from what I understand, there were individuals that did comment on her hair because she often times went from braids to extensions and even to short. And so, I would say more than anything own your style, own who you are as a person. The more confident that you are as an individual, the more that people are gonna be able to just understand, "Don't say that to that person because it's not gonna phase that person at all." I think that most people, when they have comments like that, that's their own insecurities that they're dealing with.
Bryan: That's great advice. I think that that will resonate with a lot of people. That brings us into our next question. What is the greater big picture impact of this treatment on people's image in the workplace and how do you think that we can move past this?
Brandey: I think that the more that we educate individuals on it, for instance, if a black woman is dealing with somebody else's insecurities and they're mentioning to them about their hair, or their style, or anything else, I think that that black woman should actually stand up for herself and actually ask that person, "I'm sorry, does my hair bother you?" You know, be confident and own what you decide to do. I think that's the only way and to also to be able to educate individuals and say, "You know, that's not really appropriate." It's not okay to reach out and touch my hair because you think it looks funky, or it's curly, or whatever else. It's not okay to ask me to touch my hair. It's not okay for you to make comments about my hair. Would you like me to make comments about yours?" I'm sorry. That's me, Bryan. That's what I would say.
Bryan: But you make a good point, Brandey. I think a lot of people, especially in marginalized groups have thought, "You know, do I speak up in this instance? Is it okay to ask, you know, is there a problem?" And I've known that I found myself, you know, being a little quiet at those moments because I also think of myself as colorful. I use hand motions and whatnot. And so, you bring up a good point. Be confident in knowing that you should ask the questions, "Is there an issue? Is there a problem?" Because at that point, you're going to educate someone who may have not known or may have just been ignorant to the idea.
Brandey: Absolutely. Yeah. I think education is key more than anything.
Bryan: I agree. So, I wanna move into the second part of our conversations about the advantages of diversity. Why is diversity, equity, and inclusion important in the workplace and what value does it add?
Brandey: I would say, you know, diversity and inclusion is very, you know, it's advantageous to the workplace and it brings so many unique cultural experiences to the workplace. And that's what makes the world go round. You have to look at things from different perspectives at all times. How one particular culture would approach something would be different from the way another culture would approach things. It's not just all one-sided. Life, in general, is just not all one-sided. And we do have to understand the sensitivity that those of us who come from backgrounds of color, our experiences that we have actually gone through, or the things that we have to endure. You, Bryan, you're from the Latino culture. You might have relatives that have been affected by what has happened to us in the last four years or the things that we've seen in the last four years, the horrific events that we've seen that has happened to that particular community. And myself included, you know, in my community with the George Floyd situation and how individuals in my family have been affected. I have a brother that is a darker complexion than me. My mom is a very dark skin woman and how she may have, at a younger stage in life, encountered things that never had to encounter as a young woman. But these are the things that we bring to our everyday lives, and these are things that everybody should understand and we should at least have empathy to understanding what those other individuals from other cultures have been through.
Bryan: Absolutely. I think that bringing diversity into the workplace provides another level of perspective to our one, our company culture, and also across the building spectrum. And you touched upon something that I kinda wanna expand on. The past four years, as you said, have been difficult for Mexican Americans, Latino Americans, but also Black Americans. Do you wanna touch upon how George Floyd and Black Lives Matter has affected you in the workplace or has made you feel empowered? Last year, 2020, was a great year for activists to get out there. We are going to be around and we're gonna impact for change. I would be interested in your thoughts.
Brandey: So, the one thing that I saw that came out of the whole entire George Floyd situation, it was almost like an awakening. Although, you know, black folks have been encountering things like this for years and we've been seeing it from as simple as, you know, going into... I dunno, let's say, a Saks Fifth Avenue and a woman approaching me looking at me, you know, whatever else because I am black and me looking at her like, "Are you kidding?" I mean, realistically to even the George Floyd situation or so many others, Sandra Bland, Breonna Taylor, and those who have actually been shot down and killed, this has been an awakening. And I think it's been an awakening for so many Americans, where so many Americans have actually been able to see things through our eyes and understand what has been happening this whole time. And I think more than anything else, it has given me more confidence to speak out in regards to my culture and to speak more proudly about my culture.
Just like I said, I'm unapologetically black. I always have been unapologetically black, but I'm even more unapologetically black now because of everything that has happened. And I say that because I'm looking at so many different corporations who have taken the opportunity, who have said, "Oh, my, this is a problem." So many owners, even like Mark our own owner, who has actually said, "You know, this is a problem and we need to do more," and hearing Stephanie even from our HR side actually say, "Wow, we took a look around and, Brandey, we realized we had no people of color at the top," and I was like, "Oh, really? Did you think that?" because I've been saying that to myself. But when she said it, I was like, "Oh, yeah. You're right. Do something about it." And for me, I'm very proud of this time because it has given us a lot more courage. We are more confident speaking about the things that we really want to see here in the black community. When you have leadership in various ways, allowing black folks to actually decrease the racial wealth gap that we have here, the fact that there's so much of that going on, so many people dealing with the racial inequities, and we even heard President Biden speak about it just yesterday, this is a great time for black people. And I've said it to friends who own their own businesses and those who are looking to climb the ladder. This is the time like no other. Corporations are looking to put people like us in places and you better take advantage of it.
Bryan: Absolutely. How would you say that your identity has made you this strong asset for your team?
Brandey: I say more than anything, it's that whole entire strong black woman thing. I was raised by my parents obviously, but my mom is one strong black woman and she definitely instilled that in me. And I love to implement that into my role as a project manager and as one who has to oversee so many people. Women in our ability to have a bit of empathy in a situation, I think that that is also very beneficial for our teams at times in this line of business that we are so busy and people are so busy oftentimes fighting one another. We sit on the owner's side, you know, our owners' representatives. We have to fight for our owners, and we have to go up against the general contractor from time to time. And my general contractor, my project manager actually said to me, she said, "Brandey, this is the first time that I felt really respected on this project."
Bryan: That's amazing.
Brandey: Yeah. And that was because even though we may go at it like cats and dogs from time to time behind the scenes, the fact is at the end of the day, I can still look at her and say, "You know what? I apologize if I made you feel this way. And if I made you feel this way, this is because this is how I was feeling about the situation." And we can move forward with respecting one another and saying, "Okay, we can agree to disagree and keep moving things forward." Contract speaks for itself anyway. And there's been a level of respect between her and I. And I think that's what men sometimes miss in this industry is the level of empathy that women often bring. It's needed.
Bryan: I agree with you. I would say that in my experience, just as you've highlighted right now, my strongest relationships have been with female project managers, and they provide a level of empathy that men do not, and they also will take the time to really explain a situation to you if you have questions that... Also, women are effective communicators.
Brandey: And some people say that we over-communicate, but I would rather be one who over-communicates than not to and have people confused because when there's confusion then there's frustration. Our jobs are hard enough as is on a daily basis. We don't need to create frustration on our projects. We need to be able to say what we need to say, you know, and get it done and just keep it moving.
Brandey: And I think that men oftentimes feel that we as women become too emotional. That is a lot of times what I say to those that I mentor. Make sure that you don't become too emotional in this business being a woman because unfortunately, you know, men will use that to your disadvantage. That's something that we oftentimes, we have to adjust with. But I think that again, that empathy and also the fact that we overexplain at times really does help.
Bryan: I think that I've experienced myself that sometimes men are more emotional or more of a diva in the workplace, especially general contractors. And I've found myself sometimes saying, "Why is this general contractor, this man being more of a diva than me?" And I think to myself, "It's just the nature of the business." And you're right. I think you don't have to be emotional to be empathetic, right?
Bryan: I think that they're different. And I think you really did hit the nail on the head on that one as well.
Brandey: Yeah. I will tell you I've had my bit of experiences with men who have been very emotional, you know, at times, especially when you catch that contractor maybe not as far as with their costs or whatever, with those change orders and you comb through them with a fine-tooth comb and they...you know, you got some who just get in their feelings about stuff. I've had it happen before. I've had had it where people have called management on me or whatever else, and ultimately, it didn't end up in their favor just because of it, but they became very emotional behind it. And the whole time, I didn't become emotional. I just let everything speak for itself. And you're right. Men do get really emotional at times.
Bryan: So, segueing from that conversation, I want to begin to speak to you about clients and the industry as a whole. As project managers, part of our job is to help advise clients on developing project teams, creating equitable spaces, and establishing the built environment. What are some ways we, in the AEC industry, can impact change through our work?
Brandey: I've been very lucky because my primary client right now, it actually has diverse people at the top. There's people that look like me, quite frankly, that sit at the top of the organization and in leadership positions. And that just so happens to happen in the municipal market truly. That's where we do see a lot of people of color. I tend to be very lucky in that environment because of the leadership that sits at the top. That leadership is very dedicated to creating a diverse environment among their consultants. And so there might be times when, if they're looking for a new consultant from MGAC or even from another firm, that leadership might say, "I really would like to have a woman sit on my team this time," or "Can we find some diversity because we're starting to tip the scale a bit here and we'd like to even out the scale a little bit?" Not to say that that person likes women more, but that person is saying, "We're trying to balance this out." And they're recognizing that there is a requirement or there's a need, not necessarily a requirement, but there's a need for diversity. And I think it is good for us as a whole, as MGAC that we start to actually learn and teach our own colleagues here at MGAC the understanding of diversity and the need for it, not just here, but also too on projects.
Bryan: Absolutely. And I think that we're beginning that conversation now.
Bryan: What measures can we take to, you know, expand that conversation with clients who seem uncomfortable with diversity?
Brandey: I think that education is key. I will say this, and I'll be very honest with you. The construction industry has been overtly racist. It really has been. You know, I've been in this industry, just like I said, for 12 years and I encountered racism the moment that I hit the door. I did. I had people who told me I didn't belong in this line of business because I was in elevators and I had people who told me, I shouldn't be in division 14, which is elevators, literally.
Bryan: I'm sorry.
Brandey: Oh, no. It was fine. When that person said that, I said, "Oh, okay. I'll see you at the next pre-bid." Anyway, the fact is I think that from time to time, we do have to let our clients know that this is the way that things are actually going. We do have clients from time to time that if there is public money involved in their particular project, they might be mandated to include more diversity on their projects and they don't want to because it may cost them more money. I think where we come in and especially those of us who are of a diverse nature, that's when we have to come in and create a teachable moment and become educators at that moment as to why, that it's beneficial for our clients to, you know, use diverse contractors to include that, you know, just whatever the case may be. They oftentimes need to be educated. And I think that's what we should do for those who feel uncomfortable.
Bryan: This quote just popped into my head by Maya Angelou. "When you learn, you teach." And I think this is a great example of manifesting that into the world.
Brandey: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Bryan: What advice would you give to young people pursuing AEC careers and are worried about facing discrimination? As you said, you thought that it could be a tough environment.
Brandey: So, I think I would say number one, that young people today have it very good, and we have to give them all of the accolades for allowing so many industries to shift towards diversity and inclusion, not only the whole entire issue with George Floyd and things that we've seen that have happened to Latinos over the past four years, but this was happening prior to that, prior to the previous administration coming in. That particular generation, we see things really starting to formulate and be different here in the U.S. or throughout the world. When you see commercials with mixed couples or interracial couples and things of that sort when before when we saw interracial couples in commercials, you had people complaining and boycotting those products or those companies. But I would say to younger industry, because they do have it so much easier now, to never allow someone to try to take that away from them. That is something that no one can take away from them. They can't take their education, nor can they take the fact that they are of a diverse culture. And I would say wear it proudly. Don't ever let somebody make you feel less than because you are a person of color. Always hold your head high and always keep it moving.
Bryan: Brandey, that tugs at my heartstrings. I would have to say that I'm a millennial. I'm approaching 30 and I think hearing that, it's empowering to me, but I'm sure anyone else who is in college and seeing all of this activity in our country, unrest in our country, I want them to know that that they should be unapologetically themselves. You don't need to accommodate anyone else because they're uncomfortable.
Brandey: Yeah. Absolutely. Absolutely.
Bryan: What would a more diverse AEC industry look like and what do you think in 10 years time, our industry will look like?
Brandey: Oh, boy. So, our industry, just like I said, it's been an overtly racist industry. I think that it will move slower than the other industries, but it is moving and I'm very happy to see that. It's been a big move even since when I started 12 years ago in this industry, it's been a large move, but I do believe that down the line, we will start to see more faces of color, more women in more executive and C-suite level positions. And that, in turn, will also, too, create a chance for more individuals to rise up the ladder. The problem is right now that many in this industry, we don't see a lot of color and we don't see a lot of women or even those from the LGBT community, we don't see that in levels of leadership. And when you put those diverse individuals who support their own in levels of leadership because I'm not talking about somebody just putting them there. I know there was a question about tokenization. We're not talking about the tokens. We're talking about individuals who really, really support their own. Women who want to do business with other women or who want to see other women. More gay Latino men who want to see more gay Latino men. More black women who want to see more black women or more black men who want to see more black men or women. The fact is at the end of the day, we have to put those individuals in charge who will actually sponsor individuals like you or myself to climb the corporate ladder in order to create diverse leadership across the board in the industry.
Bryan: This is a perfect segue into our next round of topics regarding companies. How do you think that we can continue to bake diversity into our DNA? You talk about filling C-suite positions, which I agree with. And maybe could you touch upon if you were to begin a company from the ground up, what would you do to ensure diversity was central to the company's values?
Brandey: So, I'll tell you, Bryan, I was a business owner, just like I said before or maybe I didn't. I'm sorry if I didn't. But I was a business owner before.
Bryan: I didn't know that. I don't think you did.
Brandey: I'm sorry, yes. I should have said that. That's what got me into the...
Bryan: I know you were a commercial banker.
Brandey: Yeah, yeah, right. I did say that. And after I left commercial banking, I actually moved into construction via Clark Construction, an executive from Clark Construction who approached me and said that we need more black women in positions and leadership roles. So, he was like a sponsor that said...he went out and he found black women to become owners in construction firms. But I would say that having been a business owner, the one thing that I did do was I made sure that those that were at the head and those that were in leadership positions were people of color. And that way, I was able to go out and find other people of color to come on board as well. So, when I found the mechanic because I was in the elevator industry... I swear when I see an elevator guy in my building, he's black, I'm, "Oh, my God, who do you work for?" Because they're just so far and few between. The fact is when...it made it easier for me to be able to attract or have people of color wanna come and work for me because I was a woman and a person of color. And so, for me, I know if I started another company again at some point in time, I would actually do the same thing and I would still keep people of color at the head because I want the talent to come and to understand that they're gonna be understood. When they're there at my company, they're gonna be supported
Bryan: And that visibility at the top is key. Those who are there are going to be individuals who really do genuinely support the people below them. And that's I think what people want more of.
Brandey: Yeah. I will tell you that that's one thing that I feel that we really do need to have more. At MGAC having more people of color or women at the C-suite level that can literally reach down, and pull up, and prepare others for those leadership positions. That sponsorship, that's what we really need at the leadership level is people to actually say, "You know what? I'm gonna sponsor this person and I believe that I could give them the tools that they need in order to get to the next level and be at the C-suite level someday." I think that we need a little bit more of that.
Bryan: Brandey, I can already tell that you provide that mentorship to people who work with you and that's something that the type of mentorship that you're even giving me in this conversation is something that not everyone has. So, even right now, I have to say, thank you to you.
Brandey: Oh, thanks. I appreciate it.
Bryan: The next question, you touched upon this, tokenization.
Bryan: Can you speak to increasing diversity and representation while avoiding tokenization?
Brandey: So, I think that most people have to understand what tokenization is and I think that's the problem that most people don't even recognize it when they're doing that. It's almost as though it's the Caucasian person saying, "I've got a black friend." Well, we know you got a black friend, but that doesn't mean anything.
Bryan: Absolutely. I know.
Brandey: I'm like, "Okay." You know, but the fact is that that's just an example of tokenization. One can't say, "Well, we've got this one guy over here that we put at a project executive level. We got a person of color that's sitting there," and it's like he's your token. And so I think that it's more a thing of being able to tell management and having management and even ownership recognize when they're doing it, and let them know, and inform them, and educate them that, you know, so, yeah, the black guy that you have sitting there as project executive, you only have one and he doesn't seem to be helping anybody else of color or anybody else of diverse nature even climb the corporate ladder. We've gotta do more. And so, I think that more so than anything the way to avoid it is to really have that conversation, an open and honest conversation with management and also too with ownership. The problem is who's gonna be brave enough to have those conversations?
Bryan: I was going to ask you that. When I was talking about tokenization, I believe it's about the intention behind elevating people into the C-suite or leadership positions. It shouldn't be just for the sake of diversity because at that point, you're defeating the purpose.
Brandey: Yeah. Exactly. Exactly. I think that some people, it's almost like they wanna check the box and we've got to get out of that mindset of checking the box. I know that sometimes when you move into the municipal market, the one thing that we do see is an overwhelming amount of required for disadvantaged small and local business, minority business, women-owned business, LGBTQ business, all of it. There's oftentimes requirements in those lines of business. And sometimes you might have somebody in management that says, "Why do we have to go out and give away 50% of our contract to this over here?" And it becomes a teachable moment. It becomes that we have to educate one. We can't just check the box. And instead of us going out and getting those partnerships or going to get one partnership, we have to really build the relationship with those partners. Let's not deal with one. Let's go out and let's have true relationships, joint ventures with these smaller businesses because it's not going away. It's not going anywhere. We're gonna have to be required to have it. So, that's just my thoughts on tokenization.
Bryan: For your coworkers who may not have had the personal experience with discrimination and negative treatment as a result of their identity, what advice would you give to them about how to be an ally?
Brandey: I would say make sure that you can have, again, that teachable moment with the person who made you feel that way. That's number one. Don't allow them to skate by. Please don't allow them to skate by because if they did it to you, they're gonna do it to somebody else.
Bryan: Right. Absolutely.
Brandey: And then it becomes a part of the corporate culture because somebody is allowing that person to continue to act in the way that they're acting. There's a way to say things to people professionally.
Brandey: The person's going to be offended anyway because they offended you, but the fact is that there's a way to say things professionally and address it professionally without it becoming an HR situation. Own who you are. This is the time and the place to really do that right now. You know, you can't have people more proud to be black, more proud to be Latino. You know, when Jennifer Lopez at the Super owl, when was that? Last year, the Super Bowl?
Bryan: Yes, yes.
Brandey: And I posted on Facebook, "I wish I was Latino right now." The fact is this is the time to actually be so proud. And so don't ever let somebody, again, take that away from you, and have that conversation with that person and let them know that they offended you, why you took offense to it and why it's wrong that they said what they said.
Bryan: I agree and it's all about having that conversation, approaching them, approaching it head-on, and being and remaining professional about it.
Bryan: Brandey, your voice is so powerful. I have loved speaking to you this past hour and you're right, people should own their diversity. I struggled for years with my heritage being Latino. I actually grew up right outside Washington, D.C. in Bethesda, Maryland, Rockville, Maryland area, which is predominantly white. So, I didn't accept myself. But now I'm thinking be unapologetically yourself, and be confident in yourself, and that's who you are, Brandey, and I love that. I have loved that. Every second of this conversation, I'm thinking, "Yes, Brandey. You're giving it to me, everything I need and I have loved speaking with you.
Brandey: Thank you, Bryan.
Bryan: With that, thank you for listening to this episode of "MGAC Inner Voices." Check back next month for our next episode.