Contributing Writer: Xeng Moua Interview with Wausau City Council member, Mary Thao.
Have you ever experienced discrimination in the workplace? Have you gone to work and been made to feel like you’re inferior, incompetent, or unintelligent by your colleagues and even your supervisor? I certainly have, so when I found out that Wausau Councilwoman Mary Thao went through some discrimination in her very public role by her colleagues, I reached out and asked if she would like to share her story.
I hope that you the reader know that it is very common to face acts of discrimination in the workplace and it is also illegal. If you find yourself being discriminated against, please stand up for yourself and say something. If your employer does nothing after you have voiced your concerns, do not hesitate to contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission at https://www.eeoc.gov/.
Xeng Moua (XM): What made you transition from being on the School Board to running for a Councilwoman for the city of Wausau?
Mary Thao (MT): Currently, I serve on the Wausau School Board (2016-2019) and Wausau City Council (2018-2020). I’m serving the last year of my three-year term on the Wausau School Board. I just got elected and sworn into the City Council in May of 2018. I chose to run on the city council as their Alderperson of District 10 because I felt it was time to have diverse representation at the local level which matches how our society and community looks like. My sole purpose is to lead and offer servant leadership. My religious faith and family background encourages me to serve the community in which I live in.
XM: According to the Wausau and Pilot Review article, the roll call vote was discussed at length on October 9, 2018. Are you able to discuss what went on during the meeting that led you to claim there was discrimination and aggression acts towards you?
MT: I never mentioned discrimination. But what I can tell you is I felt forms of micro-aggressions that could be categorized as racial or micro-insults which can dismiss someone. I was subjected to a room of a dozen white men and women who continued to dismiss and marginalize me.
With insults of “haven’t you had it your way all night”, “why are we even here, this is stupid, let’s get this over with so we can move on”, to a person telling me “don’t roll your eyes at me”. I was so humiliated with their inconsistent stories to stop my request for a roll call vote in the 7 weeks I’ve been trying to resolve the issue only to walk into a closed session feeling bullied and belittled. There were those who were silent in the room but did nothing to intervene or stop the situation. Their silence is implicit and it also enables the misbehaviors.
XM: Do you think the City Council would like to see you step down?
MT: I’m not sure how the city council, mayor, and city staff are feeling. I believe they don’t feel we have a problem.
XM: Have you faced any other acts of discrimination that is separate from the roll call issue?
MT: I would honestly say, there are unconscious bias and micro-aggressions which may lead one to feel they are being alienated or gas lighted to have self -doubt and made to be the problem when they’re not.
XM: Are there any other minority staff on the City Council besides you?
MT: I am the only POC (person of color) on the city council and I am also the youngest as far as age.
XM: How do you deal with these acts of micro-aggression? Do you have any support?
MT: I have my faith in God who sees all things first and foremost. Yes, the community has been very supportive because we want accountability and transparency. They also want leaders who will lead by example. Respect and encourage an open space accepting of different beliefs and backgrounds. Diversity is good for all of us.
XM: What is your advice to other Hmong professionals dealing with discrimination in the workforce?
MT: My recommendations and guidance for those who feel they are being discriminated, harassed, bullied, hazed, or marginalized is to be vigilant. Often times, it may not be the intent of professionals to behave in this way, and they may not even be aware of the impact and the action.
We cannot enable and stay quiet about these issues. We must be honest, and we must raise the concern in a way that is understood by all. It’s not easy when you are the person being treated this way but if we walk away silent, we would only be enabling and perpetuating the issues.