How Do You Handle Hillbillies in the Workplace?

In order to create a respectful and inclusive culture, organizations need to provide regular diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) training. But once you have had that basic training, how can you mix it up and make it relevant year after year?

At Concordia Consulting, we have found a way! We have adapted actual situations that we have been asked to remedy by changing them just enough to protect those involved. Then we implement the scenarios using a case-study approach to bring our training to life.

Want to try one? 

Caroline worked as a professional in an office in Charles Town, West Virginia. Once day when talking with a client, out of the blue the client said, “… and those stupid West Virginian hillbillies.” Caroline, who was actually from rural West Virginia, could feel her face getting red. Without thinking, she immediately stood up, looked at him and said, “You know, you’re looking at someone born and raised in West Virginia right now. I’m very offended by your statement, and I think this meeting is over. Have a good day.”  

The client walked out, rather stunned. The organization lost the account based on Caroline’s comment.


  • What should happen to Caroline?
  • What factors might have allowed the client to make the comment?
  • What should Caroline’s manager do?
  • What should the HR director do?
  • What should the CEO do? 

Please let me know how you would deal with this scenario, as well as how effectively you think your organization might handle it. We will be sharing similar situations in the months to come. If you would like facilitated training with us, we will customize a program specifically for your organization’s circumstances and culture.

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  • Reply

    Hi Karen,

    This is a good one! Not good in what happened, but a good learning moment. Here are my thoughts to the questions you provided:
    What should happen to Caroline?
    Caroline had a very human emotional reaction to what the client said and felt justifiably insulted. That said, I don’t think Caroline should have shut down the meeting and thereby losing a client. I think that she would benefit from coaching and/or emotional intelligence training and, if possible, reduced client-facing assignments until she felt better equipped to handle those types of triggering encounters more productively.

    What factors might have allowed the client to make the comment?
    One would never know, but that would have been a prime opportunity for Caroline to activate her “curiosity.” It probably would have been better to get more information, rather than shutting down the meeting. As a coach, I always encourage my own clients to deal with potentially provoking encounters with curiosity. For instance, Caroline could have asked why the client would say such a thing, and find out what his experiences had been with native West Virginians. It wouldn’t justify the insulting language, but at least it would give Caroline a baseline of information to understand better where this person was coming from. It also have allowed her to gather her own emotions and perhaps not take what was said personally.

    What should Caroline’s manager do?
    Show empathy!! If Caroline’s manager is comfortable leading by coaching, this would definitely be a coaching moment. They should hear Caroline’s explanation for why she reacted that way, fully take on her reasons and then talk through what might need to happen to prevent that same outcome from happening again–and, support Caroline to get there.

    What should the HR director do?
    Get Caroline the training and support that she needs.

    What should the CEO do?
    Hire Karen Snyder!! 😉

    • Karen Snyder

      Hi Val,
      Thank you for taking time to read and comment on the blog. Your answers, of course, were spot on! Clearly you are an expert in our field. So great to hear from you.

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