(Photo by Flickr user Alexis Lewis, used under a Creative Commons license)
Social change moves slowly. Government moves even slower. The space between is familiar territory for disadvantaged populations waiting on paradigm shifts.
When it comes to equal economic opportunity, Philadelphia’s women, minorities and disabled populations are still waiting on their government to catch up. It is, albeit slowly.
Last month, the city’s Office of Economic Opportunity released its annual disparity study analyzing the city’s financial interactions with minority, women and disabled-owned businesses in 2015, specifically around city contracts. According to the study, the city spent $951 million on contracts in 2015, and 30.6 percent of that total went toward contracts procured by women, minority and disabled-owned businesses.
That’s an increase of 1.2 percent over one year. Last year’s disparity study yielded a similar figure. Yet, according to Commerce Director Harold T. Epps, Mayor Jim Kenney has set an ambitious goal for the Department of Commerce: Get that figure up to 35 percent before 2020.
The city has a fiduciary responsibility to foster a workforce that represents the demographics of its population, said Epps, and it’s a responsibility Kenney’s administration is working to meet inside city government. Earlier this year, the mayor’s cross-sector transition team suggested the city work to boost the number of women, minority and disabled-owned businesses in the city by 50 percent.
That’s the kind of change that seems like it might require a new approach, and new approaches can often come with a hefty price tag. But Epps said increasing the number of contracts performed by women, minority and disabled-owned businesses is not a question of adequate resourcing.
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“Ideally we’ve got to increase our proactive intentional due diligence on the contracting side and on the contractor side,” he said. “It’s a focus issue.”
We should be using diversity as an asset, Epps said, because it is one.
There have already been one-off boosts in the number of contracts procured by women, minority and disabled-owned businesses in the private sector recently. Most of the $150 million spent by Democratic National Committee, for example, has been directed toward those businesses.
But there’s no DNC next year. This kind of change needs to produce sustainable outcomes.
“This is an opportunity for Philadelphia to be a best in class city,” Epps said. “By doing this work proactively, strategically and intentionally, we can show that we are committed to contracting that best represents the diversity of Philadelphia.”