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Remaining Fearless in the Face of Adversity: Part 2 Local Legislation

June 26, 2024 Category: Column

Following the ruling by The United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Judicial Circuit, there have been calls for the federal government to intervene to ensure that civil rights and diversity, equity, and inclusion programs are not completely abolished. Fearless Fund co-founder and CEO, Arian Simone is calling for an executive order from President Biden to protect diversity, equity and inclusion programs and allow funding specifically for marginalized groups where disparities exist. She also urges Congress to pass the Fearless Freedom Economic Civil Rights Act, which supports the goals of the Executive Order.

While the public awaits possible federal intervention, Andre D. Carroll, Democratic candidate for the Pennsylvania State House of Representatives in District 201, put these legal setbacks into historical context, pointing to impacts that go beyond the immediate economic consequences.

He stated, “the recent federal ruling that declared the Fearless Fund’s program for Black women entrepreneurs unlawful is yet another attack on the advancement of folks of color and all gender expression. The reason affirmative action and DEI was created was to level the playing field in education, employment & economic opportunities for everyone.”

 

The 2019 Pew State of the City Report revealed that while Blacks make up 40% of the city’s population, they accounted for only 2.5% of the region’s businesses. This data highlights the inequities faced by Black entrepreneurs and shows that they would benefit from additional resources to build capacity. Furthermore, in a city grappling with deep poverty, it is imperative that all pathways to family-sustaining income and building generational wealth are available.

Despite these disparities, diverse businesses play a crucial role in driving local economic growth and community development. According to the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA), minority-owned businesses generated $1.6 trillion in revenue and provided 9.8 million jobs in 2020. As the Small Business Administration (SBA) reports, diverse businesses also often prioritize hiring employees from their local communities which reduces unemployment but contributes to the stability and growth of the local economy.

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This data highlights the significant impact that diverse businesses have on job creation in their communities. In addition, a study by McKinsey & Company shows that companies with diverse leadership teams tend to outperform industry peers in terms of profitability. Specifically, these companies are 33% more likely to outperform their peers, demonstrating a strong correlation between diversity and economic success. In addition, diverse businesses make an important contribution to supplier diversity by sourcing goods and services from other minority-owned businesses, creating a network of economic support within these communities and fostering a culture of collaboration and growth.

Carroll also noted that sustaining these efforts locally may require new legislation. “It’s important that we do everything in our power on the state level to protect the diversity inclusion advancements we have made,” Carroll stated. “When I take office in January, I look forward to exploring state level policies to expand DEI efforts. Legislation is significant and that is accomplished by electing the right law makers.”

 

Can PA Legislation Work?

At the state level, Governor Shapiro has committed to increasing contracts and resources for small and diverse businesses. Under the Shapiro-Davis Administration, the Department of General Services has enhanced programs and policies that benefit small, diverse and veteran owned businesses. Improvements include reducing the certification time for small businesses by 33%, implementing a policy of prompt payment to subcontractors within 10 days, hosting Supplier Search workshops for minority-, women- and veteran-owned businesses, and providing monthly notification of upcoming contracting opportunities. These efforts have resulted in the Commonwealth spending more than $1 billion with such businesses for the first time last year.

Kerry Kirkland, DGS Deputy Secretary for Diversity, Inclusion, and Small Business Opportunities, shared “Governor Shapiro kicked-off his first year by directing his cabinet members to place a concerted effort to increase Commonwealth agencies’ direct spend with small and small diverse businesses, and our agency thanks him for that.”

While the governor is making strides within Commonwealth agencies, the PA House and Senate are focused on state legislation efforts and working to overcome their own challenges.

House Speaker and State Representative Joanna McClinton noted, “The House Democratic caucus has championed DEI policies for years and has lived those values by implementing initiatives within our own caucus like establishing a Diversity and Inclusion Council and hosting PRIDE and Diversity celebrations throughout the year.” She continued, “I’m proud that as Speaker I’ve been able to shepherd several equity measures through the state House, including the Fairness Act and the CROWN Act. Both of these were long overdue and garnered bipartisan support because in 2024, no one should choose between keeping their job and honoring their culture or from participating in a sport or activity because of their natural hair or face discrimination based on their sexual orientation, gender identity or expression.”

While these bills have passed the state House,  the PA CROWN ACT, after being introduced in 2019 and 2021, was passed by state House till July 2023, and the Fairness Act was passed May 2023 – both still await Senate Approval.

“Unfortunately,” McClinton added, “the state Senate failed to act on these bills for a year.”

The path to such legislation is not easy, especially with the Fearless Fund case likely to the Supreme Court, making it an open litigation matter. This uncertainty has led elected officials to remain silent on the next steps. At a recent Press Briefing, White House Press Secretary Jean-Pierre was reluctant to comment on the pending case when asked directly by TheGrio’s White House correspondent, Gerren Keith Gaynor. However, she shared that President Biden’s administration’s policies have led to an increase in the number of Black-owned businesses and promised that he would “keep providing economic mobility for all Americans.”

Tonita Austin, CEO of MT Austin and Associates, a Black woman-owned small business financial services firm, understands the personal and professional impact of the 11th Circuit, and has hope for such legislation. She believes the barriers to building and maintaining wealth must be removed through legislative change.

“If individuals are doing work that empowers the Black and Brown communities the first plan of attack is to limit your access to wealth,” she says. Making the need for legislation and policy protection imperative.

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