By: Justina Cross, Women's Initiative Marketing Communications Manager
I went to a great symposium in Los Angeles on Friday looking at the impact of Prop 209 on government contracts with disadvantaged entrepreneurs (women and minority owned businesses) and the impact on higher education. You can get more information about this event at Impact209.org
When Prop 209 passed I had just moved to CA and was focused on how it affected affirmative action and outreach programs for minorities in higher education, so it was great to get a perspective on how it changed government contracting.
One of the stand-out papers presented was how there are ways to work around Prop 209 to still have race-conscious programs with government contracting. Tim Lohrentz (of Insight Center formerly NEDLC) presented about how businesses that benefited from the affirmative action programs adjusted their business plans and for the most part have been able to thrive despite Prop 209.
Where it might be hurting is for businesses trying to get into the contract game (some Women's Initiative graduates might be ready for this!) Bernida Reagan, Port of Oakland, presented at one of the sessions and mentioned Women's Initiative for Self Employment several times as an example of how the Port partners to have a program that worked with minority and women business owners. The Port has a Local Business Owner program which is how they get around the language of Prop 209 so that it isn’t creating goals around race or gender.
We know from outside reports that women and minority businesses are growing at staggering rates. In the South Bay we know Latino-owned businesses are really taking off. However, across the board we are dramatically underutilizing WBEs and MBEs and the symposium had quantitative and anecdotal information to illustrate this point. The symposium brought up for me what more we can do for our clients to let them know about government contracting beyond the seminars that we offer. Is there something more we can do with the Port of Oakland to get our clients on a trajectory to be vendors at the Oakland Airport? For some of our clients it is a matter of opportunity recognition about knowing what is possible for their business.
Another interesting talk was about how Prop 209 has negatively impacted the workforce where minorities are disproportionately employed in the public sector, especially education and public defense. The presenter argued that Prop 209 also created a diminished appreciation for diversity in the workplace as we moved to a “color-blind” model of hiring. This is all great information to keep in our minds as we recruit and hire new employees.
Another presenter shared startling facts: 10 years ago CA had the largest number of black-owned businesses and now we are ranked third. Black families are moving from CA. Also in the 1980s Santa Clara had more black execs than any county in the nation, but today that isn’t true. Doesn’t this hit home to why our work with minority women business owners is so critical?
Globally things are happening around affirmative action, often called “positive action.” I heard presentations about work that is happening in Brazil and France around creating race-conscious programs. I have a stack of papers (many academic, looking at different aspects of Prop 209’s impact) from the conference that I probably won’t be able to slog through. If you are interested in seeing the material or hearing more, just email me.