Minority- and women-owned business enterprises, more commonly known as MWBEs, have gotten a lot of attention lately. Historically, there have been many business sectors, including finance, construction and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) industries, where companies owned by minorities or women are either underrepresented or are gravely overlooked when it comes to large contracting and procurement opportunities.
In many states, New York in particular, minority business certification has become a huge part of ongoing economic development. MWBEs are being sought out for state contracts, and there are goals set to make sure that minority enterprises are used by every agency in the state, yet there are still major problems affecting minority enterprises, and the fact that there are dedicated parts of the government to tackle these problems has not made the impact that is needed.
We still see that when it comes to major financial dealings: Black-owned banks and investment firms are still just the subcontractors and not the leads. We see the use of Black construction firms as well, but again in subordinate positions.
There are many out there who are fighting to make sure the MWBEs are supported and strengthened through legislation and the mere practice of inclusion, yet when some make waves, the repercussions are ominous.
Tarrus Richardson, a principal at ICV Capital Partners, was one of those young financiers who wanted to make a way for himself and other minorities and women to continue to break down the wall to the old boys’ club of finance. He helped form a coalition to create legislation that would open doors for these groups in the pension investment world. While he was successful at getting the legislation passed, he paid for it with his job, in which he had been the top performer at the firm. The day after new legislation was signed, he was fired from the firm he had started. And he has alleged that the firing was due to pressure from staffers in the comptroller’s office at ICV to terminate him because of his outspokenness on issues of inclusion.
While New York state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli has said his office has no involvement in the hiring and firing of people at private firms, he says that there is a great commitment on the part of the office to make sure that MWBEs are included and play a major role in finance in the state.
And at the core, the comptroller has been excellent in his outreach and use of minority firms. But while he is supportive and proactive, the question still remains: Where are others on his team and in general around the state and the nation when it comes to businesses owned by women and people of color?
What we see here is that even with champions for diversity, there is still a huge undercurrent of exclusion. Minority- and women-owned enterprises still find doors slammed in their face daily because of the color of their skin, gender or disability. It is crazy that in a time when we have a Black president, a female secretary of state and a former governor who was blind, that the prejudices still jump right in the middle of decisions that should be based on skill and economics rather than who has historically gotten the business. If this paradigm is not changed, the country will lose so much growth. The opportunities that could be created by these minority-owned businesses, if they were to get the “big” contracts, would mean thousands of new jobs in this country– jobs that would go to underrepresented groups. Jobs that could help to put the economy back on track and America back to work.
It is not just the leaders who need to be on board when it comes to inclusion of MWBEs. It needs to be system-wide. And those who are obstructionists must be removed. The playing field is still not level, yet it is these programs that are imperative to the successes our nation needs.