New York City is one of the most diverse cities in the world. Over 80 percent of New Yorkers are either women or people of color. At any given time, nearly 200 different languages from around the world can be heard spoken on its streets. In popular culture “diversity” is often thrown around as a buzzword, but here, it’s a way of life.
That’s why as New York City’s economy grows and changes, the only way we can truly build a sustainable future is to create wealth and opportunities in communities that have been historically left behind—specifically, among women and people of color who make up the vast majority of residents.
In New York City, women are paid substantially less than men and this gap is even higher for women of color. Meanwhile, younger New Yorkers—especially those who are Black and Hispanic—were hit hardest by the 2008 recession, and millennials have more debt and less wealth than prior generations at the same age, worth nearly half that of Baby Boomers in the 1980s.
In addition, people of color face higher obstacles when it comes to finding employment, with only one-third of new jobs in gentrifying neighborhoods going to local residents of color. What’s worse, for women and minority entrepreneurs who sacrifice their time, money, and energy to build a business of their own, our city government too often fails to give them a fair shot—and the proof is in the numbers.
Based on a recent report from New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, in 2018, the city spent $19.3 billion on goods and services—things like office supplies, building maintenance, vehicles, etc.—yet only $1 billion, or just over 5 percent, went to Minority and Women Owned Business Enterprises (M/WBEs). And of the 6,700 M/WBE’s certified to do business with the city, only 20 percent of them earned a dime from city contracts. In fact, the comptroller’s report gave the city’s overall spending on M/WBE’s an appalling “F” letter grade when it came to specifically African-American owned businesses. For a city that touts its diversity and equity, these numbers are a clear indicator that we need someone laser focused on promoting and supporting an equitable and diverse five borough economy.
Right now the Charter Revision Commission 2019 is examining changes to how our city government operates. They will consider a significant proposal that would help build a path to a stable economy for New Yorkers from every neighborhood regardless of their race or gender. The proposal establishes a chief diversity officer—or CDO—in City Hall and in every city agency to ensure that our local government is not just creating spending goals on M/WBE’s, but actually meeting them as well.
A CDO will shine a spotlight on the wage inequality and employment disparities that impact women and people of color and help to attract and retain diverse talent. We know it works because so far, seven city agencies and the comptroller’s office have a CDO and their overall engagement and performance has drastically improved. In addition, the CDO has also become a fact of life in the private sector—playing a vital role in organizations like the Federal Reserve, CBS and the Nielsen Company, among many others. This is important, because diversity is more than compliance, it also encourages inclusion—a notion that is familiar and fundamental to all new Yorkers.
It’s time for us to use our voices as New Yorkers to call on the Charter Revision Commission 2019 to put a chief diversity officer on the ballot for the sake of equality, for the sake of our values, and for the sake of our city.
Reverend Jacques Andre DeGraff is an economic justice advocate.