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Study Shows Columbus Lags In Hiring Minority And Women-Owned Businesses

Damita Brown, interim director of the Columbus Office for Diversity and Inclusion, speaks about a study of hiring practices on July 24, 2019.
Adora Namigadde
Damita Brown, interim director of the Columbus Office for Diversity and Inclusion, speaks about a study of hiring practices on July 24, 2019.

The City of Columbus announced plans to increase its work with minority- and women-owned businesses Tuesday, after conducting a study of its relationships with diverse partnerships.

The study shows that black men and women are under-represented in city contracts for construction and professional services, which include fields like law and architecture.

Office for Diversity and Inclusion interim director Damita Brown says the city plans to release the full data and use it to update city policies.

“Our eventual goal is that a new program would be codified and we would work with City Council president Shannon Hardin and the rest of City Council to ensure we put the right types of programs and things in place to support the efforts moving forward,” Brown says.

The study was conducted by Mason Tillman Associates using city data from 2012-2015. It does not include data from 2017-2018, because the city was implementing a new accounting system.

“The data sets are very different,” Brown says. “When we look at how the data is structured in the current system versus the previous system, it’s apples to oranges. We needed to be able to have a time period, a snapshot that we could view with some commonality.”

Brown says the city wanted to be sure it used a congruent set of data for the study. It's the first one on this topic by the city in over two decades.

“The 1993 study was challenged in court, and it was struck down in 1996,” Brown says. “Effectively, we’ve run what’s called a 'race and gender neutral program' where we implement the things we talked about – the outreach strategies, the business development support.”

Legally, the city of Columbus must conduct such a study in order to set legislative goals for the share of contracts provided to minority- and women-owned businesses.

Brown says the city needs to update and simplify the bidding and contracting process to attract more minority- and women-owned businesses.

“(The study) recommends things such as bid discounts, as well as evaluation points on an RFP system, subcontracting goals," Brown says. "But it also looks at things like outreach and compliance monitoring.”

Hardin will hold a public hearing on the study Thursday evening. Then, on August 5, the city will sponsor two community meetings with Mason Tillman Associates to answer questions from the public about the study.

Adora Namigadde was a reporter for 89.7 NPR News. She joined WOSU News in February 2017. A Michigan native, she graduated from Wayne State University with a B.A. in Broadcast Journalism and a minor in French.