How Boston aims to boost supplier diversity

9 April 2021

The US city of Boston’s Acting Mayor Kim Janey has announced the creation of a supplier diversity programme and a fund to support businesses owned by women and people of colour.

Boston is to create a $750,000 fund that will award up to $15,000 to businesses owned by women, minorities and veterans, and other small businesses that wish to compete for city contracting opportunities.

The move comes several weeks after a coalition of black and Latinx organisations filed a civil rights complaint against the city, claiming its procurement system discriminates against minorities.

A 2018 city study to assess the demographics of public contracts found just 1.2% of the $2.1bn spent in public contracts went to black and Latinx-owned businesses. This was despite the presence of a large number of such businesses in the city capable of fulfilling these contracts.

Boston had spent just $9.4m on contracts with black-owned businesses, the study found. 

Then Mayor Martin Walsh responded to the lawsuit with an executive order which would ensure 15% of the contracts went to women-owned firms and 10% to ones owned by minorities.

He also created a diversity program which would “require goal tracking and reporting as part of the annual budget process”. Walsh resigned in March to take on a role in the US government cabinet, and was replaced by Janey.

Unveiling the new supplier diversity initiative, Janey told reporters: “This initiative will help increase the availability of diverse businesses that are ready to compete for work with the city.”

She said the Mayor’s Office of Economic Development’s Equity and Inclusion Unit has five full-time members of staff who are developing processes, monitoring contracts and providing technical assistance to businesses.

In February, the lawsuit was filed by the Black Economic Council of Massachusetts, the Greater Boston Latino Network, and Amplify Latinx “in response to gross racial disparities” in public contracting under mayor Martin Walsh’s city administration.

The claim, filed with the federal Department of Justice and Department of Transportation, is seeking an investigation into the city’s contracting patterns.

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