We are living in a historic era of diversity and representation. The 2018 midterm elections saw the most diverse group of citizens sent to public office in the United States since our country was founded.
Women, ethnic and religious minorities, and LGBTQ people were elected in record numbers, and not just at the national level. Newly elected officials like Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez may be shaking up Capitol Hill and making headlines, but we also have a marked increase in diverse people serving at the state and local levels, where their impact is felt even more directly. This includes people like Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot, a black woman and now the highest-ranking openly LGBTQ American mayor with her victory in Chicago, the country’s third largest city.
Lightfoot’s win in April is part of what LGBTQ Victory Fund is calling the Year of the Lesbian Mayor. Hers is the most high-profile win, but a pair of women candidates are poised to triple the number of lesbian mayors elected to major American cities: So far in 2019, Satya Rhodes-Conway became the first openly LGBTQ person elected mayor of Madison, Wisconsin, and Jolie Justus placed in the Kansas City mayoral primary and will advance to the general election in June.
Mayor-Elect Lightfoot’s Commitment to Supplier Diversity
So what does this increased diversity in public office mean for supplier diversity? For Mayor-elect Lightfoot, supplier diversity is at the core of economic development and sustainability.
With more than 4 million employees and an annual gross regional product (GRP) of over $609 billion, Chicago boasts the most diverse economy in the United States and one of the most diverse economies in the world. The city’s new mayor believes that to remain an economic powerhouse in a rapidly changing local, national, and global marketplace, Chicago must encourage the creation and growth of small and diverse businesses.
Her 10-point economic development policy, available on her campaign website, outlines her plan to serve the people of Chicago by focusing on small and diverse businesses, encouraging inclusive supply chains that utilize local suppliers, and removing obstacles to capital and business opportunities for underrepresented and small business owners.
Mayor-Elect Lori Lightfoot’s Economic Development Policy (2019)
- Make Chicago friendly to small businesses and startups
- Increase access to capital for local businesses and startups
- Decentralize city operations by relocating city agencies to our neighborhoods
- Localize supply chains through community partnerships
- Expand opportunities for minority, disabled and women-owned businesses, small businesses and returning citizens
- Use federal Opportunity Zones to drive development in distressed communities
- Offer small businesses planning advice and technical support
- Grow professional apprenticeship programs
- Support the integration of the regional economy
- Eliminate tax benefits that incentivize vacant storefronts
As supplier diversity professionals, we look at these 10 points and applaud. Mayor-elect Lightfoot is choosing to prioritize local, small, and diverse businesses with an eye toward positioning the city to succeed in a marketplace that is rapidly changing and reinvigorating the city’s neighborhoods for economic success.
Let’s take a closer look at what she plans to do for Chicago’s businesses.
Make Chicago Friendly to Small Businesses and Startups
Mayor-elect Lightfoot plans to start at the beginning and revamp Chicago’s labyrinthine process of starting or expanding a business. She will have her administration work with relevant city departments to “develop a comprehensive but simple roadmap to assist small business owners navigate city rules and regulations.”
This will include streamlining the process for starting a business in Chicago; creating uniform, citywide rules and regulations that replace current neighborhood-specific requirements; and reviewing licensing requirements.
Another part of the mayor-elect’s plan is to improve access to capital, one of the primary obstacles facing minority entrepreneurs. She intends to radically overhaul the city’s capital-support programs by “eliminating matching grants and instead converting these funds to straight grants and no-interest and low-interest loans with extended repayment periods.”
Mayor-elect Lightfoot has also committed to working with qualified microloan groups to create a new set of guidelines for approving loans for small businesses with an emphasis on job creation and economic growth.
Localize Supply Chains
Mayor-elect Lightfoot wants to revitalize distressed neighborhoods that have been “neglected by city government” by encouraging institutions to partner with local businesses for products and supplies.
She has also committed to requiring that a city-owned casino engage the local community in everything from the design, planning, and construction of the casino to its daily operations. Additionally, she will require that “the casino work with neighborhood businesses to create a localized supply-chain for goods and services.”
Expand Opportunities for Minority, Disabled, and Women-Owned Businesses
Both of the above points apply to diverse businesses vis-a-vis small businesses, but Mayor-elect Lightfoot also included a point in her plan specifically addressing minority-, disabled-, and women-owned businesses. She previously served as interim first deputy procurement officer, where she gained firsthand experience with the city’s procurement process and supplier diversity. Yes, she’s one of us!
Currently, Chicago has diversity spend goals requiring 26 percent of construction contracts will go to MBEs and 6 percent will go to WBEs.
“I know that the city can do better with MBE and WBEs, and must set comparable goals for DBEs and VBEs,” Mayor-elect Lightfoot says in her policy statement. Pretty neat to hear a high-ranking government official use our jargon, right?
In addition to increasing diverse spend for construction projects, in particular, Mayor-elect Lightfoot wants to break up large procurement contracts, such as the billion-dollar contracts required by the city’s school system, into smaller contracts to allow small and mid-size businesses—which we know include most diverse suppliers—the opportunity to bid on and receive more city work.
Serving and Protecting Chicago’s LGBTQ+ Community
Mayor-elect Lightfoot has also been forthright and clear about her commitment to “serve and protect the LGBTQ+ community.” In a position paper on her campaign website, she outlines her immediate priorities for the community with a focus on youth and seniors.
- Guarantee visibility and participation in city government
- Bolster safety and justice for the trans community
- Protect and support LGBTQ+ youth
- Promote wellness and health
- Address the needs of LGBTQ+ seniors
- Ensure LGBTQ+ veterans get a fair deal
Although this may not directly apply to supplier diversity, as those who advocate for business equality, inclusive supply chains, and equity in the workplace, we know that when people feel secure about being their authentic selves both personally and professionally, they are more likely to be their best selves. And that translates to the innovation and competitive edge we need from our suppliers. And our neighbors. After all, Mayor-elect Lightfoot herself is an example of the innovative thinking that comes from being authentic and embracing diversity not just in yourself but in your community.
Mayor-elect Lightfoot’s plans are ambitious and bold, but to bring about real change and position her city for continued success, they have to be. What can we learn from her commitment to Chicago’s diverse and small businesses? How can corporations take a page from Mayor-elect Lightfoot’s book and invest in supplier diversity?