May 2, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Massachusetts doubles down on DEI

Illustration of a curved wireframe city with chess pieces falling from the air.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Massachusetts is pushing diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs even as other states dismantle similar efforts amid a broad backlash.

Why it matters: The Bay State is losing people and talent, and some view DEI initiatives as a way to expand local opportunities and stem the bleeding.

The big picture: Nearly a dozen states have restricted DEI programs at colleges and private workplaces following last year's Supreme Court ruling striking down affirmative action.

  • Similar limits have been proposed in several more states.

Yes, but: Since entering office, Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey has touted her administration's investment in diversifying work and business programs.

  • That includes skills training and early college admission to help reduce job shortages, plus setting new goals for government contracting with LGBTQ-owned businesses.

Between the lines: Healey's efforts aren't only about righting historic wrongs, but also about retaining workers and businesses in the high-cost state.

  • At least 140,000 residents across the socioeconomic spectrum left Massachusetts in 2021-22. Just 110,000 people moved in.
  • Population losses were concentrated among middle and high earners, but people at all levels have left the state seeking low-cost housing and jobs.
  • Some former residents are now working remotely for Massachusetts companies, but living elsewhere.

By the numbers: State spending on minority-owned businesses grew by $74.8 million (15%) in fiscal 2022, the most recent year with available data.

  • That growth is partly due to state training programs and government relationships with organizations like the Black Economic Council of Massachusetts (BECMA), Amplify Latinx and the Asian Business Empowerment Council.

Those groups, plus some state officials, are prodding state agencies to rethink their procedures with DEI in mind.

  • For example: An advisory board led by BECMA president and CEO Nicole Obi is now helping Massachusetts officials revisit seven statewide contracts, encouraging representation of diverse businesses.

The idea is to help agencies shift from a "deficit mindset" — where they may assume these bidders are disadvantaged or flawed — to an "opportunity mindset," Obi tells Axios.

  • Some agencies once refused to consider applications from companies that had not previously done business with the state, even if they had relevant experience elsewhere, adds Bill McAvoy, executive director of the state's Supplier Diversity Office.

What's next: Some diverse businesses have long been contract-ready but simply need visibility, says Josiane Martinez, CEO of ASG Consulting.

  • Martinez and other members of a local business task force recently launched a campaign to connect 11 businesses owned by people of color, women and LGBTQ+ people to potential contracts, and to help them meet bidding requirements.
  • "If we can't grow, Massachusetts can't grow," Martinez said.
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