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Opinion: Generational differences may change views on minorities in business

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A recent Springfield Business Journal opinion piece entitled, “Let’s rip the labels off minority-owned businesses,” made me think about a presentation by CultureWaves to community leaders about the four latest generations. In reading the SBJ opinion, I detected perspectives from different generations.

According to CultureWaves research related to baby boomers (ages 56 to 76), this age group is the post-war generation, and in working with them, it is important to recognize that experience does count. Generation X (ages 40 to 55) is wedged between two louder generations – the boomers and millennials (ages 25 to 39). I find this intriguing because I consider myself a baby boomer with traits of Gen X, a spirit of millennials/Gen Y and excited to see what Gen Z (ages 9 to 24) will bring. I also recognize there may not be a general understanding as to why the federal Disadvantaged Business Enterprise program was created.

Historical events led the U.S. Department of Transportation to start the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise program. According to Transportation.gov, it was “designed to remedy ongoing discrimination and the continuing effects of past discrimination in federally assisted highway, transit, airport and highway safety financial assistance transportation contracting markets nationwide. The primary remedial goal and objective of the DBE program is to level the playing field by providing small businesses owned and controlled by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals a fair opportunity to compete for federally funded transportation contracts.”

I can see why there may be a difference of opinion from different generations and business owners with two completely different types of businesses. However, it is important to note that the opinion of one or two people is just that – their opinions. Sometimes, understanding history can better inform opinions. As someone with several years of oversight for state and federal contracts and someone who worked in private industry, I saw how minority- and woman-owned businesses did not have an equal playing field. When state and federal contracts added contractual requirements and/or scoring patterns for companies that chose to include minority- and woman-owned businesses in contracting bids, the opportunities were better.

It is an assumption to believe that local minority-owned businesses declined to complete an SBJ survey because of a perceived label. Pratt Consultants (I am co-owner and one of the nine state-registered Minority Business Enterprises in Springfield) chose not to complete the survey because additional business at this time would negatively impact the level of service provided to current clients. Pratt Consultants receives two to three notices a month for business opportunities because of its MBE certification that they would not normally receive as a very small business.

As far as hiring practices, I would only want to place someone in a position with appropriate experience and knowledge, which could be the baby boomer in me talking. With that said, I have seen the high caliber of expertise in diverse hires made in Springfield for individuals classified as Gen X and Gen Y who are lawyers, doctors, coaches, educators, nonprofit leaders and others. In my opinion, individuals seeking higher-level positions should consider lower-level positions to gain knowledge and expertise. Many businesses in the Springfield area have and are establishing apprenticeship and leadership training programs to grow and develop individuals who may have limited experience.

Leaders in our community made commitments to make diversity and inclusion a priority for the Springfield area, which includes business opportunities as well as addressing underemployment to meet our two major community goals. Thank you SBJ for sparking a generational conversation that continues in the community.

Francine Pratt is director of Prosper Springfield, a poverty reduction initiative led by Community Partnership of the Ozarks and United Way of the Ozarks. She can be reached at fpratt@cpozarks.org.

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