How Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti is Mixing Business with Feminism

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti welcomed over 200 women into his residence that the Getty House in December for part of the Women’s Leadership Series & Engage LA event series. The Women & City Contracting event attendees had the chance to network and learn about how Los Angeles is supporting women-owned, minority owned and small businesses compete for city contracts.

Los Angeles is a city of four million people and 500,000 businesses, and with a budget of $10B, approximately $1B in funds are available for city contracts in Los Angeles—but when Mayor Garcetti took office, only one half of one percent of those contracts where going to women. Because gender equity is a core issue for his office, Garcetti’s office has been working to increase those numbers and change the game for women business-owners.

If more women can be competitive and win bids, the city benefits: There was over $7 million in savings, for example, with the recent lower bidders where small businesses won $91 million dollars of work on $220 million worth of contracts.

That’s why the Mayor’s Innovation Team—Claire Bartels, the first woman to ever be Director of Finance for the City of Los Angeles, and Shannon Hoppes, the City’s Chief Procurement Officer (CPO), a post created to maximize the value of City resources, protect taxpayer funds and ensure small and minority-owned businesses are met with opportunities and not obstacles—have been working to simplify, streamline and have the process of achieving these contracts function better. Bartels spoke to attendees about the GROW WITH event for Women in Business in 2017, which was an early step in un-complicating working relationships with the city, and the steps the government is taking in support of mentorship programs and networking.

In their own ways, each woman on the panel was a mentor to the women in the audience—offering tips, tricks and insight into how to build, grow and expand a business and take full advantage of all the city offers women business-owners.

Ingrid Merriweather, who runs her own LA-based insurance firm, instructed small business-owning attendees about how women-owned shops can become successful low bidders for city contracts.

The values of Garcetti’s administration are themselves a boon in this regard: Innovative contracting strategies on the city’s part where standards for achieving diversity and inclusion are included in RFPs, for example, shaped recent projects at LAX airport. Meeting this goal was 10 percent of the evaluation process—and the winning team raised the goal from 3 to 5 percent for local businesses, an increase of $80 million. Merriweather also recommended that everyone join organizations like NAWIC and NAWBO, which help members find like-minded people to collaborate with and secure contracting opportunities.

Andrea Keller, who taught architecture at both USC and Otis, opened up to attendees about the hurdles women continue to face in contract hiring due to their gender, and the strategies that they could take to out-maneuver sexist obstacles. Keller had nearly 50 percent female students, but 84 percent of women like them don’t go on to own their own firms. Keller decided to start an all-female architecture firm, AKA Architecture and Design, to employ her former students and help change the balance.

Trisha Murakawa, who runs Murakawa Communications, was one of 45 accepted out of 450 applications for LA’s small business academy (SBA) program, where she found five others to partner with in order to apply for a contract as a prime. She now has a contract as a sub to Tectra Tech and is helping the city as a communication expert on the sewer maintenance repair project.

It was an event that perfectly suited Bartel’s mission to help women business-owners thrive in the city—and help the city thrive, too.

“We are only a success as a city,” she reminded attendees, “when everyone succeeds.” 

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Lisa Niver is the author of Brave-ish, One Breakup, Six Continents and Feeling Fearless After Fifty and an award-winning travel expert who has explored 101 countries and six continents. She has articles in publications from AARP: The Magazine and AAA Explorer to WIRED and Wharton Magazine, as well as her site We Said Go Travel. For her print, podcast, digital and broadcast segments, she has been awarded three Southern California Journalism Awards and two National Arts and Entertainment Journalism Awards and been a finalist 22 times. Niver is also the host of the award-nominated podcast Make Your Own Map.