Mayor Michael B. Coleman has built Columbus’ reputation as a center of urban renewal, working closely with the business community on economic development over the past 15 years.
He’s also made it a priority to promote women and minorities in city government.
In his final year of office, Smart Business asked Coleman to recap what he believes the city has done to help advance women in business during his tenure, as well as his views on opportunities for continued progress.
SB: What changes have you noticed regarding women in business from the time you took office to now?
MC: I think the biggest change I’ve noticed during my tenure in office is that there are more women in business than ever before. More women in our community are starting their own businesses, moving up in the ranks of leadership and also encouraging other women to take similar paths toward success.
In just the past few years, Columbus has received national recognition from Forbes as a top seven city in the nation for Female Founders, and also the No. 1 city in the nation for working mothers. I think this is a great testament to our diversity and inclusion efforts to work toward a stronger and smarter business community.
SB: Why do you think the advancement of women is so important to the economic development of Columbus?
MC: When women move up the ladder in leadership positions, they contribute greatly to the creativity and innovation in organizations that help increase performance and competitiveness.
By empowering women in our community to be more successful in business, we encourage them to start their own companies that create new jobs and opportunities throughout our community.
SB: Please share some of what the city has done to try to help advance women in leadership and women in business.
MC: The mission of the city’s Equal Business Opportunity is to promote the inclusiveness of minority and women-owned businesses within the city’s procurement process and to facilitate the equitable awarding of contracts to minority and women-owned business enterprises via race and gender neutral tools.
These tools include the implementation of a comprehensive internal and external outreach program, monitoring of the departmental procurement processes, providing technical assistance to businesses upon request and providing guidance to city leadership on industry trends and best practices.
In addition, EBO is required to monitor, track and report minority and female business utilization for all city departments and to ensure the city’s compliance with state and federal affirmative action regulations.
The department’s principal goal is to provide access to opportunities for small, minority and women-owned businesses. The rationale for that goal is the acknowledgement that minority and women-owned businesses are an important economic engine, creating jobs or opportunities for many of our residents.
I’ve always been active in promoting women in politics, government, business and community leadership. This includes appointing the city’s first female chief of police, which was also the first in the state of Ohio; and ensuring that women make up 40 percent of my cabinet and more than half of my staff, including two of my deputy chiefs of staff.
SB: What were some of the biggest challenges you faced with this during your tenure?
MC: I believe we’ve actually been quite successful in this regard. During my time in office from 2000-12, the city of Columbus has utilized almost $125 million ($124,194,240) for vendor contracts with female-owned businesses.
Of course, we can always do more.
In 2014, during my annual small business conference, we added a forum titled “Women, Wealth and Power: Transforming Our Communities Through Business Ownership.” We understand clearly that our women business owners are demonstrating business expertise and improving our communities like never before through their work with the city of Columbus and throughout our nation. Our job now is to continue that momentum.
SB: Where do you see more opportunities for continued progress that you hope will be realized in the future? Where do you think the biggest need is for more female leadership?
MC: The biggest opportunity lies in more companies and organizations understanding and promoting the value of women within their businesses. Additionally, we need to continue to encourage women to seek out these opportunities whether it’s through leadership programs or training.
There is a strong need for more female leadership on corporate boards, and we need more women to have the title of CEO.