An interview with Disparity Leader, Andres Bernal

INSIGHTS
Regarding disparity studies, what is top of mind for a client? Is there anything that jumps out at you that you’re hearing from clients about disparity studies?  

Disparity studies on all levels are trying to accomplish the same thing, so clients don’t often say what they need or what they’re trying to accomplish. Because disparity studies are so nuanced and so focused on the legalities of having these programs, the most important thing for them is to always make sure their study is legally defensible.

Is there anything happening now which is clearly related to the pandemic or the funding that is funneling to cities spurred by it? Do you see more disparity study requests based on this new influx of funds?   

I have been seeing many clients asking about economic equity lately. It is different from the typical DEI offering people think of, but it absolutely relates back to examining if MWBE firms and individuals have equitable treatment when it comes to the economic piece of obtaining these funds. There is many moving parts to many of these programs and we can help clients by focusing on getting engagement from the community. 

We know that MGT is one of only a handful of consultants that provide disparity studies. If I was looking to do a disparity study, why would MGT be the consultant of choice for this offering?   

There are only two truly unique methodologies based upon two different approaches to disparity studies. When we start diving into the nuances of how we do things, MGT allows agencies and municipalities to create a program and aspirational goals based on a very granular commodity code. We are focused on making sure we uncover the specifics of who is doing the work an how, at the most detailed level.  

Why is it important that we use a six-digit level research/identification with commodity codes?  

Legally, we have to have very narrowly tailored programs. You can’t say there’s a problem in professional services and not provide detail. Courts do not like you to use data from one business category to translate it to another to infer there is a problem in another business category. Categories and the specific detail associated with them need to be distinguished so we can not only be defensible in a court but truly understand the environment so our recommended roadmap for change can be most successful.   

You and your team live and breathe disparity studies; what can you tell me about living in that world? 

I am a lawyer and this gives me a thorough understanding of the intersection between the legal and the quantitative aspect of disparity studies. I also have both my bachelors and master’s degrees in economics with a math minor. This combination allows me to translate the legal to the quantitative and determine an approach that includes both.

You just said “quantitative methodology”. Can you describe what that means? 

There are two parts to our methodology, quantitative and qualitative. Simply put, the quantitative is what’s happening with the client’s procurement based on what’s available; what do they buy compared to who is available to bid on these contracts. The qualitative aspect are the “whys” behind the numbers and data.  

What attracted you to disparity studies? Why do you like doing this work and why do you think they’re important?  

I always wanted to have a career in public policy and I somewhat stumble into this career track thanks to colleague, Robert Holloway. I’m a data driven person. I love telling a story. I love the whole economic-equity piece of the stories we tell. I think it’s trickle down (and one of the only times) trickle down economics works. To better a community, you need to empower individuals who own companies and give them the opportunities to improve their lives. Once you do that, you improve not only their lives but also the community as a whole. The impact truly is exponential. With quantitative methodology, numbers don’t lie. To me, these programs can become very political and subjective: people can take their experiences and interpret them in any way they choose. But,  when you show somebody numbers, it’s very hard to misinterpret the story — especially with the methodology we have at MGT. That’s what keeps me going: being able to tell the story backed up with the data. 

Will we see an increase in disparity studies with some of this ARPA money?  

I hope so! The only concern is if people know you can use that money for a disparity study and hopefully, through our discussion today, we’re helping educate and inspire clients that not only can they use APRA funds for disparity studies, their community would benefit greatly if they do!