To get more insight from speakers at our event, click here.
There have been a number of brother acts in the 220-year history of Congress, but never sisters—that is, until the Sanchez sisters swept into Washington, D.C., and took their rightful place at the table.
Democrat Loretta Sanchez, who has been serving her Orange County, Calif., congressional district since 1996, and her sister, Linda, who was sworn in in 2003, are the first and only pair of sisters to ever serve simultaneously in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Loretta Sanchez, who discussed being a Latina in Congress, was one of the featured speakers at DiversityInc’s diversity-management conference on March 10 at the Park Hyatt in Washington, D.C. She talked about the many challenges and opportunities small businesses, minority-owned businesses and women-owned businesses face when doing business with the federal government.
DiversityInc’s next event in Washington, D.C., will be on Nov. 8–9 and will offer federal agencies tips on evolving their diversity-management strategies. For information, click here. For information on the DiversityInc Top Federal Agencies for Diversity, announced at the Nov. 9 event, click here.
Here are some highlights from Sanchez’s talk:
On the importance of diversity:
“Diversity no longer just means the African-American community or the Mexican-American community. There is so much diversity going on in our nation and it is imperative for America to have leadership that includes all of these new communities at the decision-making table. We are what actually makes America strong, and in order for America to compete and to hold its economic place in the world—more importantly, its way of life, its value system—it’s important for all of us to participate and for these communities to be at the table, politically, economically, socially and spiritually.
“It’s also important that we ask for that place at the table because … no one ever sets the table for you. But if we demand a place, we also have to step up to the responsibility that we have to be there. We must seek that place and we must get there. We owe it to a great America.”
On her mother, Maria, whom Sanchez credits for her early start in politics:
“Her influence is incredibly significant. My mother always taught us to do our own thing but then figure out how you are going to put it back into the community, to your state, to your country. That is why she is the only woman in United States history to have two daughters in the United States Congress.”
On her dual roles as the ranking female member on the House Armed Services Committee and vice chair of the Homeland Security Committee:
“The largest pot of money here in Washington, D.C., is given to defense. And now there is a competing interest in the marketplace—homeland security—because all of a sudden people aren’t just worried about whether we are fighting a war somewhere. Now, they are worried about what happens at home and what happens to Americans when they travel around the world. So, this homeland security can and may, if we don’t use the right strategy, become just as potent a place for us to drop money into. I am grappling with what do we do about defense to ensure that it’s leaner and smarter. There is money there and it is being spent on programs and projects … and everybody wants to know, ‘How do I get a piece of that?’ I know because they come to my door all the time. We spend one-eighth of the money in the Department of Homeland Security compared to Defense. But like I said, it has the potential to grow.”
On making sure small businesses, minority-owned businesses and women-owned businesses have equal access to federal money and contracts:
“Everyone needs to have access to that piece of the pie. I will start with that as a given. All communities pay taxes. All communities are a social piece of our fiber and nation. All these communities need to have access, need to have opportunity, need to know and believe that they will have a fair playing field, to get to those monies. It’s not a level playing field. I’d like to think it is. As a congresswoman, I’d like to think it is, but it’s not. When we have money and goals for small businesses, for women-owned businesses, for disadvantaged businesses, and the money is not getting there and contracts are not getting there, then there is something wrong with the system. When I have somebody from the Department of Defense standing in front of me and I have to ask them how in the world they can classify AT&T as a small business, there’s a problem. That’s happened. And that’s a scary thing.”
On large companies muscling out smaller companies for federal dollars and contracts:
“I’ve been at this for 14 years … Goals get pushed from the top down. That is where it comes from. And unfortunately, in the last administration, what I saw was that small companies weren’t being paid attention to. In fact small and medium-sized businesses that already had contracts were being pushed out because everything was being bundled to a larger company, bundled to a company that could get a bond that was bigger.
“I know times are tough and the margins are thin and the more you bring in-house, the better. But that is not what this is about. I’m here to tell you we are a better country when we do what the intent is. The intent is that everyone gets to participate. I don’t want to live in a country where the top 5 percent of the population has all the wealth and 95 percent of us have no money. If I wanted that, I would go to my mother’s home country in Mexico. I want to live in the United States, where kids grow up thinking there is plenty of opportunity out there, where we foster the entrepreneurial spirit, where we truly believe that capitalism is good.
“It’s hard. It’s hard to take things that are going to people who assume it’s always going to go to them and give it to other people. It’s not easy. You get married and the guy who is used to getting his paycheck and spending it on himself and now, you have to teach him that it’s yours. It’s not easy. You just have to have a little training course. And that is what we are trying to do in Congress.”
On taking the first step:
“We need to educate and browbeat larger companies to understand the value of innovation and partnership [with smaller companies]. Some of them come along once in a while. The place where we will make a difference is in new innovation. Given that I am on two committees that do a lot of purchasing of new innovation, I would hope you would come and visit my office. If you have technologies we can use or services we can use, we are very interested in opening up these opportunities. One of the first steps is to come talk to us, so as we are talking to the administration, we can feed them new information, new technologies and new firms.”