When Wyntress Ware first arrived in Fort Worth, she was the only Black woman in her nursing program. It was then, and throughout the rest of her life, she learned the importance of a seat at the table.
Throughout her 40-year career, Ware has championed the inclusion of minority and women-owned professionals at the highest levels of business. As she retires, she reflects on how much more remains to be done.
“Fort Worth has a lot of work to do,” she said.
She has seen the city stall and fails to make meaningful progress in its equity programs. The number of contracts the city has with minority and women-owned businesses hasn’t seen a meaningful increase in 20 years.
Occupation: Retired as head of Ware & Associates public relations firm
Family: Husband Theodis Ware and daughter Shannon Ware-Stegall. Shannon has two children, SaRae and Jr Stegall
Education: Ware studied at Lamar University before transferring to the now-closed Fort Worth-based St. Joseph School of Nursing. She then received a bachelor of science degree in nursing from the University of Texas at Arlington
Career Highlights: She did a $2 billion project with DFW Airport and was able to include $500 million in contracts with minority- and women-owned businesses.
That’s why Christina Brooks was hired. The chief equity officer joined the city in 2020 after recommendations from the city’s race and culture task force. In her role, Brooks promises a recommitment to revitalize the city’s Business Equity programs.
Wyntress Ware’s career began as a nurse at the now-closed Saint Joseph Hospital. She founded successful psychiatry programs but noticed the lack of diversity at high levels of the hospital.
“I had seen physicians, born and raised here, return to Fort Worth and apply to become a part of the medical industry, but they wouldn’t be recommended — and many of them left,” Ware said.
So she went to Texas Health Resources. She set to work convincing its leaders that they needed to prioritize diversity within their ranks to be successful. They were skeptical.
She told them, “I’ve been there… that’s really a big need.” They responded, ‘We’re not ready to do that.’ “
A year after Ware first approached Texas Health Resources, president Ron Smith tried to do business with the city. Fort Worth asked to see the hospital system’s minority and women business program, but they didn’t have one.
So, they called upon the newly created Ware & Associates. It was the beginning of Ware’s public relations firm that would go on to have clients like DFW Airport and Tarrant County Community College District.
Texas Health Resources became Ware’s first client. From there, she helped companies around Fort Worth and Dallas establish a plan to integrate diverse partnerships into their business plan.
The proof is in the profits. When Ware joined Texas Health Resources, she said, the company was doing $50,000 in business with minorities and women. By the fourth year of Ware’s six-year program, Texas Health Resources was doing $17 million.
“Overnight, within four or five years, they were the hospital that you could look toward for really increasing the amount of diversity in Texas,” Ware said.
Before the financial evidence was clear, Ware said, many in the business community were skeptical of the value in creating more opportunities for women and minorities to advance.
“They were guarded and didn’t really want to make big moves,” Ware said.
So Ware went first, along with Texas Health Resources, and took steps to attract diverse talent, by ensuring that every project proposal came through her office, which ensured it had minority businesses attached to it.
Then, they told everyone about what they were doing through presentations and meetings all over the community.
She spread the message that “you need to look at the long-term impact of having more women and minorities if you’re planning to stay in business,” Ware said.
Benjamin Robertson is now the director of business development at the firm. The company continually prioritizes working with minority-owned companies because that same courtesy was extended to it in the 90s when Avila took over, Robertson said..
“The industry at large has to continually mentor and lift each other up so that we can all be better for it,” Robertson said.
Byrne began working with Ware in the early 2000s to build the company’s connections in the minority- and women-owned business community. The diversity established early on continues to impact Byrne for the better.
“We can help people figure out where their strengths are,” Robertson said. “And then we can grow you and turn you into an awesome entity in this market, that provides a better end product for our community.”
Ware said it takes a “thread” of commitment running through an entire community to effectively mentor, develop and support minority- and women-owned businesses to succeed. Everyone from city leaders to community members have to recognize the value of creating opportunities for young businesses to grow.
Recently, in Fort Worth Ware has seen growth “begin to stop.”
Because of the growth in Fort Worth, businesses have plenty of room to expand. Robertson estimates there will be billions of dollars in potential business coming to Fort Worth in construction alone in the next few years.
Ware is concerned that the recent trend will mean that growth won’t include a boon for minority- and women-owned businesses.
“The city, and members that are doing extremely well in the city, have not created opportunities for ethnic minorities to participate in projects that are coming in,” Ware said.
Much of Ware’s work involved getting people of color to the negotiating table to participate in deals from the beginning. This ensures that people of color will be taken into consideration from the start, instead of three years into the planning process.
The result is more contracts and more high-value projects for minority-owned contractors and subcontractors.
“You don’t see people of color at the table when the real deals are cut. You see them brought in to maybe put in a concession, but they’re not in on the ground floor,” Ware said.
Some of the biggest challenges minority and women owners businesses face are the initial hurdles to get started. Access to capital and getting approved for bank loans are often a challenge for those lacking institutional wealth.
This inequity was intensified by the pandemic when minority-owned businesses didn’t have deep pockets to stay afloat.
“We shouldn’t assume that all business owners own a computer because they don’t,” Anette Landeros, president of the Fort Worth Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said. “We found many that didn’t.”
Investments in infrastructure and community wellness are also important to attract young talent to Fort Worth.
“If you check with individuals whose kids have gone off to college,” Ware said, “they usually go to another city, where things are more equitable, where the communities have said we’re open and we’re looking. … They’re not returning to Fort Worth.”
According to Dee Jennings, the president of the Fort Worth Metropolitan Black Chamber of Commerce, the city has internal hindrances that keep black-owned businesses from winning contracts with the city. (The Fort Worth Report extends its condolences to the family and friends of Jennings, who died a few days after giving this interview.)
For example, the city had no African American prime contractors. A prime contractor works directly with the city. Not having that African American representation makes it harder to reach out to other Black-owned businesses.
Additionally, obtaining permits and contracts with the city is often tedious and intimidating for young businesses owners. The various chambers try to work together to help guide firms through the process.
“The African American percentage of contracts was not where it needed to be,” Jennings said. “So the issue is: How do you adjust your programming at the city to have a different outcome?”
The city found glaring underutilization of minority- and women-owned businesses in its periodic disparity studies. In November of 2020, the council approved an ordinance aimed at remedying the inequities that put minority businesses at a disadvantage.
“We haven’t been doing a great job,” Brooks, the city equity officer, said. “We tried to change some things and really take advantage of opportunities that maybe we hadn’t thought about before to help build capacity for those businesses.”
Main features of 2020 city diversity ordinance:
- Does away with language that allows only business equity firms to compete for contracts with the city worth under $100,000
- Asks city staff to find challenges facing minority- and women-owned businesses and discuss them with city planners before a bid is advertised to prevent barriers
- Creates mentor-protege programs to create connections between contractors and minority/women-owned businesses
Parts of the new ordinance address the scenario Ware described of minority-owned businesses being brought on to projects as an afterthought.
“Now they have the opportunity to compete for prime opportunities where they can not only perform at the prime level they can bring in other business equity firms to subcontract,” Brooks said.
Brooks and her diversity and equity team also plan on taking the opportunity provided by additional federal funds via the American Rescue Plan Act. The goal is to create a sustainable model, based on a similar program established in Boston, to provide capital for minority- and women-owned businesses.
New program would help businesses set up shop
Ideally, it would be self-sustaining and help minority- and women-owned businesses break into a new industry. Federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act would kickstart the process.
The city starts the fund with federal money.
Investors see they can make money too and add money to the fund.
Businesses run by women and people of color apply for and receive money from the fund.
The money works like a loan. When businesses pay it back, investors get the interest.
Note: Some loans may be zero interest.
Source: City of Fort Worth
Alexis Allison/Fort Worth Report
“You take funds to set up these networks that would then become kind of self-replicating,” Brooks explained.
A similar program being established in Fort Worth would address access to capital, a chief concern among minority- and women-owned businesses trying to break into a new industry, Landeros said.
Along with the city’s new ordinance, Brooks said, collaboration is key to establishing long-lasting relationships with the upcoming businesses. She said she has brought the various chambers and professional organizations together to find new ways to get the highest amount of participation from diverse applicants.
“We’re looking at language, to make sure that it isn’t presenting an unnecessary barrier to encouraging new participants, and new firms, into the bid process,” Brooks said.
There’s a wealth of knowledge available to the upcoming class of business leaders, Ware said.
“I’m excited about the youth. … But I think we have some experiences from the old school that we would really enjoy sharing with them,” Ware said. “What we did in the past may reflect a bit on what we do in the future.”
Fort Worth is not the same city Ware arrived in. She said it took leadership from the city, willingness from business leaders, community support, and her to move the needle toward increasing diversity in Fort Worth. She’s frustrated that as she retires she can see the city sliding backward into complacency.
“We did a lot of work during that time, and we cried a whole lot. There were a lot of people who had to make a decision to change how they are operating,” she said. “And I think that’s all that has to happen now.”
Rachel Behrndt is a reporting fellow for the Fort Worth Report. Her position is supported by grants from the Amon G. Carter and Sid W. Richardson foundations. Contact her at email@example.com or via Twitter. Texas Health Resources is donor for the Fort Worth Report. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.