What is a Disparity Study?


A disparity study analyzes the contracting practices of public and private entities to determine if minority-owned, woman-owned, small, local, and veteran businesses have equal access to public contracting opportunities. In other words, a disparity study determines if an entity has engaged in exclusionary practices in their contracting or procurement of goods and services.


Who commissions disparity studies?

A variety of governmental entities commission disparity studies: cities, counties, states, transportation agencies, utilities, schools, housing authorities, and redevelopment agencies are some examples.


How does a disparity study benefit small business owners?

A disparity study is beneficial to small business owners because it provides an independent review of the participation of all types of business enterprises (minority, women, and veteran-owned; local and small businesses) in a governmental entity’s contracts and subcontracts. The information produced in a disparity study helps to assess how underrepresented business owners bid on contracts and set benchmarks for participation, as well as offers insights into how to improve contracting opportunities for these businesses.


Disparity studies are used to set goals for a variety of contracting programs, such as Minority and Women-owned Business Enterprise (MWBE), Veteran-owned Business Enterprise (VBE), Small Business Enterprise (SBE), and Local Business Enterprise (LBE) programs. These programs increase access to contracting for small businesses.


Small businesses can also participate in a disparity study by sharing their experiences about contracting through in-depth interviews and surveys. All information is kept anonymous and confidential. The in-depth interviews are used for the anecdotal analysis portion of the disparity study, which is used in concert with statistical data to determine the existence of disparity in contracting. The interviews also provide a rich resource for formulating recommendations to increasing minority, women, and small business contracting.

Mason Tillman & Disparity Studies

Mason Tillman was established in 1978 in Oakland, California, by Dr. Eleanor Ramsey, an anthropologist and trained researcher. The firm first worked with transportation agencies nationwide to improve their contracting with minority businesses. After Croson was decided, Dr. Ramsey turned her skills to performing the statistical and anecdotal research required by the Supreme Court decision to complete a disparity study.


In 1990, Maricopa County, Arizona, commissioned Mason Tillman to analyze its contracting practices to determine the level of utilization of minority and women-owned businesses.


Dr. Ramsey set the national standard for anecdotal accounts as a valid and reliable means of collecting the experiences of companies in a jurisdiction’s market area, just as they are in anthropological research.

Since 1990, Mason Tillman has performed 146 disparity studies, which is 30% of all disparity studies commissioned. Mason Tillman has also earned the unique distinction of having our constitutionally sound methodology reviewed in two federal circuit courts without a legal challenge.

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