William Choi, Director of Supplier Diversity for the City University of New York, works closely with industry partners to mentor diverse suppliers and help enhance their capabilities.

Nov 28 2022

Business Diversity Programs Connect Universities with Communities

Universities are improving diversity within their IT supply chains, connecting vendors with resources, and better reflecting their local communities and student populations.

When William Choi stepped into his role as director of supplier diversity at the City University of New York in 2015, he was the first person to hold that title.

“At the time, the university wanted to be a better steward of tax support and student tuition dollars, and officials realized that a strong commitment was needed,” says Choi. “The university needed to show the diverse vendor community that CUNY was open for business.”

The university is now working toward ambitious supplier diversity targets, aiming to do 30 percent of its business with state-certified minority and women-owned businesses, and 6 percent with service-disabled veteran-owned businesses.

“We’ve made great strides in engaging diverse suppliers,” Choi says. “Before this program formally started, the university was averaging under a half million dollars in spending with diverse suppliers. Today, that’s grown to more than $40 million. We look at it as, great, we’ve gotten here, and now we need to do even more.”

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CUNY is one of many universities that have embraced supplier diversity programs in recent years — a move that is sorely needed, says Tina Andrews, founder and managing director for the consulting firm Supplier Diversity Experts.

“In my 28 years of supplier diversity experience, educational institutions’ main focus has been on diversifying their faculty, and they also focus on the diversification of their student populations,” Andrews says. “However, what many do not understand is that supplier diversity is just as important — and, in some instances, even more important when it comes to growing your local economy. These partnerships can strengthen brand recognition, community outreach, company culture and marketing efforts.”

Supplier Diversity Programs Help Suppliers Grow

Diverse suppliers face a number of hurdles as they seek to serve the higher education sector, Choi notes. For one, individual departments and locations handle their own procurement at many universities (CUNY has 25 campuses), making it difficult for buyers to share best practices.

Also, higher education customers often place extremely large orders, which can create financing challenges for diverse suppliers, many of which are small businesses. Choi notes that CUNY works with CDW to provide financing options for diverse suppliers, expanding the number of projects that those vendors can bid on.

LEARN MORE: How business diversity programs create social and financial benefits.

“We’re buying 30,000 laptops at a time,” Choi says. “And our individual colleges are buying three or five devices every single day, for every department. It’s a lot to take in at once.” Having a global partner is key, he says, because they can help smaller vendors navigate the higher education environment and work with large institutions like CUNY.

In 2021, CUNY and CDW launched a mentorship program for diverse IT suppliers designed to enhance suppliers’ capabilities, assist in meeting development goals, and improve their ability to compete for and win contracts. Diverse suppliers also receive access to virtual training sessions on topics such as warehouse operations, results-driven sales and marketing, financial acumen and how to respond to requests for proposals.

Vicki Daniels
We want to make sure that, as students walk through the campus, they’re seeing suppliers and contractors who represent them and the communities in which they live.”

Vicki Daniels Chief Supplier Diversity Officer, University of Delaware

CUNY’s goal, Choi says, is to not only increase its business with diverse suppliers but also help those vendors grow their business outside of their relationship with the university.

“It’s so important to focus not only on our needs but also on how these diverse businesses can use their learning to grow outside our system,” he says. “There are hundreds of universities across the nation. We want to help these diverse suppliers get new business with other universities as well.”

READ MORE: How ServiceNow can help with eprocurement in higher ed.

Supplier Diversity Programs Support the Surrounding Communities

Terrie Daniel, assistant vice president for supplier diversity at the University of South Florida, sees it as the university’s responsibility to support diverse businesses in its own backyard.

“USF is one of the largest economic drivers in the Tampa Bay region, and we have a responsibility to support our small and diverse business community,” Daniel says. “As we look at the dollars we’re spending, it’s significant. We have a lot of major construction projects coming up, including a new football stadium. We want our supply chain to better reflect the demographics of our community.”

Carl Smith, assistant director for vendor relations at USF, says that the university has intentionally engaged with diverse suppliers on recent major IT initiatives.

“IT works in close collaboration with the Office of Supplier Diversity, which assists in making diverse vendor connections,” Smith says.

All of the university’s Cisco hardware and maintenance is sourced through a diverse vendor, and USF has ordered approximately $3.8 million in Cisco products over the past year. The IT department is in the process of releasing an invitation to negotiate for a low-voltage cabling contract that will be exclusive to diverse vendors. A separate invitation to negotiate for an audiovisual equipment and installation contract will require any nondiverse vendors to use diverse vendors for a percentage of installation services.

Terrie Daniel

At the University of South Florida, Terrie Daniel, Assistant Vice President for Supplier Diversity, wants the university’s supply chain to accurately represent the community’s demographics. Photography by Edward Linsmier. 

After Daniel assumed her role at the university in 2017, USF increased its spending with diverse suppliers by $10 million within one year. When she started her job, around 5 percent of the university’s spending was with diverse suppliers. That number is now 13 percent.

Like CUNY, USF has a mentorship program for diverse suppliers. The 10-week program focuses on construction, but it engages suppliers that touch every aspect of building projects, including IT. Daniel says it’s important to not only work with diverse vendors but also promote supplier diversity to stakeholders within the institution itself, noting that her office conducts internal marketing through events like lunch-and-learn workshops.

“We really want to gain that buy-in,” Daniel says. “These types of programs hinge on the support of senior leadership. I’m so pleased to have that support from our president and our board of trustees. It makes things much more effective when you have that support from the top.”

University of Delaware Program Helps Develop Partnerships

The University of Delaware started its supplier diversity program earlier this year.

“We really want to broaden the scope of working with diverse businesses,” says Chief Supplier Diversity Officer Vicki Daniels. “Our community is diverse, the university is diverse, the state is diverse, and we want to make sure that the firms we work with look the same. We want to make sure that, as students walk through the campus, they’re seeing suppliers and contractors who represent them and the communities in which they live.”

Daniels sees her department as a bridge to opportunities for diverse suppliers. “The marketplace is huge,” she says. “I’m there as a resource to help them — it’s networking, it’s partnerships, it’s outreach.”


The percentage of organizations that say alignment with their organizational culture and workforce inclusiveness is a primary driver of their supplier diversity programs

Source: supplier.io, “2021 State of Supplier Diversity,” November 2021

In August, the university held a one-day summit for diverse suppliers, attracting vendors from throughout Delaware, as well as Maryland, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. At the event, attendees learned about upcoming capital projects at the university, as well as partnership opportunities to help them successfully compete for contracts.

“One of our goals is to develop partnerships so that we’re helping suppliers and educating them,” says Daniels. “We’re not just giving them an opportunity to work with the University of Delaware, but also helping them develop so they can work with any company in our state. It’s about true economic development. We want them to be prepared to do the work, no matter where it is.”

In addition to being a potentially lucrative source of contract work for diverse suppliers, Daniels notes, the university is a fount of knowledge, home to some of the “greatest minds” in the state.

“If I were a supplier, I would be really excited about what the university could help me do,” Daniels says. “You have programs that can help, you have graduate students, you have faculty, you have our entrepreneurship program. That’s all here at your fingertips. If I were a small business, I would want the contract, but that’s a one-time thing. I would also want the knowledge to help me grow. That’s more sustainable, to me, than a one-time contract. The university is a building block for so much more.”

Photography by Guerin Blask

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