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EDUCAUSE 2023: Higher Ed Supplier Diversity Programs Create Community Change

Procuring technology from small and diverse businesses helps universities meet DEI goals while bolstering the local economy.

CDW Expert CDW Expert

In a session at the EDUCAUSE 2023 conference in Chicago, supplier diversity experts from CDW spoke on a panel with procurement leaders from the University of Massachusetts to explain why intentionally purchasing technology from local, small and diverse businesses should be a priority for higher education institutions.

“You can’t just count the spend,” said Kristin Malek, global director of business diversity for CDW. “You need to make the spend count.”

CDW works with higher education institutions that have a mission of promoting diversity, equity and inclusion within their supply chains and prioritizing a certain percentage of technology spending toward diverse businesses, including those owned by minorities, women and veterans.

Beyond allocating budget toward these businesses, CDW has a goal of increasing digital literacy and digital equity in the communities where these businesses are located. CDW also considers the entire procurement chain, from job creation to delivery.

“We’re working on creating meaningful jobs,” Malek said. “No longer are we just concerned about the end-user experience or how fast it got to you. What’s being considered is the entire route supply chain. Where was it made? What were the factory conditions? What were those employees’ experiences? What were the port workers’ experiences? Were they paid fair wages? That is how we’re creating an ecosystem of equitable circumstance through procurement in a meaningful way.”

University of Massachusetts Partners with CDW on Supplier Diversity Initiatives

The University of Massachusetts launched a shared services model in 2020 in an effort to conduct business better, faster and more cost-effectively while remaining focused on social targets that matched the university’s values, said David Cho, chief procurement officer for UMass.

“We started off with technology because tech always has opportunities to do more for less,” he said. “We had great leaders on the campuses and CIOs who were willing to take a calculated risk.”

Because the university was working with 1,600 technology providers, Cho said, it opted for a value-added reseller model to help consolidate some partnerships.

CDW “responded exceptionally well,” he said. “They tightened their margins, they added more value into the VAR model, focusing on investments, prior maintenance coverage, prior warranties. They also made a commitment to ensuring that we focus on businesses that are from traditionally underrepresented communities, and the supplier diversity requirements in this robust process were very defined. CDW went above and beyond.”

The proof is in the numbers, Cho said: From 2022 to 2023, UMass had 152 percent growth in Tier 2 technology spending with diverse suppliers, totaling $1.9 million so far in 2023. In five years, the university is poised to hit its goal of 20 percent of technology spending going to diverse businesses.

Getting all university stakeholders on board with a supplier diversity initiative is the key to success, said Amanda Onwuka, director of service and quality for UMass. The first step the university took was to examine its data for insights on where money was being spent. The insights helped spark discussions among stakeholders across campus.

The data also provided visibility into who the university was spending its money with.

“We have six different institutions with different demographics,” Onwuka said. “UMass Amherst has a huge Latin American population. UMass Boston has a huge African American population. If we want to buy local, how is that money being spent?”

Suppliers should also reflect the campus community, Onwuka said.

“Supplier diversity is key for minority communities,” she said. “It increases money, equity, engagement, growth. This is also what our students want. Our students want the suppliers we buy from to reflect them.”

Best Practices for Long-Term Supplier Diversity Sustainability

Michael Durand, CDW’s director of sales for higher education, said there are a few pillars in creating a long-term, sustainable supplier diversity program, starting from the top down.

“Leadership commitment is tremendously important to instill any sort of change in any institution in any organization,” he said. “Without having that leadership buy-in, it’s very difficult for others to continue to push and evangelize that message.”

Universities with DEI task forces and initiatives in place often overlook the role procurement can play.

“A lot of organizations have dedicated focus and personnel that are focused on DEI, but that doesn’t always translate into procurement strategies and impact on other parts of the organization,” Durand said. “Having a champion or an advocate, someone who’s specifically focused on driving that change on the procurement side, is critically important.”

When Cho presented the initiative to UMass leadership, he came equipped with evidence and a strategy for meeting the 20 percent goal.

“I liked the accountability,” he said. “I liked working with folks who are willing to take a calculated risk and cash in some of the institutional equity that they’ve built up. We have to be really good at selling internally. If we can explain it to them and provide the evidence associated with these programs, the leadership buy-in comes pretty quickly.”

Universities should set clear goals and metrics and hold themselves accountable to meet expectations on executing their vision. The 20 percent goal at UMass, for example, is intentional and requires effort to engage with partners. In some cases, certain partners or manufacturers do not allow organizations to do business with diverse suppliers based on licensing and user agreements, Durand said.

“That just makes our focus even more intentional on how we’re going to get to 20 percent, understanding that part of the market is not even addressable for diverse suppliers,” he said. “We continue to improve and build on that, and that’s part of the sustainability over time as we continue to look at modernizing and growing that footprint as we move forward.”

To that end, CDW works with both manufacturers and suppliers to foster these relationships. It also mentors diverse suppliers to help set them up for success.

“We can’t have supplier diversity without diverse suppliers,” Malek said. “We have to create mentor programs and coach and train the diverse supply chain. This is working side by side and collaboratively for long-term success. So, the diverse suppliers that are part of CDW’s supply chain, we have a responsibility to coach, train, help them get certified, help them meet new original equipment manufacturers so they can continue to win business — not just with us but wherever their business goals lie.”

Story by Amy McIntosh, the managing editor of EdTech: Focus on Higher Education.