This year’s National Association of Educational Procurement (NAEP) New England Conference took place in Newport, RI, from October 22 – 25, 2023. The conference brought together not only higher education procurement professionals in the New England region through 17 sessions and network events but also suppliers through Vendor Expo. Topics of sessions spanned from supplier relationship management to contract management to project management.

As a presenter for the session on “Identifying & Sharing the Best Practices of Supplier Diversity in Higher Education” and an academic researcher who studies the supplier diversity issue in higher education, I share some of my reflections centered on supplier diversity. While there were a few sessions related to supplier diversity such as The Value of Certification and Cultivating Success through Supplier Diversity: A Stakeholder Centric Approach, this blog focuses on Bridgewater State University’s and our own presentations.

Monday’s session was started by Jennifer Pacheco and Nadine Rodriquez at Bridgewater State University, with a topic on “How to Design an SDEI Program on Your Campus.” They shared their experiences in formulating and implementing a Supplier Diversity Equity & Inclusion (SDEI) program with attendees who are interested in initiating their own supplier diversity program. One of the impressive things they presented was the significance of their diverse spend. According to their preliminary analysis of FY 2021 spend data (July 1, 2021 – June 30, 2022), they spent $10.4 million (more than 17%) on diverse suppliers out of $59.2 million of total managed spend. In terms of the number of invoice and pro-card transactions, small, women-owned, minority-owned, and veteran-owned businesses accounted for 301, 59, 27, and 16, respectively, in their diverse spend.

They also talked about their benchmarkable sourcing goals and practices. For procurements below $10,000, doing business with a certified diverse or small local business is encouraged. For procurements between $10,000 and $50,000, at least one out of three required quotes must come from a certified diverse or small local business. For procurements over $50,000,

  • Design and construction: 4.2% for minority-owned businesses and 8.8% for women-owned businesses
  • Request for proposals: set 5% weighted criteria for DEI participation
  • Request for bids: provide price and quality are equal, award preference shall be made to the diverse supplier or small local business.

Our presentation was carried out by Ali Reza Raisi and me on Tuesday, with approximately 50 – 60 attendees. We shared research findings, conducted by Northeastern University’s Lab for Inclusive Entrepreneurship, where we overviewed the supplier diversity landscape based on the survey of 101 higher education procurement professionals. The bullet points below summarize the primary findings:

  • Procurement professionals are balanced between gender (46% Male and 54% Female), but not across races/ethnicities (69% White/Caucasian, 14% Black/African American, 9% Hispanic/Latino, 5% Asian/Pacific Islander, and 3% Multi/Bi-racial)
  • Procurements are decentralized (40% Decentralized plus 17% Very decentralized) and often outsourced (58% relying sometimes on purchasing coop/consortium, 29% relying very often, and 2% relying always)
  • Many institutions are committed to supplier diversity (50% Committed plus 24% Strongly committed) but are still at the stage of planning or early implementation (31% New program and 24% No program but track)
  • Major challenges to the supplier diversity program implementation include: 1) Lack of adequate supplier diversity staff, 2) Finding qualified diverse suppliers, 3) Need for an adequate budget, 4) Including supplier diversity as a standard sourcing practice, and 5) Communicating how to best to utilize procurement team resources
  • Effective methods to increase diverse suppliers include: 1) A central point of contact in the procurement organization, 2) Developing and nurturing relationships with diverse suppliers, 3) Outreach events between diverse suppliers and internal stakeholders, 4) Networking with organizations that promote supplier diversity, and 5) Internal database of certified diverse suppliers.

The conference offered an amazing opportunity for us to disseminate our research findings, receive feedback, learn more about higher education procurement, and network with the community of practice and subject matter experts, particularly in the New England context. I am looking forward to attending next year’s conference which is supposed to take place in Framingham, Massachusetts.