As a follow-up to a recent survey of 100+ higher education procurement professionals, the Lab conducted a series of focus groups to drill deeper into the survey results. The focus groups across different types of educational institutions revealed several key findings and challenges regarding supplier diversification.

Five Key Findings:

1. Challenges in Finding Qualified Diverse Suppliers: Identifying and engaging with qualified diverse suppliers is a significant challenge across the board. This issue is compounded by inaccurate and insufficient data collection by existing certification systems or tracking platforms, making it hard to measure and promote supplier diversity effectively.

2. Resistance to Change: There’s a noticeable resistance to shifting away from existing vendors, which is partly due to the path-dependent or risk-averse behavior of purchasing decision makers, stemming from the lack of training and awareness about the benefits and capabilities of diverse suppliers. Institutions acknowledge the need for both training and a shift in mindset to encourage the use of diverse suppliers.

3. Training and Development Needs: Respondents stress the importance of training for procurement staff and stakeholders to understand and value the contributions of diverse suppliers. There’s also a need for diverse suppliers to more effectively demonstrate their competitiveness and capabilities.

4. Differences Across Institutions: Public universities, large private universities, and small colleges have varied experiences and challenges with supplier diversity. Public universities seem to be more advanced in their supplier diversity programs compared to private ones and small colleges, which often lack official programs for supplier diversity.

5. Balancing Sustainable Procurement and Supplier Diversity: Sustainability initiatives often overshadow supplier diversity programs, indicating a need for balanced attention to both areas. While both initiatives are socially desirable, they are sometimes internally conflicting because of limited resources.

Across all sessions, there’s a consensus on the need for improved education, training, and policy changes to support and enhance supplier diversity. Institutions recognize the importance of moving beyond traditional procurement practices to embrace more inclusive and diverse supplier networks.

Watch for the complete report on the survey and focus group findings in March.