Princeton adopts plan to support more diverse-owned businesses, broaden pool of University suppliers
As part of ongoing efforts to address systemic racism at Princeton and beyond, the University has adopted a Supplier Diversity Action Plan to broaden the pool of suppliers who work with the University and to support more businesses led by people of color, women, veterans and members of the LGBTQ+ community.
The multi-year plan builds on the existing supplier diversity program in the Office of Finance and Treasury. The University will expand work already underway to diversify the vendors, consultants and professional firms who provide goods and services to Princeton, and will commit to increase spending with these diverse suppliers.
“The Supplier Diversity Plan is driven by our recognition that Princeton can and should assume a larger role in our nation’s pursuit of equity and desire to achieve a more just society,” said Vice President for Finance and Treasurer Jim Matteo. “Building an inclusive campus has many components, including the business and financial relationships with diverse suppliers who are an essential part of our University community.”
Matteo said increasing competition and expanding opportunities for suppliers is mutually beneficial.
“Our commitment is driven by the belief that engaging a diverse supplier base helps foster competition, opportunity and value by broadening the pool of supplier expertise, perspective and capabilities,” he said. “These actions not only strengthen the University but also the communities with whom we do business.”
The Supplier Diversity Plan is one of many recent University efforts to address systemic racism in real and tangible ways. Last summer, President Christopher L. Eisgruber announced a University-wide initiative to address America’s record of structural inequality and racism as well as Princeton’s place in that history.
“As a University, we must examine all aspects of this institution — from our scholarly work to our daily operations — with a critical eye and a bias toward action,” Eisgruber said at the time. “Much of this work is unglamorous, focused not on flashy symbols but on the nuts and bolts of University management.”
Encouraging diverse business partners can address systemic inequities and effect change beyond campus.
“President Eisgruber’s call to action rightly acknowledges that the University’s influence and responsibility to an inclusive community includes the businesses, contractors and suppliers who play a vital role in supporting Princeton’s educational and research missions,” Matteo said.
How departments and employees can support supplier diversity efforts
The University already has a commitment to supplier diversity and works with diverse-owned businesses whose services range from construction to computing. The University defines diverse-owned businesses as those that are at least 51% owned and operated by people of color, women, veterans or members of the LGBTQ+ community.
Golden Crown Contractors, a certified women-owned business, has worked on campus since 2000. They most recently completed a renovation of the historic auditorium-style classroom McCosh 50.
“It is a privilege to work at Princeton with all of their very knowledgeable, friendly and professional staff,” said Christine Luizzia-McGuire, the company’s president. “It is wonderful to come together to create a new office, lab or classroom.”
In recent years, Princeton’s total expenditure on goods and services from diverse-owned businesses has significantly increased from $2.7 million in fiscal year 2015 to $49.6 million in fiscal year 2020.
However, with only 9% of total University purchases coming from diverse suppliers, the new action plan sets a path to do much more.
“A commitment to supplier diversity is the responsibility of every staff member who secures products and services, and who makes purchasing decisions for the University,” said Mohamed Ela, director of procurement services in the Office of the Vice President for Finance and Treasury. “Broadening the supplier pool means better service and value for the University, and supports the University’s overall mission.”
The Supplier Diversity Action Plan outlines short- and long-term goals to increase competition and expand opportunities, and sets benchmarks to measure progress. The plan is centered on three objectives:
- Strengthening the policies, processes and technology that facilitate efficient and equitable procurement of goods and services for the University.
- Fostering greater connection between the University and diverse firms, advocacy organizations and peer institutions who share Princeton’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.
- Supporting the ability of diverse firms to compete more confidently and capably for University business and contracts.
The plan does not dictate who should be hired, but rather gives guidance that departments and offices should use when hiring outside companies. Ela explained that University departments are required to engage in a competitive bid process for all purchases over $10,000, and competitive bids are recommended for purchases or contracts of lesser value.
“Obtaining competitive bids and proposals from multiple suppliers opens the door for prospective firms to register their interest and demonstrate their capability,” Ela said.
The Office of Finance and Treasury is hosting information sessions and trainings for University employees on how to encourage supplier diversity within their own departments. The office also is hiring a new supplier diversity manager to support these efforts on campus and to help build relationships with new business partners.
Deputy Chief Information Officer Carol Kondrach said expanding access and encouraging competition is key to making a significant impact on diversity, equity and inclusion. “In terms of Princeton’s institutional values and leadership, we also have an interest in working with businesses who are similarly committed to diversity and inclusion,” she added.
Laura Carlson, a field manager in the Office of Capital Projects, said exploring new partnerships can be a win-win.
“Reaching out to a wide array of suppliers is a way to get competitive pricing, but also to bring different perspective to campus; different ideas on how to do a task; or different ways to solve the need,” Carlson said. “Diversity can help all of us understand different perspectives and get new ideas instead of repeating the same thing over and over.”
Charlyane Beavers, a senior manager for strategic projects and services in the Office of Information Technology, said she is enthusiastic about the supplier diversity initiative.
“It was time to expand who we do business with and to think differently about where we spend our money,” she said. “Providing more opportunities to underrepresented people and giving more people a seat at the table is how we combat systemic racism and address societal inequities in the long run.”
Beavers is part of the OIT team that works on the Faculty Computing Program with SHI, an IT services and software company based in Somerset, New Jersey. SHI President and CEO Thai Lee said her company “is proud of the small role we play in supporting the IT needs of the members of Princeton University community. Every device SHI sends to Princeton has the potential to end up in the hands of a future Nobel laureate, Fields Medalist or another member of the University community already doing great things.”
Judy Jarvis, director of Wintersession and campus engagement, said employees should be proactive in finding new businesses with whom to work.
“It's crucial that we as University employees make sure we seek out vendors with a range of races, genders, sexualities and other identities,” Jarvis said. “We have significant purchasing power as an employee group. Collectively we can make a difference.”
Jarvis hired the design firm Isometric Studio to create a visual identity, website, online exhibit and more for the new Wintersession program last January. The firm has worked for several departments in recent years, including the Office of the Vice President for Campus Life.
Isometric co-founders Andy Chen and Waqas Jawaid, both Princeton alumni, said the supplier diversity plan is a first step to doing more.
“Justice can only happen if we understand the ways that the playing field is not level and take active steps toward how we can change that condition,” Jawaid said.
Chen and Jawaid said it’s important to acknowledge the experiences and perspectives that diverse suppliers can bring, and they encouraged hiring managers to be flexible and open to new ideas and approaches.
“It really is about expanding the scope of who is considered qualified to work with Princeton,” Chen said. “There are lots of small businesses out there with creative solutions, but they have never worked for a university before. You don’t know what benefit a supplier could bring to Princeton unless you go out to identify and encourage them.”