Supplier Diversity Initiative outreach focuses on future

When started in 1999, the Office of Supplier Diversity had a goal of improving relations and business opportunities with minority- and women-owned firms — construction and other.

Since the inception of the office, under the direction of Sandra Marks, the University has spent a total of $85 million with minority-owned firms and $77 million with women-owned firms.

In fiscal year 2005, the University’s direct spending with minority- and women-owned firms totaled $27.9 million. Nearly three-quarters — 73 percent — was spent with pre-qualified minority- and women-owned business enterprise construction firms, and 9 percent was spent with minority preferred suppliers.

“The University continues its outreach effort to foster relationships with minority and women suppliers in both the construction and nonconstruction areas that bring value to the University and the community,” Marks said. “All of our suppliers play an in-tegral role as they assist us in bringing in new firms and supporting our community through their own supplier diversity initiatives.”

In January, Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton reaffirmed the University’s approach to diversity, saying in part, “We have resolved to dedicate the resources, creativity and hard work needed to become a leader in strengthening diversity and improving gender balance. This is a long-term effort with no simple or easy paths to leadership.

“But it is my hope that a look back 10 years from now will see the 2005-06 academic year as the beginning of a new era.”

With that in mind, he appointed Leah Merrifield as special assistant to the chancellor for diversity initiatives. While her role encompasses many aspects of the University, she also has an eye on the Supplier Diversity Initiative.

“The Supplier Diversity Initiative continues to play an important role in Washington University’s diversity and inclusion ef-forts,” Merrifield said. “The programs and activities of the SDI will definitely assist us as the University works to further enhance the diversity of our faculty and administrative staff.”

Further goals of the office — both short- and long-term — include continuing to support the diversity programs in St. Louis developed in part for the University’s benefit. These include the St. Louis Business Diversity Initiative; the St. Louis Minority Business Council; the Associated General Contractor’s (AGC) Stempel Plan Mentoring Program; the St. Louis Council of Construction Consumers’ Diversity Committee; the AGC Construction Career Center; and the Association for Construction Career Educations and Support Services.

Additionally, the Office of Supplier Diversity will continue to:

• Build its contractor and supplier relationships with increased emphasis on diversity as a “natural” way of doing business;

• Partner with community efforts to offer formal training programs for senior management and those responsible for supplier diversity program implementation; and

• Continue its commitment to offer formal educational programs needed to build the capacity of disadvantaged businesses in St. Louis and the availability of a skilled, diverse work force.

“As a consultant to the University, I continue to advocate for the development of minority businesses and a diverse work force in the St. Louis region,” Marks said. “As we enter the second half of this decade, it is crucial that we work together to encourage entrepreneurship and remove any barriers that will prevent further progress in hiring, retaining and promoting diverse employees.

“The task is not an easy one, but a necessary one to strengthen our region.”

For more information about the Supplier Diversity Initiative, go online to or call 935-7948.