- Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
- Our City/Our Campus
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The University of Pittsburgh is an economic engine in the commonwealth, generating a $4.2 billion impact in Pennsylvania each year. While this is great news for communities across the state, Pitt is doing even more by committing to address racial disparities and economic inequities as well.
At the helm of this effort is Jennifer Barnes, supplier diversity and sustainability coordinator in purchasing services at Pitt.
In recent years, Barnes and Pitt’s strategic sourcing and purchasing services teams have reviewed the University’s purchasing history with an eye toward understanding “where our money goes and what kind of suppliers we utilize to benchmark our partnerships and ensure we’re engaging diverse suppliers fairly,” she said.
This information, paired with city, county, state and federal census data pulled from the past decade, indicates that Pitt can play a powerful role in bolstering equity in economic opportunity locally, regionally and statewide.
Barnes collaborates with leaders around the University to establish institution-wide spending goals to increase the number of diverse vendors that Pitt partners with for everything from office supplies to food services. Diversity in this case includes both racial and gender minorities.
“Pitt already had a goal of 10 percent diverse, non-construction spend, but we have exceeded that goal for the past three fiscal years, so it was time to update it with a new goal of 15 percent by 2025,” said Barnes, who joined Pitt in 2019. “Also, for the first time, we set a goal for spending with Black-owned businesses. We know that the University spends an average of 2.5 percent of our eligible non-construction spend with Black-owned companies. Through analysis and work with stakeholders, we created a plan to establish a goal of 5.5 percent by 2025.”
The ultimate aim, also embedded in the Plan for Pitt, is to strengthen the University’s position as an anchor institution that benefits economies across the state. Fulfilling this charge requires Pitt to leverage its deep well of expertise to bolster economic growth and expand pathways for residents and business owners who have historically been disconnected from such opportunities.
“One of our largest minority-owned suppliers is a Black-owned company called SUPRA Office Solutions,” said Barnes. “They are our office supply company based in Philadelphia, and they have a partnership with Office Depot. They’ve been able to expand their company and break ground on a brand-new office space due in part to their contract with the University. They always tell us that the impact of Pitt and the Pitt name has been a game-changer for their business, and we’re delighted with that.”
Other key diverse partners include architectural firm Moody Nolan, management consulting firm Brailsford & Dunlavey and services provider World Wide Technologies. A few key diverse partners located in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County include graphic design firm Zoltun Studios and special linens and laundering services provider Affordable Linens and Movin’ on Up Laundry Services, which works closely with Pitt Catering Co. and the University's food services company.
“Working with Pitt has provided my business the opportunity and credibility to demonstrate scale at a higher level,” said Sean Lazar, owner of the linen service. “I am certain that doing business with Pitt will allow me to grow my revenue and hire more people from the community.”
Barnes noted that the University — effectively a “small city” within Pittsburgh — also actively analyzes current diverse spending and new areas where purchases aren’t currently made with diverse suppliers but could be.
“Representation of diverse businesses within large anchors such as universities and hospitals doesn’t always represent the people who live in metropolitan areas,” said Barnes. “Pittsburgh is no exception.”
Aligning Pitt’s spending with Pittsburgh’s demographics is ongoing work. Barnes and her team continue to look for diverse companies to invest in — including in areas where the University already has existing ties, such as the city’s historically Black communities like the Hill District, Homewood and Hazelwood neighborhoods.
“We see the impact of our direct investment through employment and business growth, changes like adding new employees or moving to larger office spaces,” Barnes said. “Unlike when a multinational or even national company comes in, it’s a more immediate shift.”
Sustainability topics are at the center of the diverse supplier initiative as well, with each new request aligning with Pitt’s Climate Action Plan.
“We want to make sure that any new supplier agreements reflect those goals as well,” said Barnes.
These strategic commitments makes Barnes proud to work at Pitt. “This was an opportunity for us to explain how the University spends its money and what impact we can have,” she said. “And for some Pennsylvanians, it’s been a life-changing impact.”
— Kara Henderson