Professional News

Longtime Expert Hired to be UK’s 1st Supplier Diversity Manager

head shot of Marilyn Clark
Marilyn Clark is UK's first supplier diversity manager.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Feb. 19, 2021) — The University of Kentucky has tapped a highly regarded expert in the local community to be its first supplier diversity manager as part of a long-term effort to bolster and strengthen ties to minority-owned businesses and vendors.

As part of the University of Kentucky’s plan to progress the institution toward diversity, equity and inclusion, the university has created 17 projects in phase one of its campus wide Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) plan.

Included in this plan is Project 14, which seeks to expand UK’s supplier diversity procurement efforts. Led by Barry Swanson, UK’s chief procurement officer, a national search for a supplier diversity manager was conducted to ensure a dedicated focus for the effort.

Marilyn Clark began her work as UK’s first supplier diversity manager Jan. 19, 2021, after more than five years with the Fayette County Schools in a similar role.

UKNow spoke to Clark about the significance of her role and the impact it will have on campus.

UKNow: Why is the new supplier diversity manager position significant? 

Clark: This is a pivotal moment for the University of Kentucky. How we respond to the social injustices we witnessed in 2020 will be documented in the university’s history. Supplier diversity will play a critical role in how we move forward.

The lack of economic opportunity is really at the root cause of so many of the social issues minority communities continue to face. 

Because systems were created to limit economic opportunities for minority groups, we have to build intentional and inclusive systems to open access and level the playing field. We will be intentional about how the University of Kentucky engages with minority and other diverse vendors. The University of Kentucky will be a welcome, open and accessible place to do business. We want every person on campus, before they even think about making any purchase, to ask the question, “Are we including diverse vendors in the process?”

Supplier diversity as an industry grew out of the social unrest in the 1960s.  On March 5, 1969, President Richard Nixon signed Executive Order 11458 and created the first government agency — the Office of Minority Business Enterprise (OMBE) — to address the needs of minority businesses. That agency is now called the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA). Other orders were passed later to develop programs for women and veteran owned companies. March is also recognized as Procurement Month.  

UKNow: What will your role on campus look like?

Clark: My role is to be a connector — with businesses, the UK campus, departments, students, business resource partners and the community. There are a million moving parts to doing that, but that is the simplest way to describe my role. The fact that UK already has 17 work teams across campus dedicated to increasing DEI is amazing. I am so happy to be working with like-minded people in the DEI Supplier Diversity Group #14, led by Barry Swanson. Barry is not only a supporter and an advocate, but he is truly a champion for supplier diversity. He knows the people and he knows how to get things done.  I am very appreciative of his genuine enthusiasm for the work.

UKNow: You were in a similar position before; how will that help you in your new role? 

Clark:  I’ve had a varied professional background. I lived around the country and worked in television management. I am a small business owner and former adjunct and visiting professor with the UK School of Journalism and College of Communications and Information. I worked at the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government as the minority business enterprise liaison, the first to serve in that newly created position. I moved on to Fayette County Public Schools as the manager of economic development and supplier diversity. Every job I’ve had prepared me for the opportunity to work as supplier diversity manager for the University of Kentucky. Having past experience in the field and great relationships make it easier to jump start the strategy we need to be successful here at UK.

UKNow: What plans do you have in your new role?

Clark: I am really excited to be here. It is a great place to work, great people and great benefits. My colleagues in purchasing are knowledgeable and very helpful. I’m passionate about working with businesses. 

First, I want to dispel the myth that there are no capable minority businesses to work with. They exist and my role is to help them connect to opportunities at UK. Secondly, this is not a program, it is a strategy that aligns with the university’s goals.

I will work with Barry, Naomi Emmons, George Brown and the supplier diversity work team to create a four phased approach based on eight supplier diversity industry best practices: 

  1. Phase One — Discovery and Assessment
  2. Phase Two — Writing a 100 Day Plan that will drive our written supplier diversity strategy
  3. Phase Three — Implementation of the plan campus wide
  4. Phase Four — Continuous Improvement

And while we build our strategy, I will continue to work with business partners daily to strategically source for diverse suppliers for every bid and request for proposal. Our goal is to develop a level 5, world class supplier diversity strategy that is a model for other public universities and private companies. We want to engage all the resources available on campus, especially our students, to be an integral part of the process. The opportunities for collaboration are endless. This is truly an exciting time to be here at the University of Kentucky! I’m grateful for the opportunity to serve in this capacity.

As the state’s flagship, land-grant institution, the University of Kentucky exists to advance the Commonwealth. We do that by preparing the next generation of leaders — placing students at the heart of everything we do — and transforming the lives of Kentuckians through education, research and creative work, service and health care. We pride ourselves on being a catalyst for breakthroughs and a force for healing, a place where ingenuity unfolds. It's all made possible by our people — visionaries, disruptors and pioneers — who make up 200 academic programs, a $476.5 million research and development enterprise and a world-class medical center, all on one campus.   

In 2022, UK was ranked by Forbes as one of the “Best Employers for New Grads” and named a “Diversity Champion” by INSIGHT into Diversity, a testament to our commitment to advance Kentucky and create a community of belonging for everyone. While our mission looks different in many ways than it did in 1865, the vision of service to our Commonwealth and the world remains the same. We are the University for Kentucky.