Procurement has a male-dominated culture that acts as a barrier to women going for senior positions, a study has found.
The study, Access denied?, published in the Journal of Purchasing and Supply Management, showed procurement still had a “macho” culture that was particularly prevalent when compared to other business functions.
It also said inflexible working conditions, in particular travel requirements, were another barrier to senior roles women faced in procurement.
Jennifer Lawrence, one of the study’s authors, said many of the barriers women faced getting into senior roles were found across business, but that the “macho, male-dominated culture” and the large travel requirement were “more prevalent in procurement”.
Speaking to SM, Lawrence said: “The male culture is often manifested as this macho, aggressive communication style, which on its own might put some women off. In procurement it's the nature of negotiations, and procurement arguably is the most negotiation-heavy profession so it’s almost not surprising that a male-dominated profession would be most dominant here.
“But it’s also accepted that collaborative relationships also have a massive role to play in procurement. Statistically women do have those softer skills, so when we’re excluding women from those top positions you’re not getting that balanced approach.”
Lawrence said both men and women interviewed for the study said they recognised this culture existed when they chose procurement, indicating that it wasn’t a blocker to women entering the profession. But she said more research was needed to establish whether the culture becomes more male dominated as roles become more senior, or whether it becomes more of a block the more senior women become.
The study also found some of the women felt procurement was still an “old boys' club” when it came to making senior decisions. “Decisions were being made there [in the club] and it wasn’t in with their [the respondents’] style of work. It wasn’t the collaborative approach that the people we spoke to preferred.” She added it was not necessarily only women who felt this way.
Lawrence said some procurement functions were more mature, and that lessons could be learned from those organisations to find out what they’re doing differently. But she added: “There are specific industries where it is more macho, and it could be that aggressive negotiation style does work better in those industries.
“It needs to be looked at and we need to learn lessons from those who are doing well.”
Travel was another big blocker for women that Lawrence said was “almost specific to procurement”.
“In any other function you’re probably not that likely to need to travel. But procurement, we live in this world of global supply and we are moving to more of a relational approach with suppliers. To get that you do need to have that face-to-face contact and relationship building so there is a massive amount of travel.”
Lawrence said nearly all study participants said they travelled with work, and travel was “almost always” given as a reason by those who said they couldn’t or hadn’t progressed.
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