More women in procurement but stereotypes persist

Rebecca Ellinor Tyler is former editor of Supply Management
6 March 2019

Procurement organisations are moving toward gender parity but women have yet to gain a secure hold on the highest levels of the function.

Management consultants Oliver Wyman surveyed more than 300 CPOs in Europe, the US, and Asia across 14 industries, 41% of whom were female.

Its report, Women in procurement: Gender parity is a key to better performance, found numbers are growing. “Sixty percent of CPOs in our survey said that there were more women in their organisation than three years ago, and only 6% said the number had decreased.” 

There were a number of factors influencing variation including location, industry type and the scale of the company. For example, at nearly half the organisations in Europe and the US, more than 40% of the function’s positions are held by women, in Asia only 17% of companies reach this level. And women are more weakly represented in manufacturing and technology industries, such as aeronautics and construction, and at larger companies.

There was also disparity in the seniority of positions. Women account for only a quarter of the members of procurement management committees and management teams, a level or two below the executive committee. Three-quarters of category manager positions are held by men, and fewer than one in three buyers is a woman. The report said women are also more likely to find themselves in charge of indirect categories, which have typically been less prominent than direct roles, but that these positions were becoming more critical.

Stereotypes persist with more than 45% of CPOs quizzed saying that the following views were widespread in their organisation: First, that rationality is considered largely a masculine trait; second, risk-taking or decision-making a masculine strength; and thirdly, that activities requiring interpersonal skills were feminine. 

The report said boosting diversity was not only a responsibility business owed to society, but there was growing evidence of how the gender composition of companies correlates to the bottom line. “The case is strongest for senior executive teams, where multiple credible studies show that companies with the greatest gender balance in the C-suite are likelier to achieve above-average financial results.”

Initiatives cited as efforts to boost gender balance were, objective and transparent recruitment criteria, an inclusive culture that embraces diverse views, and flexible work programmes. But the report pointed out that initiatives were often put in place without metrics, incentives or consequences should they fail. It also added that companies should consider the retention, as well as attraction of, female staff.

It suggested those looking to boost numbers of women ensure they:  

• Help to develop women’s careers

• Promote flexible work and parenting programmes for both genders and move away from a face-time culture towards a performance-based one

• Develop mentoring and sponsorship programmes.

Finally, it highlighted that women currently make up 60% of the student bodies of procurement and supply chain master’s programmes in major European countries.

“There is a very good chance women will in the future occupy influential positions in procurement. Gender-neutral succession to strategic positions will ensure that, in time, women’s role in procurement will no longer even be a subject for discussion,” said the report. 

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