By Sarah Scudder
People who know me know that I am a passionate advocate for elevating the role of women in business, and I am particularly interested in seeing more women attain senior leadership positions in the procurement function. I’ve been working in procurement for years, and throughout my career, I’ve had the opportunity to meet and get to know hundreds of outstanding procurement professionals, many of whom are women.
So, I was filled with mixed emotions when I recently reviewed the findings of a 2019 research study by Oliver Wyman that focused on the current state of gender diversity in procurement. For those of you who may not be familiar with the firm, Oliver Wyman is a global management consulting firm and one of the Marsh & McLennan family of companies. I would not usually devote an entire article to a discussion of one research study, but I believe this is a vitally important topic. Therefore, I’m making an exception.
The Women In Procurement report is based on a survey of more than 300 chief procurement officers in Europe, the U.S. and Asia across 14 industries. Sixty-eight percent of the surveyed CPOs were based in Europe and 48% worked at manufacturing companies. It’s impossible to determine how much these demographic attributes may have colored the survey results, but it’s important to keep in mind.
Here’s a brief summary of some of the major findings from the Oliver Wyman survey, but I strongly encourage you to read the full survey report.
More Work to Do
Women account for only 25% of the members of procurement management committees and management teams.
Seventy-five percent of category managers are men, and fewer than one in three buyers is a woman.
When women are category managers, they are more likely to be managing indirect procurement categories, while most companies view direct procurement categories as more strategically important.
“Activities that typically require interpersonal skills or involve caregiving are considered as feminine.”
“Risk-taking or decision-making is considered a masculine strength.”
“Rationality (as opposed to emotionality) is considered largely as a masculine trait.”
What Companies Are (and Aren’t) Doing to Improve
Having objective and transparent recruitment criteria (75% of respondents)
Having an inclusive culture that embraces diverse views (64%)
Providing flexible work programs (63%)
The three least widely implemented initiatives were:
Having gender diversity targets and records publicly disclosed (32% of respondents)
Requiring a female candidate on every promotion shortlist (27%)
Linking senior staff pay to organization performance on gender diversity (23%)
The survey report provides this assessment of the steps companies have taken to improve gender diversity in procurement: “The pattern our respondents reported reflects a kind of ‘accountability gap’ where initiatives are put in place – but without metrics, incentives, or consequences for failing to act.”