The Representation of Women in Senior Procurement Roles – Survey Findings

Helen Firth 18.05.2020

Gender diversity has been high on the agenda for a number of years, yet it continues to be a heavily discussed topic. Is this because we haven’t done enough to address it or are there other reasons?

Exploring the representation of women across procurement

Given the focus it attracts as a topic of debate in the workplace, we wanted to review gender diversity, particularly in the world of procurement. We surveyed professionals from a wide variety of levels within procurement, including those who would be responsible for the function, to explore what feelings and experiences were in the procurement community for women and those who are in, or want to progress into, leadership roles and whether anything has changed in recent years. 

more women in procurement functions

A number of reports have been produced by various sources in the procurement field on this subject, including a global report by Management Consultants Oliver Wyman. Out of all the people surveyed in that study, 41% were female. This report generated responses from large global businesses and one of the overwhelming responses cited the fact that there are now more women in procurement functions, with only 6% of people saying it had decreased. 59% of Morgan McKinley’s respondents were women, which enabled us to really get first hand views from those that are currently working in procurement functions. Encouragingly, we also had high engagement from men to help provide a balanced view.

45% of all the people surveyed

We were keen to explore what the opportunities are like for women who want to progress into senior roles within procurement. 45% of all the people surveyed said that there has been no change in 5 years to the level of opportunities for women in procurement. So does that mean organisations haven’t taken enough steps to provide more opportunity or is procurement leading the way with providing more parity of opportunity between the sexes?

Which industry is best for women to seize progression opportunities?

We surveyed professionals employed across Financial Services, Commerce and Industry and Not for Profit and we found that we had an even representation from both sexes working across those industries. It has been said that certain industries lack diversity and interestingly, when we look at our female respondents, there was a higher proportion of female respondents working in Financial Services. Somewhat unsurprisingly, out of all female respondents, it was those employed in FS that felt overwhelmingly they have to (or should) look externally for career development. Male respondents felt that they can or should look internally for career development – why such disparity in Financial Services? 

When we asked for comments, there was a wide variety of feelings (as you can imagine), from the phrase “old boys club” right through to attitudes coming from the top. It’s hard to tell from our data if these comments are fair, but if we go by perception in reality, what can we do to improve this? On the whole, our male respondents felt things had improved, but our pool of females felt more could be done

One comment from a male respondent was “...(it’s) not just relevant for procurement (thinking of child care, maternity leave, support and flexibility when children are sick...to manage usual career slump after pregnancy when it seems that women still take the hit when it comes to additional responsibilities managing a family. This might be too simplistic as well thinking about it)…” 

Does this mean that women and men feel there is a career pause when families are thrown into the mix? And if we go back to the comment regarding the old boys club in this context, could it mean women feel a lack of involvement if they have a period away from the business and could more be done around this? Another comment said “…unless there is proactive intervention and support by senior management after working for 30 years, I wouldn't see this changing.”

Focus should be on the positive rather than the negative

This does make things seem very bleak. However, there are many companies who absolutely demonstrate parity in the sexes and more needs to be done to shine a light on what they are doing that is working so well. After all, there is growing evidence of how the gender composition of companies correlates to the bottom line.

Some of this won’t be surprising and hopefully for others it might open the topic of conversation. It’s very encouraging that many companies already put this high on the agenda, with varying degrees of success. 

So in short, looking at the data we have collated and real time responses, some points of consideration for promoting gender diversity within your procurement function might be:

  • What are the company dynamics, is there a flat structure and can you promote diversity in other ways, how can you make it not just a process but a part of your company DNA?
  • Help to develop women’s (and men’s) careers by more exposure to operational management
  • Promote flexible work and parenting programmes for both genders and move away from a face-time culture towards a performance-based one
  • Provide more mentoring and training programmes
  • Improve the recruitment process – what is working, what isn’t
  • Senior management have to lead and drive the change in culture from the top
  • Promote the career path at student level within female groups

This is obviously still work in progress and a much more complex issue than can be discussed in its entirety here. The fundamental foundations are in place at a lot of organisations, but we need to continue the dialogue of this issue to ensure change happens

If you would like to discuss any of these points or anything else raised in this article, do get in touch with the team:

Helen Firth's picture
Senior Manager
hfirth@morganmckinley.com

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