Women in Procurement: Big Challenges, Bigger Potential

The procurement profession has traditionally been a male-dominated field. A manual count by SCM World last year found only 22 women with top supply chain executive jobs in 320 Fortune 500 companies. That’s just 7%! With numbers like these, it’s understandable that many women see the procurement glass ceiling as alive and well.

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Historically, women have not been seen as great leaders or risk takers, which may have hindered their ability to climb the ladder; as SCM World points out, women are less likely to be promoted based on potential than men. Many women in the procurement industry have experienced not being taken seriously by male coworkers and even suppliers.

However, this is not the case for all women in procurement. Many women, such as Sarah Ellis, procurement director at BAA, says she’s been fortunate enough to never come up against the glass ceiling and that women are well represented in senior positions at her former company, Mars. Robyn Wright, a principal at A.T. Kearney, also says her gender has not held her back, but she does not deny that it is harder for women to advance, particularly into management and boardroom positions.

Christina Langley, managing director at Langley Search & Selection, says “women do earn the top roles by merit.” She believes that in the coming years more women will advance in the profession, both as more businesses understand the need to diversify and as greater numbers of women become aware of opportunities in the field.

Procurement is not a field well known to most women. Part of the reason there are fewer women in management is simply that there are fewer women than men in the field. Many of the discussions at last year’s Impact of Women in Procurement event, organized by CIPS MENA, centered on increasing awareness of the field among young ambitious women, many of whom do not know what it entails or do not think it’s a viable path for them. Though the exact reasons for that are unclear, it is a problem that the procurement industry should address because, like many other industries, it will benefit from the inclusion of more women. Some typically “female” traits, such as high emotional intelligence, strong negotiating skills, effective communication, the ability to build and maintain cohesive teams, and relationships with business partners, are perfect for procurement.

Tom Lovell, director of Reed, outlined what he believed were the nine traits of successful procurement professionals. Those traits include being hard-working, eager to learn, creative, self-reliant, being relaxed with a sense of perspective, and able to network effectively by listening as much as talking – qualities often associated with women.

Given the success of many women in procurement, much of the gender gap in the industry seems to come down to awareness and support systems. The key to more women advancing in the field may be increased with mentoring of young female professionals.

Mentoring is not only important for learning the trade, it also helps one increase their network. According to Visna Lampasi, The Faculty’s 2014 CPO of the Year, “skillful networking, which these days is far more than shaking hands and introducing yourself, is a powerful marketing approach which can accelerate the access to opportunities as well as sustain success.” Lampasi also notes that mentoring “gives me the opportunity to give back to the procurement profession, as well as the satisfaction that I am helping someone to achieve their professional goals.”

As more women find their way to the procurement profession, they will inevitably rise in the industry due to their hard work and natural abilities. Getting some guidance from women up the ladder can certainly go a long way.

Tell us about your experiences as a woman in the procurement industry. What barriers have you faced, if any? What has helped you the most in your career? How can the procurement industry do better in attracting talented professional women? Please comment below, or feel free to contact us.

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