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Sourcing and Procurement

Women- The new trailblazers in Procurement and Supply Chain transformation

Women have started making a positive impact in traditionally male-dominated segments of Supply Chain like procurement, warehousing and logistics. Industrial sectors such as manufacturing and mining etc. have also started opening up more and more avenues for women. Companies have also started to integrate women into top management roles. Procurement too has seen women performing well at all levels starting from Procurement Specialist, Purchasing Officers, Contracts Officer, Buyers, Sourcing Leads and Purchasing Assistant to Consulting, Transformational, Change Management and Category Management Roles.

What has gone well?

Commitment to gender equality on the part of organizations could be considered one of the most important factors contributing to the growth in recent years. Many companies have molded their organizational policies to reduce the gender gap. Organizations have also taken steps to provide benefits like subsidized child care, maternity benefits and work from home.

Another factor that has contributed to the change is the increasing talent deficit which poses a huge challenge for organizations of today. Supply Chain is becoming increasingly interconnected, strategic and digitally driven which requires employees with diverse skills and expertise, further opening up avenues for skilled resources (men and women equally) to apply for these roles.

The conventional process of recruitment followed across many companies especially heavy engineering or manufacturing usually followed a gradual ascent of existing resources when it came to role progressions and promotions especially in the manufacturing sector for example where an engineer on the shop floor will eventually assume the role of a Buyer. The scenarios are changing and today, most companies are looking at hiring candidates with formal Supply Chain or Procurement training. Speaking of which, the management and professional courses at institutes and universities are specially designed to provide specialized training and enable young professionals to pick up necessary skills for the supply chain jobs. With immense popularity amongst women for these courses, it is but natural for organizations to tap into this vast pool of skillsets.

How Women are inherently suited for Procurement roles?

  • Women bring to table certain inherent traits which are considered as essential or desirable for Procurement jobs. For years, procurement has been seen as a function disconnected with business and requiring limited business understanding leading to less focus or empathy towards user requirements. The procurement practitioners were considered as more of compliance enforcers- however, with changing times, procurement is seen more as an enabling function to the business requiring a 'Partnering attitude' and empathy.
  • Women are considered to have a higher Emotional Quotient (EQ) and empathy and hence their presence in procurement can be a stepping stone towards building stronger relationships within the business.
  • Other 'female traits' such as negotiation skills, creative thinking, strong communication & collaboration capabilities, and networking acumen are those which are gaining prominence amongst recruiters looking at hiring procurement resources at mid and senior management roles.

The ascent of women in procurement- the tussle between the Glass ceiling and the Sticky floor

As one can see presence of women in Procurement and Supply chain jobs has been gaining prominence as a whole leading to reduced gender gaps. However, there is still a long way to go.

As per Gartner's third annual Women in Supply Chain Survey 2018, "about half of the companies surveyed report progress toward gender equity in supply chain leadership, while half do not, but there are bright spots scattered around the data. For example, in 2016, 38% of respondents reported zero women at the VP level. In 2017, that percentage dropped to 26%. This year, it dropped again, to 20%."

The Gartner report, however, points out that while growth 'has' happened in terms of women at executive level positions- the same is not the case across other levels i.e. mid to low segment, which indicates while the myth of the Glass ceiling seems to have been broken, the overall proportion of women at low and middle managerial levels being able to make it to the top is still very low. Factors such as the absence of mentoring, non-availability of talent planning and poor visibility of career growth cycles often lead to mid-career attritions and job stagnancy.

Salary parity- the still looming Great Divide

Salary Equality remain still a perception- a myth across multiple sectors even today and continues to be seen as a looming issue. The recent CIPS & Hay Salary Guide and Insights 2018 reports that, "This year, again more men than women received a salary increase (71% men, 64% women) and in fact the gap has widened to a level comparable to that observed in 2016 (71% men, 65% women)."

Also as per the same report while in Operational and Tactical areas, there seems to have been higher salary improvements for women as compared to their male counterparts- on senior and advanced professional levels there is still a lot to be desired.

Change in mindset - the bottom line for true growth

Finally, the industry needs an honest change its mindset to make the profession conducive and sustainable for women. While women have proved their tenacity and effectiveness in meeting their goals, somehow they are still perceived as 'not suitable' for certain roles in procurement either due to prevailing stereotypes or past mindsets. Sharing a personal example- A couple of months ago, during the a chanced meeting and exchange of pleasantries with another professional at the airport while returning from a business trip - a chanced arbitrary remark that the reason why his company possibly chose to send women across the globe for meeting clients and manage projects was (in toned down words) to 'Showcase a positive case for Gender Diversity' (and not because the women were capable). The statement made me realize that the mindsets of many still need to undergo a change.

Organizations need to do more to sensitize employees and to make them aware of such patriarchal attitudes and unconscious stereotyping.

The way forward

On a positive note, many large organizations are increasingly bringing in measures to reduce this gap. Infosys, for example, is committed to the principles of equal employment opportunity the inclusivity of women and has designed an Infosys Women's Inclusivity Network (IWIN) to cater to the needs of its female workforce. It facilitates greater flexibility, exclusive training, mentoring, and experience sharing programs for female Infoscions.

The stage seems now set for more and more women to follow Procurement as a profession - please do share your views in terms of what needs further to be done to attract talented and skilled women professional?