In the last 80 years or so, massive strides have been made towards gender equality in the workplace. The gender gap is narrowing within the procurement and supply management industries as well.

In 2018, Oliver Wyman surveyed more than 300 CPOs to discover how procurement organizations are working towards gender parity and what has been achieved to date. The research revealed that women currently account for 38% of procurement teams, and 60% of CPOs said there are more women in their organization than three years ago.

These percentages, however, drop off significantly at more senior levels, with women representing just 25% of procurement management committees and 25% of category management roles.

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The supply chain management profession tells a similar story. In the US, women hold 14% of senior vice president (SVP), executive vice president (EVP) and C-Suite jobs in supply chain management. The good news is that the number of women in supply chain leadership positions grew by 100% between 2016 and 2018. In 2019, Gartner’s annual Women in Supply Chain survey showed an increase in women represented across the entire pipeline, including an 8% jump at the VP level.

The importance of diversity and inclusion in the workplace

The benefits of gender diversity in the workplace have long been proven. These include:

  • Driving innovation and creativity within your team: Gender-diverse teams bring different experiences, new ways of thinking, fresh perspectives and alternate solutions to problem-solving. Over 70% of CPOs observed more creativity and innovation thanks to the presence of more women on their teams.
  • Higher employee retention: When employees feel they are valued and included in the workplace, productivity increases and they are happier to come into the office each day. Women who are part of a diverse team that offers equal opportunities to all genders (especially when it comes to career progression) are far more likely to stick around.
  • Attracting top talent: Employees today are increasingly eager to work for companies that share their values. Organizations that take a strong and vocal stance on issues like diversity are more likely to attract top talent. According to a recent survey, 61% of women analyze the gender diversity within a company’s leadership team before submitting or accepting a job application
  • Improving financial performance: A combination of increased innovation, happier employees, low turn-over rate and improved company reputation all ultimately contribute to a company’s bottom line. Investors are also more likely to support businesses that take diversity seriously and implement best practices because it demonstrates effective leadership. A McKinsey and Co. survey found that organizations in the top quartile for gender diversity within executive teams are 21% more likely to experience above-average profitability.

Driving and celebrating gender diversity in the workplace

Here are five ways to drive gender diversity within your procurement or supply chain teams.

1. Introduce a mentoring program 

For rising stars in the procurement and supply chain profession, the importance of providing visible role models should not be underestimated. The opportunity to observe the success stories of senior women in the business motivates women to dream big and not question their potential to reach the top. Formal mentorship programs are a fantastic way to do this, as are reverse mentorship programs, which give younger employees an opportunity to educate the senior leadership team on issues impacting the business. 

Procurement and supply chain leaders should also strive to increase the overall visibility of high-achieving women, celebrating their accomplishments and highlighting them as role models. 

2. Training and education

Procurement and supply chain leaders should encourage open and honest discussions surrounding diversity and inclusion initiatives in the workplace. A lack of employee buy-in or “equality backlash” can be the downfall of even the best programs. 

Alongside the implementation of new policies, take the time to educate your employees about the reasons behind these changes – explaining the context, providing evidence and outlining your end-game. This ensures that everyone feels included and are more likely to support you on your journey. 

Providing formal education, such as unconscious bias training, is another great way to improve gender diversity in your teams – particularly among hiring managers.

3. Set targets and objectives

Not all organizations back the implementation of diversity quotas for fear of it becoming little more than a tick-box exercise. At the same time, a lack of clear objectives and goal-oriented diversity proposals means initiatives can become tokenistic. It’s important to strike the right balance to ensure diversity measures are impactful and that the whole team is on board. You could, for example, make it compulsory to have at least one woman on every interview panel, in the final interview stage and on every promotion shortlist. Offering incentives, setting goals and being transparent and open with your recruitment criteria and data will help to drive change. Gartner’s 2019 survey found that supply chain teams with specified diversity objectives were twice as likely to report improvement.

4. Accommodate flexible working

Organizations could drastically improve gender diversity in the workplace by addressing and reforming their attitudes towards flexible working. This includes allowing employees to work from home and accommodating part-time work or flexible working hours, all of which are provisions that will appeal to working parents. Organizations must support all employees who are juggling working life with raising families. Providing ample parental leave for men, and encouraging them to use it, will help women to get ahead in the workplace. Some organizations have gone a step further, allowing parents to bring their children into work or providing on-site childcare. 

Employers should measure employee performance on their output and value-add, not the number of hours they spend sitting at their desk.

5. Engage women-owned suppliers

Another important way to drive gender equality outside of your workforce is to set targets for engaging with women-owned suppliers. According to WeConnect International, less than 1% of global corporate spend goes to women-owned businesses. Supplier discovery portals such as Thomas can be used to filter suppliers to identify women-owned businesses. 

Benefits of supplier diversity include increased innovation, a better connection with customers, improved brand awareness, and increased competition among suppliers.

Looking ahead

The future is bright for women working in procurement and supply chain. In European countries, women now represent 60% of students enrolled in procurement and supply management masters programs, which means there’s a whole lot of top, female talent primed to disrupt our teams in the coming years. Our only role is to ensure we’re prepared to nurture and foster their talent, and not let it go to waste. 

Una is the nation’s fastest-growing Group Purchasing Organization (GPO) dedicated to helping businesses improve their financial performance. Contact us today.

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