Women in procurement: the challenges and the opportunities

As we celebrate International Women’s Day, we asked female talent at 4C Associates about their perceptions and key challenges they face at work, being a woman.

Katie Deem, Senior Manager at 4C Associates shared her appreciation for the progress made so far: “I feel hugely grateful to all the courageous women who have gone before me, who have enabled me to work in a profession where women are equal to their male counterparts. I believe it is important for us all to use our privileged positions to encourage further change across industries and geographies, where inequality is still prevalent, and to showcase that women are as capable to succeed in their career choices, whatever they may be.  Some ways in which I feel we have a responsibility is around inspiring the next generation to break the historical barriers about what is deemed a career suitable to a gender. It is also wonderful to see inclusion and respect for colleagues within the industry who are non-binary or use female pronouns.”

For her and many others it is inspiring to be part of a generation of women who are influencing and becoming leaders in particular fields that were once dominated by male counterparts, to see women celebrate the success, not only of other women but of forward-thinking companies and leaders that drive change, highlighting that everyone has a part  to play in eliminating inequality, not just across gender, but ethnicity, sexuality, economic, and age related prejudice.

“Whilst my views are focused on continues proactiveness for future change, I don’t want to gloss over some of the real issues that women face daily, regardless of their position within a company or field. Those span the balance of creating a positive family environment, whilst succeeding in a career, or sometimes having assertiveness mistaken for aggressive behaviours where the same misjudgement might not be made of a male colleague or be interpreted as “emotional”. I believe we should be kind and compassionate with those around us, creating an inclusive environment to work in. There is much to change in society, but I feel honoured to be among those paving the way for further change in 2022.”, added Katie.

“To me, the key challenge women face in procurement is working in a typically male dominated environment which can facilitate expectations around gender norms and standards. Therefore, it can be challenging to not allow other’s expectations of your presentation as a woman in procurement to stop you from reaching your full potential. I feel grateful to have exceptional female role models at 4C which enable me to clearly see my development as a woman in procurement.”, says Charlotte Morley, Analyst at 4C Associates.

Sarah Meakin, Senior Manager at 4C Associates finds that people make assumptions based on physical attributes. “I often find people think you are younger and make assumptions on your experience. Obviously, in this day and age, it is not appropriate to ask about age, however often people don’t ask about your experience and make assumptions you are junior and have no influence. I’ve had situations where people have assumed males in my team are my boss when it was the other way around. I think women then tend to over compensate for this by losing their natural tone and potentially becoming more aggressive in the way they handle certain situations putting them in a negative light.  Linked to this is people associating stereotypes of girliness such as wearing pink or bright nail varnish as being ditzy – I’ve met many people throughout my career who have changed what they would wear.

I have also found when working in an all-male environment women can be left out culturally if they don’t like sport for example. It is quite often a stereotype that men are the main breadwinners, and most companies only offer statutory maternity pay which can mean it is difficult for women to make some key life decisions if they are single or the main earner due to finances.”, shares Sarah.

“Frequently women are responsible for family duties which are essential and often unappreciated such as unpaid care work (childcare and caring for sick relatives), which can have a significant impact on participation as both a supplier and a stakeholder; within a project point of view and further with networking outside of core working hours. Consequently, this impacts and challenges progressing careers compared to male colleagues and potentially on self-confidence. According to CIPS, women are still not paid as well as men in the UK, the pay gap between men and women is getting smaller at lower levels of the procurement profession, but the gender pay gap at the top of the profession is 35 percent which may be partly due to gender norms”, says Isabella Keane, Senior Consultant at 4C Associates.

Celia Downie, Senior Consultant at 4C Associates believes that improving gender parity in an organisation is the key challenge faced in not just procurement organisations, but a majority of workplaces. Oliver Wyman surveyed 300 CPOs globally in February 2019 and found women only accounted for 25 percent of members of procurement management committees or management teams, and overall, they also found 75 percent of category manager roles are held by men. Women are less likely to be found in the strategic roles, reinforcing gender stereotypes. Diversity of thought really matters within all organisations and having a lack of diversity at the top of organisations is a barrier to attracting, retaining and promoting women.

“Globally procurement leaders have significant opportunities to promote gender equality across the supply chain.  The challenge that we have in public sector procurement is that we don’t promote women-owned business or women in leadership positions throughout the supply chain.  The government has done some excellent work in supporting SME’s within the public sector supply chain and it would be great to see more proactive emphasis on gender equality and females being promoted to leadership positions”, added Rona Bassett, Head of Business Development at 4C Associates.

Allison Ford-Langstaff, Managing Partner at 4C Associates concluded: “As a female leader myself at 4C I see inclusion generally, not just in terms of gender, as a major area for focus – both within our business and the clients we work with; many of whom we help to transform, which can include restructuring their organisation.  Over my career, I have seen enormous strides, but as the other women in 4C testify, we still see much opportunity to make the procurement workplace even better from a diversity and inclusion perspective across the profession. As leaders and managers within the profession we take our responsibility for achieving this extremely seriously to assure gender diverse roles now and for the generations that will follow.”

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