Where We Stand on the Journey to Gender Diversity

Posted: 12/03/2019 - 03:35
People who know me know that I am a passionate advocate for elevating the role of women in business, and I am particularly interested in seeing more women attain senior leadership positions in the procurement function. I’ve been working in procurement for years, and throughout my career, I’ve had the opportunity to meet and get to know hundreds of outstanding procurement professionals, many of whom are women
So, I was filled with mixed emotions when I recently reviewed the findings of a 2019 research study by Oliver Wyman that focused on the current state of gender diversity in procurement. For those of you who may not be familiar with the firm, Oliver Wyman is a global management consulting firm and one of the Marsh & McLennan family of companies. I would not usually devote an entire article to a discussion of one research study, but I believe this is a vitally important topic. Therefore, I’m making an exception. 
The Women In Procurement report is based on a survey of more than 300 chief procurement officers in Europe, the U.S. and Asia across 14 industries. Sixty-eight percent of the surveyed CPOs were based in Europe and 48% worked at manufacturing companies. It’s impossible to determine how much these demographic attributes may have colored the survey results, but it’s important to keep in mind. 
Here’s a brief summary of some of the major findings from the Oliver Wyman survey, but I strongly encourage you to read the full survey report. 

The Good

The survey contained some good news about the evolving role of women in procurement, but it also revealed that much more work is needed to achieve real gender parity. Let’s look first at the positive findings. 
Overall, women made up 38% of the procurement workforce in the companies represented in the survey, and the number of women in procurement is growing. Sixty percent of the survey respondents reported that there were more women in their procurement organization than three years ago, and only 6% indicated that the number had declined. According to these survey respondents, women account for more than 40% of the procurement workforce at nearly half of the companies based in Europe and the U.S. 
A growing number of women are also advancing to senior procurement leadership positions. As the survey report notes: “In the United States and Western Europe, where procurement organizations are the most mature, 20 percent of the top 60 listed companies have appointed a woman as chief procurement officer (CPO). In France alone, more than 30 women have been promoted to the role over the past 18 months, representing an increase of more than 30 percent compared to four years ago.” 

More Work to Do

Now for the not-so-good news. The Oliver Wyman survey clearly shows that most companies have a lot more work to do to make gender diversity a reality in procurement. The survey report notes that: 
  • Women account for only 25% of the members of procurement management committees and management teams.
  • Seventy-five percent of category managers are men, and fewer than one in three buyers is a woman.
  • When women are category managers, they are more likely to be managing indirect procurement categories, while most companies view direct procurement categories as more strategically important. 
Even more troubling, Oliver Wyman found that gender stereotypes are still relatively widespread in procurement departments. To gain a general sense of how pervasive gender stereotypes are, Oliver Wyman asked survey participants to react to several common stereotypes about women as employees. 
More than 45% of the survey respondents said the following gender stereotypes are widespread in their procurement organization: 
  • “Activities that typically require interpersonal skills or involve caregiving are considered as feminine.”
  • “Risk-taking or decision-making is considered a masculine strength.”
  • “Rationality (as opposed to emotionality) is considered largely as a masculine trait.” 

What Companies Are (and Aren’t) Doing to Improve

The Oliver Wyman research also captures important data regarding what steps procurement leaders are taking to boost gender diversity. The survey presented 24 specific gender diversity initiatives and asked the surveyed CPOs to indicate which of the initiatives they have implemented. Once again, the survey results paint a mixed picture of the commitment to gender diversity. 
The three most widely implemented initiatives were: 
  • Having objective and transparent recruitment criteria (75% of respondents)
  • Having an inclusive culture that embraces diverse views (64%)
  • Providing flexible work programs (63%) 
The three least widely implemented initiatives were: 
  • Having gender diversity targets and records publicly disclosed (32% of respondents)
  • Requiring a female candidate on every promotion shortlist (27%)
  • Linking senior staff pay to organization performance on gender diversity (23%) 
The survey report provides this assessment of the steps companies have taken to improve gender diversity in procurement: “The pattern our respondents reported reflects a kind of ‘accountability gap’ where initiatives are put in place – but without metrics, incentives, or consequences for failing to act.” 

About The Author

Sarah Scudder's picture

Sarah Scudder is president of Real Sourcing Network (RSN), a print and marketing sourcing tool software company.

Sarah Scudder has spunk. Sarah Scudder is a go-getter who has gone out and got. 


Sarah is the youngest executive to ever serve on the board for the Print Services and Distribution Association (PSDA). Sarah is the brainchild behind ProcuRising, the cutting edge magazine that gives voice to industry leaders, writers, and entrepreneurs in the marketing and procurement space.

Sarah hosts thought leadership ProcuremenTalks around the country and coordinates events for the Global Women Procurement Professionals (GWPP). Sarah speaks at several annual sourcing industry events and hosts multiple webinars. She also co-authors a column for the Sourcing Industry Group (SIG)’s Future of Sourcing publication and Institute of Supply Management (ISM)’s “Inside Supply Management” newsletter.


Sarah won the Sourcing Industry Group (SIG) Future of Sourcing Rising Star award. Sarah is a winner of the North Bay Business Journal’s Forty Under 40 award. Sarah won the Print+Promo’s Trailblazer Under 40 award. Sarah also won the Print Services & Distribution Association (PSDA)’s Member of the Year award. 

But none of the above matters.  What matters is that Sarah Scudder treats everyone with respect, and it is her desire to make the world a better place. She is well on her way.