If you took a quick glance around the room at Procurement Leaders’ World Procurement Congress back in May, you couldn’t miss the fact that the vast majority of delegates were in fact men.
Indeed, this is something that is borne out in the function as a whole with just 14% of CPOs across the globe being female, according to the 2016 Procurement Salary Survey. That inequality is also found in wages with woman earning about 76% of their male colleague’s salary.
Many functions have long said that they would benefit from a more diverse team, but it would seem that, at the moment, this is yet to bear itself out in practice.
However, in some regions that balance is being addressed.
Christina Ooi, head of group procurement at Malaysia Airlines Berhad, told Procurement Leaders that in some of the companies in Malaysia the function actually has more women in it than men.
She said that this was the case because historically the function was seen more of an administrative role, which put men off it. While that has now changed with the function seen as being able to deliver value outside of cost savings, women have stayed in the function.
"Many of the businesses in Asia are either private family-owned companies or small-medium enterprises (SMEs), which have evolved over time. And so, over the years, businesses have expanded and evolved, women in these administrative roles have stayed on at the companies, and also evolved and progressed into the procurement roles we know today," Ooi said.
"Today, at Malaysia Airlines, more than half of our procurement team members are women."
It is not something that is just happening in Asia though, it is also being seen in Saudi Arabia.
Although admitting there are more men in the market than women, Maali Alsaed, who works in the logistics and contracts management team in the procurement department at the Ministry of National Guards Health Affairs in Riyadh, said that women are today increasingly being brought into the function and that both job opportunities and salaries were relatively equal.
“It is down to women to prove themselves worthy of handling male-dominated jobs,” said Alsaed.
“This is the motivation driving women to prove themselves in procurement.”
In the past, employment opportunities for women in Saudi Arabia were few and far between compared with those for men, and this encouraged many females to instead pursue academia. As a result, the country has gained itself a highly educated female workforce and the function is beginning to tap into this.
Alsaed herself garnered a career in procurement by chance, moving to the US to continue her studies in information management as part of the Saudi government’s scholarship programme before returning to the country and being offered a procurement role.
By having a balance of both men and women the function can achieve so much more that if it was full of one sex or the other.
“Women have a number of skills that can be very useful in a procurement role. They tend to have empathy as well as the ability to be direct when they need to be," said Lene Hylling Axelsson, corporate VP of strategic sourcing at Novo Nordisk.
"They also know when to bring other points of view in. All of these are very important in ensuring people have a clear understanding of the goals of the function and are able to open themselves up to different perspectives.”
With a seemingly growing female procurement population in developing markets it will be interesting to see if western businesses try and either tap into this or copy what is happening. Either way, going forward we should see more women working in the function across the globe over the coming years.
This article is a piece of independent writing by a member of Procurement Leaders’ content team.