Purchasing power: The opportunity for women’s advancement in procurement and global supply chains


2020 is a critical year for gender equality and women’s rights. Among other major milestones, this year marks the 10th anniversary of the Women Empowerment Principles (WEPs), a framework guiding business on how to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment in the workplace, marketplace and community.


Women are essential in global value chains as producers, employees, business owners, and consumers. The WEPs encourage companies to assess and address gender equality across the value chain, from increasing women in leadership positions, access to education and training opportunities, to gender-smart procurement that works with suppliers to ensure safe and inclusive workplaces.


Over the past decade, 2,771 companies worldwide have become WEPs signatories. Companies have assessed their own practices to identify major gender gaps, designed strategies to promote equal employment opportunities though human resources practices, policies, and objectives, and implemented workplace programmes to equip women with more knowledge and resources, among others.


However, despite considerable advancements, we are still decades away from achieving gender parity. The World Economic Forum’s recent Global Gender Gap Report reveals that today, women have lower workforce participation than men (55 percent compared to 78 percent), hold limited leadership positions globally (representing 36 percent of senior managers and officials, with even lower representation in higher positions), face persistent gender pay gaps, and continue to be victims of sexual harassment and violence.


Slow progress means missed financial and sustainability opportunities – gender equality plays a significant role in the fulfillment of other SDGs and achieving gender equality in the workplace could add USD $12 trillion to global economic growth by 2025.


Why do procurement and purchasing practices matter?

Advancing gender equality is transversal within companies and requires engagement from various departments to be fully realised throughout the business. Procurement holds tremendous power to promote gender equality across different profiles of women – as procument leaders and team members, business owners, and workers of business partners and suppliers. Through both employment and purchasing practices, procurement can effect equal opportunities for women involved at the different stages of procurement.

  • Promoting women in procurement leadership: Gendered stereotypes contribute to women participating less in certain industries and jobs and, while initiatives exist to promote women in non-traditional jobs, such programs are yet to be mainstream. Just 14.7% of Chief Procurement Officer-level respondents to Procurement Leaders’ Procurement Salary Survey 2020 identified as female. Further, Oliver Wyman’s 2019 report found that procurement leaders recognize more creative and innovative team dynamics when women are included in the team, as well as more efficiency and economic benefits.

  • Procuring from women-owned business: Little is known about companies’ engagement with women-owned business. A forthcoming report analysing the responses from over 1,000 companies who have reported against the WEPs reveals that only four percent of companies track the percentage spend on women-owned business and three percent publicly report on it. Women-owned businesses still face a number of barriers as women struggle to access and fully participate in local and global value chains. Barriers include limited funding as a result of cultural and gender biases, time constraints given expecations about women’s role as primary caregiver, and challenging business environments attributed to laws, politics, religions and culture that negatively affect women. However, women-owned businesses are the fastest growing market segment in some regions, and have the potential to make big contributions to job creation and global economic growth.

  • Fostering environments that empower women in the supply chain: Women represent a large proportion of workers in supply chains but often encounter gendered challenges that are frequently overlooked, such as occupational segregation, more vulnerable working conditions, unequal pay, poor access to maternity rights, and limited access to training. The upcoming WEPs 2020 report finds that only 8 percent of companies have robust due diligence processes in place to assess potential negative impacts of their operations, particularly for women and girls. Furthermore, poor practices have disproportionate impacts on women. For example, a report on the apparel sector from Human Rights Watch shows the increase of sexual harassment and abuse as a result of intensified work periods. Empowering women can improve turnover, absenteeism and retention rates, while fostering more inclusive, dignified working environments.

So – what next?

As we enter this new decade that demands real action on achieving gender equality—and with the upcoming International Women’s Day #eachforequal—there are three key questions procurement teams should consider to assess how their practices are promoting (or could promote) gender equality:

  • How can your practices and processes enableor limitthe growth of women in the purchasing department? Assess whether the employment practices and culture of the organisation can unconcisouly be constraining women’s full participation in the team. Commit to advancing women in your team together with a clear pipeline, metrics and accountability.

  • How are you engaging with women-owned business? How could you help increase and unlock the potential women-owned businesses hold? Set goals that encourage business relationships with women-owned business, such as through supplier diversity programs.

  • How could you leverage your procurement spend and supplier relationships to promote gender equality across your supply chain and incentivize suppliers to take a stand for women’s empowerment? Raise awareness on gender equality with your suppliers. Review your supplier scorecard and social audit process to integrate a gender perspective. Conduct gender responsive due-dilligence to capture specific challenges women may be facing in your suppliers. BSR has specific and publicly available guidance (linked above) for companies to make procurement tools more gender inclusive and is well positioned to support you in this process.

Achieving gender equality is right and a human right. It means better business and more productive supply chains. Let’s make this the decade of action where women share equally in the opportunities provided across global supply chains.


This contributed article has been written by a guest writer at the invitation of Procurement Leaders. Procurement Leaders received no payment directly connected with the publishing of this content.
Victoria Reca
Posted by Victoria Reca

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