Is a Woman the Next CPO of Your Procurement Organization?

Women in Procurement

Gender diversity in the c-suite doesn’t just benefit women, it significantly contributes to a company’s bottom line. Yet the gender gap looms large in many corporations and specifically in the supply chain and procurement industry.

We discussed this issue yesterday in our initial coverage of the Gender Equality in the C-Suite and Board Room symposium, which took place in Chicago this week. One message from the conference was clear: diversity pays — it leads to better financial returns, better performance, investor interest, innovation and a better company reputation.

Yet according to a study by SCM World, just 22 women have top supply chain executive positions at supply chain related Fortune 500 firms. Additionally, when SCM surveyed 147 supply chain executives in 2013, nearly all respondents agreed the skillsets women bring to companies are advantageous for supply chain management. Research shows women are better at multitasking as well as motivating and leveraging teams to complete tasks, for instance.

Asking ‘Why?’

So how does the supply chain industry improve on gender diversity? Sometimes, it simply starts with a conversation. At Tuesday’s conference, Drianne Benner, CFA, managing director of Appomattox Advisory Inc. and director of New York Society of Securities Analysts, said companies may think they are progressive yet do not have women representation in leadership roles. As a client or possible investor, asking that company if it has considered hiring women for senior positions can spark change, she said.

While Drianne was speaking from an investor perspective, this idea can translate to other industries. If your company does not have women in leadership roles, or they are not represented at all within the procurement organization, perhaps you need to ask, “Why?”

Tackling Biases and Social Norms

The procurement industry does not have a lack of supply of female professionals. Another poll by SCM World of 56 universities around the globe found 37% of students in supply chain programs were female. These universities also reported an increase in female enrollments over the past five years. But why are these women not making it to top CPO spots?

Adena Friedman, president of Nasdaq OMX and the sole female on the company’s executive team, said at the conference on Tuesday there is a “pyramid” problem. At the bottom of the pyramid are a bunch of women entering the workforce in a variety of industries. These women have the skills and education necessary to do their jobs. However, somewhere in the middle of their careers, the pyramid begins to form and only a small group of these women make it to the top. This can be due to a number of issues, including work-life balances, social norms and even hidden biases within a firm.

Bill Proudman, cofounder of White Men as Full Diversity Partners, a diversity consulting firm, talked about this bias at the event as well. He specifically pointed to the cover of The Harvard Business Review this month, which features the question, “What Makes a Great Leader?” over a picture of a white man. This feeds into the belief that executive teams are made up of only older, fit white men.

Yet the benefits of gender diversity are clear. The companies that acknowledge this are those that continue to outperform their peers. Kurt Summers, treasurer for the city of Chicago, argued just that at the event this week. Having more voicesat the table that represent shareholders, customers and stakeholders “means a better company,” he said. And, frankly, the fact that we are still having this conversation and trying to prove this point in 2015 is “embarrassing,” he said.

The city of Chicago hired its first female chief investment officer this year — a milestone Kurt said should not have taken this long to meet. Will 2015 be the year your procurement organization puts a female in the CPO role? We would love to hear your thoughts on this topic and hear from the women in the procurement and supply chain industry. Please reach out!

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