Where We Stand on the Path to Gender Diversity

Where We Stand on the Path to Gender Diversity


by Sarah Scudder


I’ve been working in procurement for years, and I’m a passionate advocate for elevating the role of women in the procurement function. So I was filled with mixed emotions when I recently reviewed the findings of two 2019 research studies that focused on the state of gender diversity in procurement.


Both studies contained some good news about the evolving role of women in procurement, but both also revealed that much more work is needed to achieve real gender diversity.

The Oliver Wyman Research


The Women In Procurement report by Oliver Wyman 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 they are important to keep in mind.


Oliver Wyman found that 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.


The research also found that a growing number of women are advancing to senior procurement leadership positions. As the survey report states:  “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).”


Now for the not-so-good news. This survey clearly showed that most companies have a lot more work to do to make gender diversity a reality in procurement. For example, 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.


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.”


The AWESOME/Gartner Study


The 2019 Women in Supply Chain Survey by AWESOME (a U.S.-based non-profit organization focused on advancing women’s supply chain leadership) and Gartner, Inc. was a survey of 165 supply chain professionals. Most of the respondents were based in North America, and all companies were required to have annual revenues of at least $100 million.


This study found that, on average, women represent 39% of the total supply chain workforce. The research also found that women had made notable levels of improvement at most job levels in the supply chain function, compared to the 2018 edition of the survey. For example:

  • Thirty-three percent of front-line managers and supervisors were women, compared to 30% in 2018.
  • Twenty-nine percent of senior managers were women, compared to 25% in 2018.
  • Twenty-seven percent of Directors were women, compared to 24% in 2018.
  • Most notably, 28% of Vice Presidents and Senior Directors were women, up from only 20% in 2018.


However, the percentage of women holding executive positions (e.g., EVP’s, SVP’s, and CPO’s) decreased in 2019, compared to 2018—11% vs. 14%. So while these surveys do show that we have made some progress toward gender diversity in procurement and supply chain management, they also show that companies have more work to do.