The Procurement Glass Ceiling in 2016

It is, or rather, more importantly was, widely accepted that the procurement function has been largely a male dominated profession over the span of its practice. However, as purchasing practices are showing a marked evolvement from the tactical to the strategic and from hard-nosed negotiation styles towards a more collaborative approach where soft skills are ever more valued, we are now seeing a more balanced representation of genders in the profession. This evolution has caused much debate and dialogue as to whether the infamous “glass ceiling” exists in today’s procurement world and if so, to what extent?

An extensive study carried out in 2010 on the number of women on the boards of top FTSE 100 companies found that only 12.5% of directors and 5.5% of executive directors were women. By 2016, Dr Ruth Sealy and colleagues report that these numbers have now risen to 26% and 8.7% respectively ( These figures are short of the increase required to meet the 33% board target by 2020 that the Davies Report advocates. This relatively slow progress would seem to suggest there are still many practices, policies and efforts that need to be implemented across the board, not merely just in procurement.

There is wide agreement amongst the most up to date literature to suggest that there are two prominent barriers to women’s progression in the workplace – the work/home life balance and the culture of organisations. Within the wider context of the “organisational culture barrier” exist constructs such as the “old boy’s network” and “men’s club”, with many agreeing that “visibility” is a key constituent to promotion and the contemporary construct of “networking” being an extension of this. An interesting question for the procurement world is to what extent networking plays a part in promotion prospects? In what has been described as a typically male dominated profession, does a “mens club” environment exist at the top level of procurement?

However, in an age where childcare is more readily available and where mentoring programmes are becoming increasingly popular, the effects of this barrier are being mitigated. There is wide agreement that organisations need to adopt life and family friendly practices such as flexible hours, child care programmes and job sharing as well as informal practices that support these policies. In an industry typically associated with commercial negotiation and rigid working practices, will procurement see an increase of the like in the future?

Although many believe the glass ceiling to be a construct of the past, along with the obvious empirical evidence that women are still under represented in top level jobs, there is evidence to suggest a “punctured glass ceiling” exists; one that has relocated to a higher level within the management hierarchy. Although work-life practices may help women to progress to middle management positions, they fail to take them the whole way to the top leaving them exposed to a relocated glass ceiling. Some have even gone as far as to extending the metaphor to the “glass cliff” suggesting women’s positions of leadership are associated with an increased risk of failure.

Interestingly, studies have found that men are actually more supportive of women becoming CEO’s than female workers are and that there was increased job satisfaction and motivation when men perceived equality within their organisation. As the world of procurement continues to evolve and change in conjunction with the targets the Davies Report sets out, it will be interesting to see how senior management positions in the procurement function change over time.




About the Author

Joshua Edwards

Resourcer for Procurement Heads. Inspired to develop a career in procurement recruitment following completion of a degree in Business Management. Thrives on building strong relationships with customers and stakeholders and passionate about contributing to the development of a growing brand.

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