Guest Blog: 3 things female Procurement Managers need to do to progress their career

Laura Scarfe

Dec 12, 2023

Guest Blog: 3 things female Procurement Managers need to do to progress their career


Are you a female procurement lead working in Supply Chain? Perhaps you fell into the profession from another function, or you may have actively chosen to pursue a career in the procurement field. If you have, then you are not alone - women, according to Gartner, are increasingly joining the supply chain field, with 41% of procurement officers being female in 2021, an increase of 35% since 2016.

Procurious surveyed 170 women to understand the prevalence and impact of gender bias in the procurement workforce. They found that more women are earning visible leadership roles in procurement, but fewer advance to the highest tier.

Data released in Gartner’s annual ‘Women in Supply Chain’ survey revealed more than a quarter (26%) of C-suite and executive level supply chain roles are now held by women – up from 19% only a year ago. From this we can gather that the situation is improving, however, the 2022 CIPS salary guide, shows there is still a 26% gender pay gap within the profession overall. 

Why is this happening?

This is a complex area, and there is no one reason why female procurement leads are not leading the way in larger numbers for procurement.  

A research study by Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Lonsdale, and Nick Le Mesurier - “Access Denied” highlighted the fact that there is very little research about female procurement leadership, and that more needs to be done. This includes some suggestions as to why there may be a lack of female Procurement leaders;

  1. Work-family perspective - highlighting an absence of appropriate flexible working policies for those women with children
  2. Work-preference perspective - male-dominated cultures that define leadership and ambition only in masculine terms (or the traditional stereotype of masculine leadership)
  3. Gender-bias perspective - false beliefs about a woman’s competence and skill levels. Women are seen as less competent than men (both by men and women in many cases)
  4. Opting-out thesis - that a limited number of females may reject leadership positions, preferring to take on a more traditional feminine role.

We can extrapolate why this is the case through greater research, but it is clear that there are many variables at play, including structural factors and mindset issues.  

From my lived experience, one which has been backed up anecdotally through my having trained over 3500+ female buyers in their CIPS studies, as a female buyer many years ago, I often felt that I was lacking in confidence to trust my own ideas and potential. I would fail to speak up in meetings when older male procurement leads especially were giving opinions I disagreed with. I would allow myself to be interrupted without challenging this, and sometimes felt unsupported in my goals to challenge myself and take on more responsibility. 

I have travelled across the world for negotiations worth millions of pounds and been asked to make drinks or pick the tie that a colleague was going to wear, dealing with conflict by smiling and pretending everything was fine to protect my own safety at times. I often felt I was held to a higher standard than that of my male colleagues. As I got older and found my voice I was called ‘bossy’ or ‘aggressive’ while my male counterparts were referred to as ‘dynamic’ and ‘assertive’.

How can we address this?

As there are many complex variables creating this situation, there is no quick fix. The numbers show that things are improving, albeit slowly – but I feel we need to take action.  There are obvious improvements such as ensuring this is addressed through organizational equality, diversity and inclusion policies, and creating a culture of ED&I through greater opportunity for flexible and hybrid work. It is worth stating here that this cannot be done alone, our male counterparts must be part of the conversation to help change the status quo. Across all of the research, there are three common recurring themes of areas that need working on, these are:

  1. Better female leadership training
  2. Greater cross-industry networks
  3. More visible representation and mentorship

There is a huge need for more targeted effective training for females in leadership. In my conversations with my procurement network, this has come up as a topic time and time again as something that there is a real need for. This is the same for cross-industry networking. Some industries are doing amazing things for female procurement colleagues, especially in the NHS and Rail networks. However, there is a real lack of cross-industry connections and best practice sharing.

Finally, there needs to be more visible representation and mentorship. This is incredibly important, representation matters, and women need to believe that senior leadership roles are both accessible and achievable for them.


About our Guest Author – Laura is the founder and owner of Business Academy Online Ltd. Specialising in CIPS procurement training, leadership, negotiation, and emotional intelligence, Laura has designed and delivered training programs for multi-million-pound companies including an organization set up under UN Charter.

Laura’s passion is to increase female representation in the Procurement & Supply Chain specialisms. She is supporting women through her creation of the Female Leaders in Procurement (FLIP) leadership training programme in the UK.