Procurement can help close the gender gap

The UN has launched a toolkit to help procurement professionals close the international gender gap by supporting women-owned businesses.

The toolkit, produced by UN Women, includes practical advice for business looking to diversify their supply chains to support women and suggests a definition and eligibility criteria firms should adopt to avoid tokenism and fraud when choosing suppliers.

Ravi Karkara, deputy executive director at UN Women, which became operational in 2011 to promote gender equality, said the toolkit supported its “women’s empowerment principles”, a set of measures to help companies promote equality and empower women through the way they do business.

“Recently we worked with Citibank to create a toolkit on simple rules for procurement,” Karkara told SM on the sidelines of an event hosted by The People Space. “[For example] saying 50% of our procurement practices go to women-owned businesses – UN Women does this, and so does the rest of the UN now as well.

“Procurement and advertising can change things,” said Karkara. “It’s an opportunity for procurement to advocate and be the voice.”

In 2013 women owned more than a third of firms internationally, yet these businesses received just 1% of corporate procurement spend, UN Women said.

The toolkit recommends that a business should only be considered ‘women-owned’ if it is 51% owned by women, that one or more woman have unconditional control over long-term decision and day-to-day management, and it is independent from non women-owned businesses.

Increasing the number of women-owned suppliers was not about lowering standards or specifications, but reducing the barriers to entry for these predominantly small businesses, it said. The toolkit also recommended corporates simplify their tender process, limit the size of contracts and be more proactive in advertising opportunities to new suppliers.

All SMEs face problems engaging with corporate supply chains. However, women-owned businesses often face higher hurdles. Internationally, women tend to have poorer accessing finance than men because of social norms and institutional biases, they lack the same opportunity generating business networks, and often lack the financial literacy and business skills, the toolkit said.

Women are also the primary care-giver in most countries and are disproportionately responsible for household work, even when they are part of the workforce, reducing the time they can spend on their enterprises.