Procurement Is THE Least Diverse Profession in UK at Senior Levels – Why?

We reported yesterday on the report from think-tank Policy ExchangeTHE TWO SIDES OF DIVERSITY – Which are the most ethnically diverse occupations?

In a survey covering no less than 202 occupations, and based on the 2015 Labour Force Survey data, “Purchasing managers and directors” was the 8th least diverse occupation, the lowest ranked of any professional, white-collar job.

Why is this the case?

The first and most obvious explanation is simple bias and discrimination. That would have to come from senior executives outside procurement who appoint the procurement leaders in their organisations, and then from the CPOs, heads of function and middle managers who are appointing people into management roles. Remember, as we said yesterday, at a more junior level, “buyers and procurement officers” is ranked at a respectable number 60 in the list.

Perhaps it is a timing thing – all those junior people will take a few years to come through into management roles. I’m not convinced by that to be honest – and the poor performance compared to comparable functions and professions does not support that idea either.

In the Supply Management report, a CIPS spokesman said: “These results are disappointing and it’s evident that progress towards equality and diversity is slow. As the report states, highly skilled roles (such as procurement) are often supported by academic qualifications, which may be more challenging to achieve amongst some ethnic groups because of financial or social constraints”.

Actually, that is not how we interpret the report – we think CIPS may be drawing a wrong conclusion there. The report actually suggests that the most diverse occupations are of two types. “The first are jobs that do not require much skill and that require little by way of social capital in order to enter, other than awareness of where opportunities lie. The second type are jobs that are highly skilled professions that require formal academic training”.

So “highly skilled professions” are generally more diverse, not less. That means the academic qualifications argument for procurement really doesn’t stand up when you compare us against other even more “expensive” and academically demanding professions like medicine and law – those perform much better in the table.

But there is a factor related to that which may come into play. In some Asian cultures, for instance, bright kids who don’t go in the entrepreneurial direction are very much expected to go into the traditional “professions” – medicine, law, and accountancy are the favourites, perhaps just about stretching to a serious (chartered) science or engineering type job. Is procurement still not seen as a suitable home for the brightest and the best? Yet that in itself does not really explain why we under-perform HR and Marketing.

The CIPS spokesman also said this in the Supply Management report:

“This is exactly the reason the CIPS Foundation was set up. It seeks to reduce these diversity gaps by supporting talented individuals in a range of ethnic groups but there’s such a long way to go”.

“Supplier diversity is better understood in the profession and the impact it has on individuals and business. Suppliers can see the business from the outside and often have constructive advice which encourages innovative practices. That should be the same for procurement professionals – diverse, rich in insight and creative. Otherwise, we risk the profession becoming irrelevant and constrained”.

We would agree with that, certainly, but the Foundation, while a worthy cause, is only touching a small number of people. Can CIPS do more? Perhaps, but as a global Institute it may feel this is largely a UK problem and not therefore of primary interest. But it will I suspect make many of us who have been around the profession for many years feel uncomfortable and that “something should be done”.  I guess awareness that we have a problem is a first step at least –  and any comments or suggestions gratefully received.

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