Women are the key to resilient supply chains By Imogen Player

The power of representation in leadership roles can’t be underestimated. Seeing role models that share an identity – whether it be gender, race, disability or religion – make people believe that they too can be a leader one day. Diversity and inclusion (D&I) is needed at leadership levels because this also leads to improved D&I within the whole organisation.

Acknowledging the unique and varied skillsets that different people bring cultivates greater innovation, creativity, and productivity as well as opening the door to a range of untapped skills and perspectives. Improved D&I also leads to a happier workforce, with improved workplace satisfaction and employers having a greater talent pool to choose from. It’s empowering to see yourself reflected in leaders.

As a woman myself, working in the field of sustainability, I put a value on seeing women in sustainability leadership roles. Globally, many inspirational women leaders are promoting sustainable thinking, at both a corporate and personal level – Christiana Figueres; Vandana Shiva; Greta Thunberg; Isatou Ceesay; Ellen MacArthur – the list goes on. I also experience this atmosphere of gender diversity and inspirational thoughts day-to-day in a small business like ours.

Our latest diversity profile shows that 68% of the organisation identify as women, and I have colleagues that are not only leading in their sustainability space but are also pushing forward on the D&I agenda.

Helen leads on the People Matter Charter, an industry standard for the supply chain to address issues including: equality, diversity and inclusion; skills and training; and workforce culture. And Vaishali is a procurement and social value expert who recently provided her view on D&I within the industry to Procurement Magazine.

The lack of involvement of women’s leadership in climate change negotiations at the top climate table (COP26) last year shows that although countries are committing to improving gender equality, there are still gaps in the existing systems. In many countries, women are primary caregivers of food, and fuel, and see first-hand the impacts of climate change on their communities and environment, making them uniquely placed to support in climate change decisions. Women can bring answers and ideas from varying perspectives, with different skillsets and strengths.

The COP26 summit in Glasgow was criticised for the lack of involvement of women’s leadership in climate change negotiations.

Closer to home in the UK, progress towards equality isn’t benefitting all women equally. PwC’s Women in Work Index 2022 indicates that women raising children under the age of 12 are often found to have slower career progression and lower lifetime earnings than men with children of the same age, and women from ethnic minority groups typically experience lower pay and higher unemployment rates than white women. It’s important to know that women have multiple intersecting identities which shape their experiences at work and no statistic or story can truly capture the range and diversity of women’s experiences.

With the transition to Net Zero and Build Back Better initiatives, there will continue to be a drive for sustainability and supply chain jobs and skills. This will mainly be in a few sectors: utilities; construction and manufacturing – those that are typically male-dominated. Women represent only 12% of the UK construction workforce and a mere 1% of manual trades[1]. This lack of representation throughout the industry and its supply chains proves problematic when we consider how much the industry needs to grow to achieve Net Zero.

With organisations racing towards more resilient, efficient, innovative and collaborative supply chains, applying a gender lens can help organisations foster innovation in their solutions. Across global supply chains, power imbalances of male managers and women workers combined with jobs that are seen as ‘appropriate’ for women, mean that women are often amongst the most vulnerable, with low paid and insecure jobs.

With the desire for green skills, this deepens inequality issues in sectors such as construction, where women represent only 12% of the workforce.

From a UK perspective, data from four transport sector clients’ supply chains (Network Rail; National Highways; Transport for London; HS2) for 2021 shows that only 23% of their supply chain are female. Also, the Supply Chain Sustainability School’s Fairness, Inclusion and Respect programme 2021 survey shows that only a minority of female respondents work at senior management and director levels. Interestingly, respondents requested that training and resources are developed to:

  • Combat the issue of women needing to repeatedly justify their position of authority;
  • And improve the promotion of women into senior positions.

Women could be the answer to the construction sector and its supply chain’s future. To further advance women’s recruitment, retention, and equal opportunities the industry must:

  • Provide flexible working options that are equally accessible by all genders and provide equal paid parental leave policies. Providing the right benefits and work-life balance is key;
  • Design policies that allow for women to have equal access to job opportunities. As an example of this, since Kier introduced family-friendly policies they’ve seen a 20% rise in applications;
  • Organisations and co-workers must acknowledge that women have multiple and intersecting identities, so that they can better support them;
  • Equip and upskill women with the skills they need to succeed long-term in jobs and formally equip managers with the knowledge they need to recognise and address burnout in women;
  • Provide mentorship opportunities for women within organisations and ensure they have sight of career progression.

The industry must acknowledge that gender is an issue that’s relevant to all ETI base code clauses and that supply chain mapping and due diligence is more effective when viewed through a gender lens. This will help to understand the different needs of men and women, helping to inform strategies to enhance women’s labour standards and rights. And this needs to be cascaded throughout supply chains, empowering suppliers with the knowledge they need to ensure women’s voices are heard.

The construction sector should focus on improving D&I to create resilient teams and gain a wider talent pool. A step further would be creating an inclusive work culture and environment through a committed approach and continuous efforts.

Women can provide a unique skillset and different perspectives. Seeing women at all levels, and especially at leadership levels, improves D&I throughout entire organisations, enabling greater innovation and productivity, and ultimately, a more resilient supply chain. With this approach the construction industry can achieve a win-win by creating an inclusive work environment and at the same time empowering women to seize opportunities within the supply chain.

[1] Source: Glenigan 2018

For more information

Imogen Player
Senior Consultant

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