Applying a Gender Lens to Sustainable Procurement
Gender and Supply Chains: Gender-Responsive Procurement’s Strategic Value
Gender-responsive procurement practices
Gender-responsive procurement is about companies leveraging their purchasing policies and practices to promote gender equality and support social and economic progress through gender-responsive measures at all stages and tiers of procurement and supply chain.
Favouring gender-responsive enterprises through their procurement practices means that a business has fully integrated gender equality in its policies and practices, regardless of ownership, one important first step being the alignment with international standards and principles such as the Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs) and International Labour Standards of the International Labour Organization. This can help to ensure respect for human rights and labour rights, advance decent working conditions for all workers, including women, and influence equal outcomes rather than just equal opportunities.
Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs) – UN Women
The WEPs provide guidance to help procurement and supply chain departments prioritise, establish and implement gender-responsive and ethical procurement practices. Companies of all sectors, industries and sizes, based anywhere in the world, that are advancing gender equality in the workplace, marketplace and community can become signatories of the WEPs.
Sign up to the WEPs here.
Business benefits of gender-responsive procurement
All businesses stand to benefit from gender equality and women’s empowerment. By including a gender lens in your buying decisions, you can expand your company’s markets, diversify its supply chains, enhance its reputation, unlock innovation, adaptability, agility and opportunity as well as grow the economy. Encouraging your suppliers to do the same can accelerate progress – and it is possible to mainstream gender as part of your procurement strategy without compromising quality, efficiency, cost savings and value for money.
UN Women highlights the evidence-based business case for gender-responsive procurement in its report, Procurement’s Strategic Value: Why gender-responsive procurement makes business sense, which outlines the following business benefits:
Increased revenue and reduced procurement spend
- There is more business development and growth as a result of companies creating a gateway for more women’s enterprises and gender-responsive enterprises to compete for sustainable business opportunities.
- As businesses thrive, their owners and workers earn income that may make them both cost-attractive suppliers and potential customers.
- Companies seeking local, diverse businesses could also see cost-savings through increased competition and reduction in shipping, freight, and other costs.
Greater supplier availability and resilience
- Companies can mitigate the risks caused by single source supply chains by expanding, localising, and diversifying their current supplier base, which may also increase resilience in the face of extreme weather events and other results of climate change.
- By gaining a deeper understanding of how suppliers operate, companies can identify and address potential vulnerabilities in the supply chain.
Enhanced brand reputation
- Enhanced brand reputation amongst customers, peers, investors, and employees supports business growth and brand loyalty.
- As consumers become more likely to buy from purpose-driven brands, companies must ensure they are catering to consumers in all their diversity, including gender-responsive suppliers.
Greater innovation and adaptability
- In the face of new risks such as COVID-19 and climate change, it’s increasingly important to allow companies to stay competitive and better respond to customer needs.
- According to UN Women, supplying from more diverse companies through gender-responsive procurement allows buyers to take advantage of a greater range of talent that otherwise would not have been tapped.
- Suppliers representing diverse backgrounds can help companies understand and address differing customer needs, providing a critical perspective on how to reach and market products to customers.
Improved service delivery and increased agility
- UN Women found that diverse suppliers, which are more likely to be SMEs, can be more eager for business and have a more specialised understanding of industry fluctuations and needs, leading to better customer service, a willingness to learn and adapt, and increased client satisfaction and longer-term relationships with suppliers.
Strengthened markets through economic development and inclusive growth
- Globally, 90% of businesses are SMEs and in developing countries 7 out of 10 jobs are created by SMEs.
- As diverse suppliers are often SMEs — one-third of SMEs are women-owned — investing in gender-responsive procurement contributes to the development of value chains and supports labour markets by increasing local income generation and decent employment opportunities.
Case Study: The business case for gender-responsive procurement
Gender equality and inclusivity are among Adjara Group’s core values. As part of its strategy, Adjara Group aims to have an equal representation of men and women at all levels across its business. Adjara Group has created TheShop, which is a concept store that supports Georgia’s creative industries with a focus on female entrepreneurs and the Udabno Project which offers alternative employment training to employees, including women, across its business.
As a signatory of the Women’s Empowerment Principles, GAB is committed to inclusion and gender equality. In 2017, GAB publicly committed to increase sourcing from women-owned businesses following a baseline study of its supply chain and has now exceeded its target – 26 percent of its procurement spend is now with women-owned businesses. This was achieved by understanding and addressing the barriers to entry, streamlining the supplier application process, providing training on the tender process and sharing upcoming opportunities for suppliers. By creating opportunities for local women-owned businesses who became suppliers of GAB and others, thereby growing the bank’s own customer base, GAB saw significant returns in less than a year from the programme launch.
Unilever is changing the game for women-owned business through Sourcing2Equal, a global programme which aims to connect 5,000 women-owned SMEs to contracts by 2023. By working with businesses to increase the opportunities they offer, as well as through boosting SME capabilities and access to finance, the programme is targeting an increase in the share and volume of procurement contracts for women-owned SMEs in two years. Unilever’s Sunlight brand has also set up Women of More in East Africa to support women entrepreneurs through financial literacy training and access to finance. Sunlight has now joined forces with Absa Bank Kenya with the aim of reaching more than 100,000 women in East Africa by the end of 2026.