Highlighting the systemic barriers preventing women’s businesses accessing the global supply chain equally
Our Programme Officer Annika Hagel highlights an important panel discussion which was part of our Women Entrepreneurs Mean Business Summit: Equality in Supply.
Last November, as part of our Women Entrepreneurs Mean Business Summit, we held a panel session called “Equality in Supply”. The discussion emphasised the role private organisations can play in diversifying the supply chain.
Gender stereotypes exclude women entrepreneurs from all parts of the entrepreneurial ecosystem. This panel zoomed in on present gender imbalances in supply chains and explored the role corporations can and must play in affecting change.
Sarah Kitakule, Private Sector Development Specialist and Cherie Blair Foundation for Women Trustee, moderated the session and was joined by three experts offering their insights: Nina Patil, Founder of Fresh Express India and Cherie Blair Foundation for Women alumna; Heather Kipnis, Senior Operations Officer – Global Lead, Entrepreneurship and Inclusive Business at IFC and Norah Odwesso, Senior Director for Social Impact at The Coca-Cola Company.
The panel started with a startling fact – according to Heather, less than 1% of the global spending on goods and services by large corporations and governments goes to women-owned businesses.
Norah explained what the Coca-Cola Company are doing to change this, and include more women’s businesses in the supply chain, giving some detail about the company’s 5by20 women’s empowerment programme. She emphasised that the most important learning was: “including women in the supply chain is good for business”. She stressed that the present imbalance is caused by flaws in the way the system was designed: “Supply chains were designed by men. They were designed not necessarily for inclusivity but for speed, for efficiency, for cost competitiveness.”
As a woman entrepreneur who has herself experienced the impact of gender stereotypes preventing her access to the supply chain, Nina agreed that initiatives and policy changes by companies are key to including women’s businesses in the supply chain. Her own company champions equal pay and incentivises families to transfer any land they have to be held by the women in the family, slowly growing the number of women landowners. She also suggested that, as women are more likely to have smaller farms compared to male farmers, they are at a disadvantage, because retailers see contracting to smaller businesses as risky.
Heather offered insights gained from an IFC study in Kenya: “Buyers have a limited understanding of the unique challenges that women entrepreneurs face and consequently there is a perception that women entrepreneurs have less capacity. This perception influences the award decisions and women entrepreneurs are not able to access the procurement contracts.” She emphasised the systemic nature of the problem: “There is this language around needing to fix women entrepreneurs but we need to look at the systems in place and fix those to make sure that they are more inclusive”.
There is this language around needing to fix women entrepreneurs but we need to look at the systems in place and fix those to make sure that they are more inclusive.
The panel agreed, suggesting that corporations should change their own mechanisms, dedicate staff and resources to diversifying the supply chain, collect sex-disaggregated data and review the way they advertise tenders and design contracts.
Both Nina and Norah emphasized the need for setting measurable goals alongside capacity building efforts, with Norah stating: “Companies should have targets to deliberately increase spend from women-owned enterprises”. Yet, no one company alone can solve this problem. As Heather pointed out, “it is only through partnerships that we can rebuild inclusive supply chains and open up new markets for women entrepreneurs”.
It is only through partnerships that we can rebuild inclusive supply chains and open up new markets for women entrepreneurs.
The overall message from the panel was that excluding women from supply chains is harmful to everyone involved –women entrepreneurs, corporations, and the global economy as a whole. I strongly agree with Heather that companies need to change their own policies. As long as supply chain mechanisms exclude women by design, no mentoring or capacity building programme aimed at supporting women entrepreneurs will ever be able to increase diversity. To use Nina’s words, we will need to “stand up and speak, shout from the rooftops if necessary, until we’re heard”, in order to dramatically change the way that supply chains are established, managed and controlled.
Women Entrepreneurs Mean Business: the global Summit
For the Women Entrepreneurs Mean Business Summit in November 2021, we explored and challenged the gender stereotypes holding women entrepreneurs back from success and equality.Find out more
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