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Washington, DC
December 7, 2021

Bias in Supply Chains – Is your procurement organization biased? by Michael Tobolski

There has been significant progress in the past year with new awareness of diversity and inclusion (D&I) efforts around the globe, especially in the C-Suites of multinational corporations. Many large international buying organizations have now made commitments to buy from diverse-owned suppliers. But is it enough?

Bias remains one of the key obstacles to inclusive sourcing efforts, not only in the U.S., but internationally. In a piece I wrote on “Bias in Supply Chains—What are Your Biases?”, I shared information on both conscious and unconscious bias, and how both need to be addressed, especially as they relate to value chains. None of us is bias free; we all have conscious and unconscious biases. Reconciling with this reality is a journey.

Yet, I regularly encounter people, particularly professionals within multinationals around the world, who do not believe they are biased. 

For example, I recently had a call with a European-based multinational, and when the topic of bias came up, the procurement leader shared that there was no bias in their buyers and that their team “treated all suppliers equally and fairly”. They simply “believed” they weren’t biased. This in itself is part of the issue: If one perceives that there is no bias–without any data to confirm or deny the facts–there will be a lack of action to address potential biases. Most of the individuals who work in D&I are surprised to see that bias continues to exist in today’s environment.

But it’s true. In the world of supplier diversity and inclusion, bias significantly inhibits progress toward gender equality in global value chains. 

Moreover, the qualitative data on this point is staggering: There are countless numbers of women business owners around the world who can attest to the fact that, indeed, gender bias is widespread. They report confronting bias on an almost daily basis exemplified by how they are perceived and treated when looking to become a potential supplier.

From my personal experience, women-owned businesses outside of the U.S. have shared with me that if they told male buyers that they are a woman-owned business, the men would specifically not buy from them. In many countries, successful women entrepreneurs downplay the fact that they are the CEOS, instead tapping male team members to sell the products and services. Oftentimes, women will only reveal their leadership once a contract is signed. 

These stories, and the contradicting realities in the procurement-supplier world, are what inspired my team and I to create a short video on Bias in Value Chains, funded by USAID, that includes the stories of some of these women. A successful women-owned business from each continent shares her regional and personal experiences with discriminations from buyers. It’s a small representation but an important global one. 

The video also includes steps industry leaders such as Accenture, IBM and ExxonMobil are working to address and mitigate bias within their supply chains. 

Some of the best practices to address potential bias in supply chains are:

  • Evaluate the organization’s current culture – Is it inclusive?
  • Ensure C-Suite level commitment and support for inclusive sourcing
  • Develop and implement policies and procedures to address potential bias
  • Hold bias training, to identify existing biases and to mitigate
  • Include at least one diverse supplier in all bid opportunities

Women-owned businesses (in fact all diverse-owned suppliers) need to be competitive in quality, service and price. Our “ask” is to be afforded the opportunities for qualified women businesses to participate in the process and compete on their own merits–not be excluded simply because they are women owned.