Where the boys are…


Well, this is where the boys were…

Before we talk about today’s sizzling blog, many of you have probably been wondering where sourcing’s lone change management warrior, Deb Kops, has been hiding.  Was her war against change management avoidance becoming too much?  What was she doing when she criss-crossed the world between India, Singapore, Germany, Spain, UK, Netherlands, China, Austria, Japan and the Republic of Texas over recent months?  Had she contracted an incurable gastric ailment when she was force-fed a deep fried Texan pickle?

Well, I’m glad to inform you all that nothing has changed as she embarked on another why does no one give a stuff about change management tirade to me last week, but she occasionally does find other wars to wage, while she’s waiting for one of her other wars to come full-circle.  And this war is one she first alerted us to over a year back, when she bemoaned the dominance of the male species on most service providers’ management teams.  So over you, Ms K to give us your inside view on…

Where the boys are

Looking at any outsourcing provider or advisor’s website brings to mind the title of a 1950s song by Connie Francis. Click on “About Us,” then “Management Team,” and a bevy of good looking thirty- and forty-something guys in sharp suits will peer back at you. Occasionally, you’ll see the anomalous face of someone of the female persuasion managing human resources, marketing or the odd business unit. Is this lack of diversity an issue for the global sourcing industry?

Over the past few years, I’ve met growing numbers of women on the client side at levels ranging from program director to vendor to process manager, from executive sponsor to global sourcing leader to business unit head. Empirically, I’d estimate that in meetings with client side management personnel, at least a third of the team had two x chromosomes.

Under the thesis that people prefer to do business with people who are like them, I profiled the management teams and boards of eight major outsourcing providers generally considered the usual suspects—both based onshore and off, some truly global, some, some pure play and some with a technology/consulting heritage. I then took a gander at the websites of three sourcing advisors to see whether many girls have made it into their management big leagues—defined as having a mug shot on the Web.

While I don’t pretend that a look at 11 websites constitutes rigorous research, the results empirically supported my hunch. Granted, no two companies operate under the same definition of management, with the teams on display ranging from 3 to 33 in number, but out of 165 publicly profiled team members, only 17, or less than 10 percent, were women. Some had none, and there was a marked concentration of women in the so-called “traditional” corporate leadership positions—human resources and marketing, with a stray corporate counsel. There were only two lady business line leaders, and only one woman was appointed to a sales leadership role. Perhaps not surprisingly, non-Indian heritage firms had a higher number of women in leadership, but not overwhelmingly so.

To complete my evaluation of the state of play in the unholy sourcing trinity of client, provider and advisor, I looked at the websites of three noted sourcing advisory firms. Historically, professional services firms have been strong proponents of the power of gender diversity; consultancies, accountancies and legal firms have been focused on this issue for over 20 years. Bu out of 87 named management positions on the Internet, only six were occupied by women.

These data are not meant to paint the sole picture of the industry’s awareness of the need for gender diversity. Many provider organizations are increasingly sensitive to the issue,  incorporating strategies to attract, mentor and promote women within their HR policies. Some have appointed diversity officers, while other operate under the dictate that, all qualifications being equal, hire the person in the skirt or the sari. And women are just now starting to show up in the ranks of a few outsourcing providers’ sales forces, which could be termed the first indication of acceptance and enlightenment.

But working under the assumption that it takes at least 15 years to develop an executive, and a concerted effort to retain him or her in order to benefit, will the complexion of the sourcing industry change soon? And is there a burning platform for that change?

The industry is growing…outsourcing is an accepted business model…and other industries don’t have a scarcity of women, so what’s the issue?  Let’s look at the demographics. With almost 43 and 34 percent of women in management in the sourcing export countries of the U.S. and the U.K. alone according to Catalyst (the leading nonprofit membership organization working globally to expand opportunities for women and business), if the numbers in the small sample are indicative of trends in the industry, the corresponding numbers in the provider community don’t match up.

If the workforce numbers alone are not persuasive, go to www.catalyst.com and look for award winners or the advisory board composition. The list of companies whose initiatives ranging from discrete programs to corporate efforts to recruit, retain and advance women mirrors that of about every outsourcing provider’s dream client list. Who would not want to provide services to Avon, Procter & Gamble, Pepsico or JPMorganChase?

Deborah Kops, HfS Contributing Analyst

Deborah Kops is Research Fellow, Sourcing Change Management, HfS Research (click for bio)

The rationale for greater diversity in the sourcing industry is more than numbers; it’s personal. How often has sourcing scope been expanded because the players forged a relationship on an individual basis? That a strong level of trust between parties meant that problems could be solved fairly and efficiently?  Men have never underestimated the power of a round of golf; while women may not choose to play 18 holes, they have other ways of bonding with their clients. With increasing growth in the ranks of women buyers, there should be no doubt about the power of being able to connect on both personal and professional levels.

Cutting the industry some slack, lack of diversity in the management ranks of the global sourcing world is due to the sheer age of the indigenous industry. Only now are women entering the workforce in numbers that will ultimately result in a funnel which will raise them into the management ranks. It can take as many as 10 years to develop women managers; in a fast-moving industry, that’s far too much time.

But pipeline of qualified women aside, the sourcing industry should confront some hard truths when thinking about presenting a more diverse face to their clients:

Myth still in the way Remember when few women could be found in  professions such as law or accounting? Even as recently as 20 years ago, management believed that women could not be trusted to stick with their careers, that as soon as some guy came around to marry them, the gals would be off to babies and carpools, wasting many years of training and mentorship.  There is still a nagging belief that gals won’t travel, are not as loyal, and just cannot be counted on to solve problems in the same way.

Lukewarm, if any, corporate sensitivity With growth and quality of delivery taking on such overwhelming importance, there is seemingly no reward for efforts perceived as extracurricular—such as workplace diversity— by many outsourcing companies. Attracting and retaining staff is of such import that programs are typically agnostic to gender. And in offshore centers, “best places to work” awards may be seen as nice to have but not truly core to the branding necessary to attract staff.

Unfortunately women, particularly those offshore, are not experienced in drawing attention to the issue constructively. Discussions about gender diversity are often couched as complaints because younger women with few role models and limited experience are not yet fully prepared to make the case about gender diversity. So there is no group pushing from within the industry globally.

No burning client platform to make a change Pushing aggressively against the glass ceiling does not diversity yield; experience indicates that business focuses on diversity issues only when it is in their best interest to do so. No one is yet championing the cause of women in the sourcing industry; only when clients demand diversity in their teams will composition change. 

Apathy of women leaders Last year, an informal survey of 20 onshore management women in sourcing indicated that, while the majority saw the lack of women in the industry as an issue for the industry, several believed that advancement to the management ranks was entirely a personal career challenge. There is residual sentiment in many professions that says “I was able to get where I am today on my own; why should I help others and what’s in it for me?”

Is the sourcing industry focused on the issue?  Informally, yes– provider leaders—men and women alike—privately acknowledge that gender diversity is an important component of growth and client service equations. Clients of the female persuasion bemoan the fact that the ranks of women in their provider leadership ranks are thin, especially when the 10 to 15 man teams proposing are predominantly, if not entirely, male. Leading executive search firms are increasing being asked to source so-called “diversity candidates.” And Nasscom, amongst other groups, is starting to focus on the participation of women as a critical enabling factor for the growth of the industry.

What will speed up the population of more women in the provider side of the outsourcing industry equation?

Enhancing the visibility of women who have “made it” Many young women in our industry are desperately seeking role models of women who have survived and thrived, taking on roles that drive growth and exemplary client service. Several leading providers are implementing in -house mentoring programs, or supporting external organizations such as Women in Leadership India to show the way. Having access to more and more leaders of the same gender will help give younger female professionals the confidence to develop their careers in the industry.

Applying supplier diversity goals to outsourcing contracts As in any industry, unless clients demand change, progress will be slow. When clients demand that women show up in the pitches, or that some of the work go to a women-owned enterprise, or that engagements are staffed with female account managers and supervisors, gender diversity will become a business imperative.

Appointing male sponsors to champion gender diversity Unfortunately, gender diversity is seen as a women’s issue rather than a business issue. When a woman is appointed to lead an initiative, male colleagues see it as a separate issue that does not impact their futures. However, when a respected male colleague takes the helm of a diversity initiative, management is more likely to take notice.

Appointing women to provider boards of directors or advisory boards The gender diversity message will take on more importance if it starts at the board level. That’s not to say that the gentlemen on the board cannot push the issue with management; having female board members governing performance sends a very strong message that performance is without gender, and women belong at the leadership table.

Perhaps in a few years we’ll find the girls where the boys are in the outsourcing industry. And, as a result, it will become even more successful.

Deborah Kops (pictured above) is Research Fellow for HfS Research, and leads her own practice in sourcing change management entitled SourcingChange (www.sourcingchange.com).

Posted in : Business Process Outsourcing (BPO), IT Outsourcing / IT Services, sourcing-change



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  1. This is a very, very insightful post. I would expand and add that even as you go down the ranks, there are very few women in leadership at almost all these firms. As a buyer, I can count on my finger tips the number of account managers or client partner or delivery managers across our vendors that are women?

    As Deb points out, this a combination of myth, insensitivity and the lack of a burning platform (who wants to changea good thing). We’ve been pushing our vendors to have more diversity and the good news is that they are listening and responding favorably.

  2. Thanks, JSD, for sharing. Glad to hear a buyer sees gender diversity merely as good business, not post feminism nor a replay of 1960s bra burning, and has providers responding accordingly.

  3. As a female head of sourcing for a financial institution, it is the exception that I encounter women in leadership roles in the provider community. This is ultimately a people business, and providers need to have leaders who relate to female customers in a credible and authentic way. Many successful business-to-consumer companies have figured this out – largely because women dominate consumer spending – but the B2B segment has not. Providers underestimate the influence of women in corporate sourcing decisions – and that’s not just bad, it’s bad business.

  4. Thanks, Anonymous, for commenting. Suggest that until business is known to be lost because of the lack of diversity, the number of skirts around the table will not change. When the benefits–and rewards–of diversity are palpable, and there is a line of sight to revenue and margin, i believe you’ll see more leaders who can relate to women customers.

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