I am a purchaser in a small company in Germany, not far away from Cologne.
Over the winter, I decided to do a professional training in Purchasing and Logistics. We were a group of nine students and I loved going back to school. One of the teachers was the head of the Purchasing Department of a major German company. He was around 50 years old and in general a good teacher. One thing he did, however, was to constantly picture women in his anecdotes as what he thought to be “typically female”. “You need to break the strategy down to everybody, until even the “pearl” in Bookkeeping has understood it.”, he said, or he would mention that women are obsessed by shoes and purses. In his view, women also reason and communicate differently from men. During one of the lessons, he mentioned that their Japanese business partners would expect for an escort girl to be organized for them, when they come to Germany for business trips. I mentioned: “And this is how women are precluded from participating in business life.” While the teacher smiled, the class mate to my left said: “Why? They are participating in “the” business!”. My class mate to the right added: “They basically hold “the business” in their hands!”. My three female class mates also found that was funny. Later the teacher mentioned that they would always have a male purchaser to lead negotiations, when their company visits suppliers in the Middle East. Though a female procurement manager may prepare the negotiations and may be superior to her male colleague, but at the negotiating table she would remain rather passive. The company does this to adopt to the cultural habits in the supplier’s country.
By that time I was wondering why I take this course! My reply to him was not effective and did not change his mind: This is a major company that could change perceptions of women.
Our politicians preach to refugees from the Middle East and on visits to other countries how women are equal to men, and then our companies go out doing the opposite. Plus, the company is not even trying to sell something abroad but they purchase goods.
In my view, if a sales person is uncomfortable selling something to a female purchaser, then this is the sales person’s problem. Especially if the purchaser comes from a big company with considerable market power. What came to my mind later was another question: Do you also adopt to the local standards if child labor is a common thing for your supplier? (I surely hope not!)
At our company, me being a women has never really mattered. And that is how it should be. We also has suppliers in Pakistan, which I believe is also a country where women’s rights are not held particularly high.
Even though we are a small company with limited power in the market, our suppliers do not have the option of choosing between a male or female counterpart. It has never been a problem.