All posts by Bernie Fitton

5 Unhelpful Gender Stereotypes We Wish Would Die … And What You Can Do About Them

There’s no doubt that stereotypes can be limiting. But there’s also a lot that all of us can do to help overcome them. 


International Women’s Day (IWD) is all about celebrating women’s progress, and today, women in procurement have a lot to celebrate. A recent Oliver Wyman report found that 20 percent of the top 60 listed companies in the United States and Western Europe have female chief procurement officers (CPOs). In even better news, a lot have been promoted recently: in France alone, more than 30 women have been elevated to the top procurement role within the past 17 months, representing a 30 percent increase from four years ago. We may not be close to 50-50 just yet, but a stride this big in the right direction is certainly noteworthy. 

But what’s holding us back? 

While we know that it’s likely a myriad of factors, one thing’s for sure: as women, we definitely don’t need to blame ourselves. In fact, one of the most frustrating reasons that women have not yet reached equality in leadership in procurement (and most other professions) is that unhelpful gender stereotypes continue to persist in the workplace. These stereotypes mean that managers and colleagues often unconsciously make incorrect assumptions about a woman’s competence and commitment to her role, which in turn hurts her career. 

Here are five of the most unhelpful stereotypes that linger in procurement offices worldwide … and what you can do to help overcome them. 

Stereotype 1: Activities that involve caregiving are considered feminine 

Ever gone into your office kitchen to see that the women are the ones packing the dishwasher? Or if there’s a birthday, is it a woman who is asked to find a card or a cake? While these activities might seem harmless, they only exacerbate unhelpful stereotypes that women are better ‘suited’ to caring activities and men need to get on with the more ‘important’ work. 

Owing to lingering gender stereotypes, women often feel like they need to be the ones to do this type of organising and caring work. A recent study by Harvard Business Review found that women are, on average, 48 percent more likely to volunteer for these types of ‘non-promotable’ tasks, and equally likely to be asked to complete them. 

So how do we overcome this unequal division of labour in the office? Simple: a roster system. 

At the beginning of the year, create a list of what needs to be done, and then allocate it evenly among team members. This way, everyone understands that when there’s work to be done, everyone needs to share equally in doing it. 

Stereotype 2: Risk-taking or decision making is considered a masculine strength 

Procurement, as a profession, is about mitigating risk for the organisation. But in doing so, procurement professionals have to take a lot of risks. We’re constantly asking ourselves questions such as: Is this supplier really the one for us? How well do I really understand our supply chain? Can we afford to make this decision? 

In doing so, we inherently need to take risks. So it follows that if we assume our female team members are less competent in doing so, we might subconsciously assign them tasks that are of lesser consequence. Doing so can hurt their career. 

But this stereotype is something that women can help overcome on their own, thinks Sylvie Noël, Chief Procurement Officer at Covea Group. Sylvie believes that speaking up can be the first step to ensuring you’re not overlooked for riskier, higher-value tasks or assignments: 

“[My advice to women is to] ask to be challenged in what you do and exchange ideas regularly with peers in other sectors. Make the decision to reinvent!”

Stereotype 3: Rationality is considered largely a masculine trait 

According to social researcher Jenna Baddeley, the idea that men are more ‘rational’ and that women are more ‘emotional’ and hence ‘irrational’ is one of the most frustrating examples of modern sexism. Baddeley believes that this unhelpful stereotype is often used, albeit often unconsciously, to not involve women in important decision making, or to discount decisions they’ve made. 

Behind the stereotype, though, is a false assumption, especially in today’s technology-driven world. The idea that emotions are ‘bad’ in decision making, and rationality is ‘good’ is simply not true. In fact, according to Baddeley: 

‘Emotion in decision-making is essential. Positive emotions tell us what’s working well, whereas negative emotions show us what might be amiss.’ 

This is certainly true of decisions involving suppliers. As the success of our supplier relationships are often based on the relationships themselves, emotion can actually be an asset in helping to best mitigate risks and create positive outcomes.

Yet still, how do we overcome the stereotype? 

Dr. Theresa Hudson, who studies men and women’s decision-making, says that we can all overcome the ‘rationality vs. emotional’ stereotype by simply using a more collaborative decision-making style, and having men and women equally ‘sign off’ on the most important decisions: 

“Where ever possible, get everyone to agree on a decision,’ Says Hudson. ‘This applies for both men and women.”

Stereotype 4: Men are more successful at negotiating than women 

There are many skills which are essential in procurement, but one of the most essential is negotiating. After all, we all need this skill to ensure the best outcomes for our company when it comes to our suppliers. 

So it follows that the stereotype that ‘men are more successful than negotiating then women’ can significantly hurt women’s procurement careers in more ways than one. And evidence shows that the assumption not only hurts us when negotiating with suppliers, but also on a broader level, in terms of how we negotiate for our careers. This is especially true when it comes to roles, promotions, and our salaries. 

Although negotiating for ourselves can be terrifying, with this particular stereotype, the best way to overcome it is by simply doing it – and then practicing and practicing, until it becomes second nature. Prior to any negotiation, especially one that involves your career, ensure you follow these four steps to secure the best outcome.  

Stereotype 5: Working longer hours is considered a masculine attribute, whereas flexibility is key for women

It’s a stereotype that has heralded from way back in the industrial era: the idea that hours equals productivity. Yet when women started flooding into offices in the 70s, 80s and beyond, they were forced to expect something different. How could they reconcile the never-ending working hours when they were also the primary carer of children and a household? 

These unfortunate stereotypes paved the way for even more unhelpful stereotypes: the idea that women needed flexibility so they could also manage things at home (and were, as a result, mommy-tracked from a career perspective), whereas men could continue working unabated. 

This stereotype is not one that is as easily addressed, as it does require men to take equal responsibility at home, given that women still do the lion’s share of unpaid childcare and domestic work. But at work, to move past the notion that flexibility is for working mums, simply offer flexibility to everyone (or even mandate it). Research shows that flexibility is the number one benefit employees (regardless of gender) want anyway, so giving it to all employees not only helps women, but it helps everyone to be more engaged at work.

There’s no doubt that stereotypes can be limiting. But there’s also a lot that all of us can do to help overcome them. 

Are there any other stereotypes that you feel hold women back? How, as a leader or manager in procurement, do you help your people overcome them? Let us know in the comments below. 

Make 2019 The Year Your Stakeholders #loveprocurement!

If procurement stays in its traditional role within the organisation, I believe will not achieve its potential growth.

By gpointstudio/ Shutterstock

Last year we asked a group of our customers why they ‘#loveprocurement’, and the answers were really a great testament to the evolving role of procurement. Ivalua is a company that was founded to serve the needs of procurement departments. We are very passionate about what we do, but even we were astonished at the wave of procurement love which came our way when we asked the question “Why do you #loveprocurement?” Here are some of the highlights:

A business function in the midst of a huge evolution, moving from optimising costs to becoming the creator of value and growth

Most procurement leaders have focused on some element of cost reduction and this remains an important area of focus. However, we are now at a point where procurement needs to, and can, look beyond cost savings and move to planning for a seismic change. No-one wins the race by just being good enough. In business being as good as your competitors will not ensure your future success. If you do not innovate you will fade away. We asked professionals why they love their jobs so much, and many called out procurement as being a highly innovative and dynamic department, full of creative people adding huge value to their organisations. Does this sound like you?

Last year we worked extensively with The Hackett Group and they published two excellent reports,

State of Procurement Digital Transformation, Part 1: Value Drivers and Expectations and L​essons Learned by Early Adopters, Part 2.​ In these reports they talk about getting the basics right and procurement getting its house in order ie building a data centre of excellence, getting stakeholders onboard, The latest report from The Hackett Group, ​Procurement Key Issues 2019,​ shows how things are moving on this year. Procurement organisations can move beyond best in class, and clearly the will of procurement teams is there to do this. However there needs to be better alignment between procurement and its business goals. If there is a focus on analytical capabilities (which there is), there must also be teams and individuals brought in with the skills to make this happen, that is when procurement will move to the stage of offering competitive advantage, rather than just as good as the competition.

The future of our profession is not written in stone. It is because of this that it is a passionate adventure for creative people

In a recent blog, Ivalua CMO Alex Saric talks recruitment as being one of the top issues for CPOs and their Senior Directors. What is clear from the comment above, is that the procurement industry is attracting top talent. The comment was repeated by many professionals, and what comes across is that people working in procurement are going above and beyond what might have traditionally expected from this sector. Wolfgang Groening, Head of Procurement Sourcing & Vendor Management at Deutsche Telekom talks in this ​short video​ about the fact that he loves to innovate. Wolfgang in particular calls out digital innovation and how this is allowing organisations like Deutsche Telekom to proactively look for ways to bring more innovation, rather than sticking with the transactional elements of procurement alone.

Fannie Mae, like many other organisations, are recruiting procurement experts that can bring industry knowledge and market insight. These experts are addressing their organisations’ needs to know what are the key trends in the marketplace, who are the movers and shakers in the market and where is innovation coming into play. This is so far from the traditional role of procurement as we could get. Sylvie Noel, CPO of French insurance giant Covéa speaks plainly when she says that has modernised her organisation’s procurement function and that now internal stakeholders or customers now have all the information they need from procurement and they either go for it or they don’t (her words). In Covéa, people can no longer moan about the ‘procurement black tunnel’, because Sylvie has brought in a tool which enables highly skilled procurement professionals to interact seamlessly with their customers, cutting out precious time which can be spend on new product innovations.

A function which has a significant impact on the bottom line AND on the TOP line of an organisation. It is a window of innovation from the outside

If procurement stays in its traditional role, the organisation, I believe will not achieve its potential growth. If procurement is just there to be the police and control cost, then that’s not good enough. Each department in any organisation of a reasonable size is making decisions every day which cost the company money. I’ve worked in marketing for 20 years, and some of the decisions I’ve seen made, and no doubt have made myself, have not always been 100 per cent well thought out! Marketing people are creative, last minute merchants, and this can mean that you do not always dot the Ts and cross the Rs. ​Procurement’s stakeholders, like marketing, need help as they too are going through a massive digital growth curve. I should know – I am a procurement stakeholder. As my department, marketing, steps into the great digital unknown, in a market that is constantly evolving we need skilled procurement professionals to help us make decisions which will be strategic to the company, and we are looking for that expertise and partnership. We need help to look at the innovations in our sector, and strong leadership in both marketing and procurement to make sure we are embracing new technologies, spending the company’s money wisely and driving growth. In addition, marketing and procurement departments need to be recruiting the sorts of individuals who collaborate by nature, who see the bigger picture, who are able to dream big, and also keep the end goal in mind.

What is clear from our #loveprocurement campaign and the answers that you gave us is that many of you love your jobs and are really passionate about the direction in which procurement is going. You are also clear that procurement can make a huge contribution to the bottomline and growth of your organisations. Now you need to make sure that your stakeholders feel this passion and begin to feel your influence on the direction your organisations are going.

Ivalua are sponsoring Big Ideas Summit London on March 14th. Sign up now as a digital delegate to follow the day’s action wherever you are in the world.  

For Procurement to Fly, You Need The Right Team Onboard

Digital Transformation is critical to the future performance of any procurement department… But you need the right team on board to truly fly!

In case you hadn’t noticed, the old approach to Procurement no longer works. Following a strict sourcing process, beating suppliers for extra margin and imposing strict controls on employees is simply not a viable strategy to meeting Procurement’s new objectives. Procurement today is expected to still manage costs, but also manage risk, drive innovation and revenue, improve cash flow and increasingly consumerise the experience for employees. That much is broadly acknowledged. But how?

A new model for Procurement

To meet the growing risk of objectives and enable companies to thrive in today’s highly uncertain market, Procurement leaders are actively evolving their organisations. They are becoming smarter, freeing capacity for more strategic work, leveraging information better to make more informed and timely decisions, and better measuring Procurement’s performance and value contribution. They are becoming more agile, driving digital transformation initiatives and ensuring they can adjust to a rapidly evolving market. And they are becoming more collaborative, working with diverse groups of internal and external stakeholders in very different yet scalable ways. A tall order indeed. Even the best admit a long way to go.

It’s still about the people

Digital Transformation is critical to the future performance of any Procurement department. Technology plays a key and growing role, as innovations leveraging AI and other advanced technologies come to market to empower such transformation. Procurement leaders must stay abreast of the innovations that are truly creating value, but the people are the real heroes. As Ivalua CMO, Alex Saric puts it, “let’s not become so enamoured by technology that we discount the human contribution (and effort) involved.” Innovation won’t start until the right people are in place, with the right teams. That is when technology can truly empower these teams so that they can start to bring about change, often starting at getting the basics right.

Swissport takes off with help from Procurement

An example of this is the work Ivalua’s customer Swissport is doing. You can read about this in Supply Chain World Magazine. As the world’s largest provider of ground and cargo handling services in the aviation industry, Swissport provides services on behalf of some 835 client-companies, handles around 230 million passengers and 4.1 million flights (movements) per year.

When Marianna Zangrillo, SVP and Group CPO at Swissport, took over, she had to build everything from scratch. Under her leadership her team has grown and, as she says “we need talents to improve every one of those business areas and therefore work closely with our HR departments to get the right people onboard, (…) Recent studies show that 70 percent of the current procurement resources won’t be able to do what procurement will need to do as the world moves forward.”

Renier Orth has led the team that has centralised all Procurement for nearly everything the company buys – including cargo-handling equipment, food and drinks for airport lounges and office supplies. We are proud to also say that Swissport brought in Ivalua to digitise the source-to-pay process and optimise performance. Ivalua has brought efficiency to the different stages of the source-to-pay workflow in a single tool, which is a new, but very welcome change to Swissport.

Swissport’s Procurement team has built a Procurement organisation from scratch and earned a seat at the board level to be part of the future conversation of the business direction of Swissport. “We think of procurement as integrated into the business organisation,” Zangrillo says. “We are going to support many important decisions using the talents of a still too often underestimated department.”

Continue your Journey with Ivalua

If you’d like to hear directly from Reiner Orth, CPO at Swissport, and other leaders transforming Procurement, join us at Ivalua’s first conference in London, Ivalua NOW LondonThe event will take place on the 13th March, at Kings Place, near King’s Cross. The theme is “the Voice of Procurement” as we intend to look at innovation through the lens of the leaders truly driving change. How are they upskilling their teams to lead a digital transformation? What unique factors must leaders in manufacturing, retail, logistics and other industries consider? What technological innovations in areas such as AI are empowering them today and what is coming to accelerate their transformations? What basics must be addressed to ensure your company can benefit from the latest innovations? The event will look at the Future of Procurement, focusing on what can and should be done today. Other keynote speakers will include Peter Smith, Managing Director – Spend Matters UK/Europe, Francesco Cortini, Group Director of Strategic Sourcing at Smiths Group and Hemant Gupta, CFO at Blackberrys Menswear. We hope to see you there.