All posts by Karen Morley

Procurement Rising Stars: What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

Karen Morley realised very early on in her career that her workplace experience would be somewhat different from her male counterparts. Drawing on her wealth of knowledge she offers three key pieces of advice to procurement rising stars. 

Join our Women in Procurement group, Bravo,  here.

Quite early in my career, it became clear that my overarching purpose was to help leaders realise their full potential (although I may not have articulated it quite as clearly as this at the time!). I have a huge and on-going curiosity about people and their motivations. I became a psychologist to explore that further, and my studies and professional identification fed my purpose.

Levelling The Playing Field

As a young woman starting out my professional life, and with an ambition to succeed and achieve well, I was a keen observer of who in my organisation was given the best opportunities and who was promoted, and it didn’t take long for me to conclude that there wasn’t a level playing field for equally talented men and women. This was a big surprise to me and it was disappointing to know that equality efforts still had a long way to go.

And so my purpose has developed over time to include my passion for ensuring women are provided equal opportunity to grow and succeed, and for working with organisations to promote strategies that increase gender balance, and diversity and inclusion in general. To any procurement rising stars,  I offer three key pieces of advice:

  1. Rising Stars: What got you here won’t get you there

This phrase, which comes from Marshall Goldsmith, is a very powerful one. Continuing to do more of what you’re good at is seductive, but limiting, at least if you want to keep rising. And not all organisations are good at making this clear to their newer leaders.

While we know that new roles and increased seniority require new skills and perspectives, I also speak with the leaders I coach about what they need to give up. You need to give up a lot of what you have been recognised for and been good at, once you’re managing a team.

  1. Create strong foundations that will serve your entire career

Notwithstanding that you need take on and give up certain skills and perspectives as your career grows, there are a couple of related foundation skills for leaders that help regardless of the size and shape of your job. I think these are some of the toughest things to manage, but worth it in terms of the payback:

  • Manage your attention – disciplined attention is the currency of leadership. To be successful you need to pay attention to the things that matter most, and sustain your attention on those things in the midst of many distractions.

At increasingly senior levels this intensifies and focusing strategically and productively becomes ever more challenging. How to zone out the minutiae of everyday demands and keep attention on the big picture? You’ve got to be a bit ruthless with your attention and give up any need you might have to be all things to all people, or to be the one who has the right answers. Instead, prioritise what matters most and excel at it.

  • Manage your perspective – being able to manage your attention helps you to manage your perspective taking. And managing your perspective taking helps with important things like enabling others to do their work, and managing complexity.

The only effective way of dealing with complexity is being able to take different perspectives. Instead of managing for certainty, we need to lead for possibility. That can be challenging, and anxiety-provoking, in organisations where the drive is towards certainty. Seeking out the perspectives of people who are different from us, irritate us, or who stretch us beyond our comfort zones, can unlock enormous creativity and power. What questions do/would they ask? Build them into your repertoire to develop greater flexibility in your thinking.

  1. Know your story, and tell it well

How do you want the world to know you, and to understand the leader you are becoming? Spending time crafting your storylines is of critical importance firstly in gaining your own clarity: what’s your leadership purpose, your values and motivations to lead? How readily and clearly can you articulate these?

When you’re growing and developing, your stories may become a little confused, and some of them are changing. You may need to discard some, and find new ones. Working out how to articulate them clearly can help you gain clarity on what they are. Win:win!

I find that women in particular may be reluctant to tell their stories; I often hear ‘I don’t think I have anything interesting to say’. But everyone does. And a story should only take 60 to 90 seconds to tell.

No-one else will be clear about what you stand for if you’re not. Your stories serve to prime you for success. As you tell your stories people come to better connect with you, understand the authentic you, and appreciate your intentions. Help them to see you as the leader you want to be known as.

My Top Tips On Reducing Gender Disparity 

To be successful in shifting the representation of women in senior roles and start to nurture those rising stars, it’s important to nail these four things:,

  • Sincerely champion the value of women in senior leadership, and publicly commit to change; Giam Swiegers, Global CEO of Aurecon, is a wonderful example of this
  • Develop an inclusive culture and supporting practices, including promoting inclusion as an organisational ideal, promoting inclusive practices such as flexible working for everyone, and changing hiring and promotional practices to make them merit-based
  • Collect the right data, make it transparent and hold managers to account; Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce and Lara Poloni, CEO AECOM A&NZ are outstanding examples of organisations that transparently reviewed pay data, found gender-based differences, and adjusted the salaries of affected women
  • As a leader, recognise the impact and pervasiveness of unconscious bias, seek to understand it, and improve decision making practices to reduce its impact

Procurious has launched Bravo!, a group that seeks to celebrate and promote women working within procurement. Get involved here.

How Women Can Accelerate Their Procurement Leadership Careers

The ‘think manager, think male’ perception is interfering with women’s procurement leadership progression. But change is in the air…

glass ceiling female procurement leadership

No doubt by now you’re familiar with the following. Women tend to wait to apply for promotional roles until they are 100 per cent ready, whereas men jump in when they are just 60 per cent ready.

This mini-boot camp to accelerate your career is for you if you know you’ve got talent, have the desire to do more with your career, yet don’t feel like you’re progressing at quite the right rate.

The good news – there has never been a better time to accelerate your career. Over the last five years, more women are moving into senior roles and gender-imbalanced professions, including procurement.

While times are changing, the bad news is that ‘think manager, think male’ still prevails. And it’s interfering with your ambition and your career development.

The Divergence of Perception

How? The need to display dominance is associated with leadership and traditionally seen as a male attribute. Where women express dominance directly, they are seen as unlikeable, and are less likely to be hired.

Women who put themselves forward for promotional opportunities may be seen as ‘pushy’ or ‘aggressive’. However, men are seen as ‘go-getters’ and ‘straight shooters’ when they do.

Even where male and female leaders are assessed as having the same leadership capability, men receive higher ratings for performance and potential. Women receive less feedback on their leadership, even though, when they do, they are more likely to adapt their behaviour.

Women tend to attribute setbacks to themselves, (“I knew I wasn’t good enough”), whereas men attribute setbacks externally, (“This is a tough job”). This is flipped for success, where women tend to attribute success to external factors like luck, and men to their own capabilities.

Lack of Female Role Models

Women must successfully negotiate a minefield of expectations across both female and male characteristics to be seen as effective leaders. In addition, the degree of vigilance and attention to their impact on others is high.

So, women who are ambitious and want to lead are often caught in the ‘damned if you do, doomed if you don’t’ trap. The trap exists between the need to be competent and assertive in order to be respected as organisational leaders, but also warm and nurturing to enact their ‘appropriate’ social role.

And despite the increase in women at the top, there’s still a lack of female role models, which is a real problem, because ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’.

All of these things feed insecurity and fear of failure, and reduce motivation to lead, which is important for being noticed as having leadership potential and helping you attain leadership roles.

People high in motivation to lead identify strongly with leading and are intrinsically motivated to lead. Women tend to have a lower motivation to lead. This shows up early in careers (actually, in girls still at school).

Set Your Sights on Procurement Leadership

To reverse all of the above, and set your sights on making it to CPO, you need to increase your confidence in your own leadership identity. One way to do this is by identifying concrete role models.

Role models help increase feelings of self-efficacy in leadership, the development of your identity as a leader, and increase your positive feelings about being a leader.

Creating a strong, confident story-line that is congruent with your own values, and having a presence that holds attention, are critical to succeeding in leadership roles, and work on these will help you flex your career muscles.

Here’s a mini boot camp to accelerate your procurement leadership career:
  1. Find yourself role models and exemplars of leadership. Analyse what they do, how they do it, and why it appeals to you.
  1. Do some self-analysis, (no, you don’t need a couch for that – this is a boot camp after all!) and be clear about your sense of identity, your values and your leadership purpose. Why do you want to lead? Be brave. Dream big.
  1. Having done 1 and 2, write your own narrative about the leader you want to be. Script it, edit it, refine it, use it! And repeat.
  1. Reverse your attributions. When things go well, practice attributing your success to your own capabilities. For example, “My ability to remain calm under pressure helped us get through this crisis”. Attribute setbacks externally – for example, “This is a tough project”.
  1. Build a strong support team, your own personal board of advisors. Your board should include guides, advisors, mentors, career advisors, and career guides as well as role models; they’ll help you with the above four steps.

You can also take part in a larger Boot Camp for your career, with Procurious. It’s a great opportunity to learn from some of the best minds in procurement leadership roles.

Or sign up to my Women in Leadership Accelerator programme and really power your career. Mention this article to receive a 10 per cent discount!

What Price Inequality? What Should We Make of Opposition to Equality?

Not all bias is unconscious. Recent derogatory comments by high-profile public figures has drawn attention back to the equality debate.

Gender Equality

How should we understand the spate of recent derogatory comments by high profile figures such as Steve Price and Eddie Maguire about women? And by Sonia Kruger and Pauline Hansen with their anti-Muslim comments?

How do we understand this increasingly public declamation occurring alongside a growing recognition that greater innovation and financial prosperity are achieved through diversity, and that inclusion makes for a better society?

Disproportionate Power

High profile public figures wield a disproportionate amount of power in our society. Steve Price’s labelling of Van Badham as ‘hysterical’ was bad enough (although deftly handled by Badham).

Price’s use of hysterical drew a huge outcry from the audience at the time. However, he seemed perplexed as to why. He then went on to repeatedly talk over Badham. What did he believe was happening, and how did he feel justified to respond as he did in those circumstances?

The social response in the following days was more concerning. There were multiple threats of violence to Badham via her Twitter account, and similarly in public comments to press coverage of the event. What it is that unleashes such harsh and violent responses; why do some people feel justified making nasty, public threats?

Social Dominance Theory

These events serve as a powerful reminder that not all bias is unconscious, and not everyone is interested in being fairer to those around them. Power and dominance have been concepts receiving too little attention lately, but are fundamental for developing a deeper understanding of this behaviour.

Social Dominance theory provides some clues. It suggests that people differ in their level of the two elements of Social Dominance Orientation (SDO): Opposition to Equality, and Support for Social Hierarchy and Dominance.

Support for Social Dominance

People with a high level of group-based Dominance value safety, stability, conformity, obedience and rule-following. They prefer greater levels of hierarchy and power distance in relationships and in society.

High levels of Dominance are associated with active oppression of subordinate groups, justification of oppression, and a strong focus on group competition and threat.

Support for social Dominance means support for active, and sometimes violent, maintenance of hierarchies, predicated on domination by high status members and the subordination of low status members.

Opposition to Equality

Opposition to equality involves support for the legitimacy of the current system including its inequalities. Those at the top of the system tend to believe that the existing system is fair; their position is justified and appropriate to their achievements.

Opposition to equality is associated with political conservatism, support for concepts like ‘work ethic’ as a way of justifying inequality, and with opposition to policies such as equal opportunity or affirmative action.

Opposition to equality is more subtle than Dominance, and is supportive of differential access to power and resources, but not through oppressive means.

(A low Opposition to equality is associated with a high level of empathy, tolerance, compassion and humanitarianism.)

Gender Differences

Individuals who have a high Social Dominance Orientation overall desire to maintain and, in many cases, increase the differences in social status of particular groups. Typically, they are dominant, driven, tough and seek power. Often, people who score high in SDO  strongly believe that we live in a “dog-eat-dog” world.

Men are generally higher than women in SDO. Recent studies have found that high SDO has a strong positive relationship with authoritarian, sexist, homophobic and racist beliefs.

Changing the Landscape

For those of us who do value the increased power and visibility of diversity in all its forms and who aspire to an inclusive society, how do we effectively navigate this landscape?

We can’t necessarily change the beliefs of others. But we should not let them deter us from pursuing a more equal, inclusive world. So what should we do?

  1. Avoid giving those promoting inequality more airtime than they already have (they’re pretty capable of handling this part themselves!).
  2. Tell more stories about positive change.

Even small signs of progress towards equality and inclusion are highly motivating. Psychology expert Professor Teresa Amabile says, “Progress motivates people to accept difficult challenges more readily and to persist longer.”

When people make progress toward, and meet, meaningful goals, the match between the expectations and the reality allows them to feel good, to grow, and be even more motivated to tackle the next challenge. (We can apply some of the same principles as Pokémon Go is using so effectively!)

If we notice the small gains regularly, and publicly, our motivation will increase. And then we will more readily move onto the next step in the equality journey.

Got a story to tell about positive change? Get in touch with Karen on her website.

Queen Bee Syndrome debunked: the sting isn’t where you think it is

Historically, successful women have run the risk of being characterized as the “quintessential ‘bitch’ who is concerned not at all about others but only about herself”.

Queen Bee

Women regarded as successful attract negative reactions that focus primarily on their interpersonal capabilities. Meryl Streep’s character in The Devil Wears Prada is often used to illustrate the point. The supposed source of the character Streep portrays is Anna Wintour, who is described as having an aloof and demanding personality, earning her the nickname ‘Nuclear Wintour’. Closer to home, Peta Credlin is characterized similarly.

While we might all be able to recognize this pattern, up to date research indicates that the sting doesn’t come from women in senior roles.

But first: what is a Queen Bee? In organizations with few senior women, expectations about behaviour and style are firmly male. Women take care and men take charge. Queen Bee syndrome is used to describe the “bitch who stings other women if her power is threatened” and the term is used to blame senior women for not supporting other women.

The power of the dominant group is attractive. Where women are in the significant minority, there is enormous pressure to join with the majority group, which causes ‘insider’ women to become hostile to ‘outsider’ women. As a personal survival mechanism some women become as ‘unwomanly’ as possible and react with hostility to other women. They become part of the dominant group (men), sometimes take on dominant group member characteristics, and exclude members of the non-dominant group.  Queen Bees are seen to hold on to their power as the ‘token woman’ by denigrating other women as ‘emotional’, expressing anti-female attitudes, and avoiding female-focused programs and gatherings.

Such women who perform well in male gender-stereotyped roles are generally not liked: they attract negative reactions that focus primarily on their interpersonal capabilities, and their lack of warmth in particular. Both women and men see them as less desirable as bosses, compared with men described in similar ways.

In just-released research Dezso and colleagues examined the under-representation of women in the top executive teams of US S&P 1,500 firms over a 20 year period. They found that the presence of one woman in a top management team reduced, rather than increased, the chance that a second woman would be appointed to that team.

As that seems so counter-intuitive, they explored the potential causes further, and explicitly tested the Queen Bee hypothesis. Was it this syndrome that prevented a second woman getting into the top team? They examined organizations with a female CEO: according to Queen Bee syndrome, if the person with the top job is a woman, it should be less likely that another woman will be appointed to the top team. The reverse was in fact the case. A second woman was much more likely to be appointed to the top team if the CEO was a woman. In addition, firms appeared to hire women into senior management roles in response to actions by their female board members.

Where does the sting come from then? The researchers suggest an ‘implicit quota’. They argue that firms gain legitimacy if they have women in top management. However, the marginal value they gain after one woman is appointed declines with each successive woman “whereas the perceived costs, from the perspective of the male majority in top management, may increase with each woman”.

What can you do?

1. Accept a broad range of leadership styles.

2. Challenge the myth whenever you get the chance. Cite the research.

3. Support, and make supportive comments about, women who trail blaze.

Gender Balanced Leadership – Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action, and the use of quotas and targets in business, creates stigma and erodes merit. Fact or fiction?

affirmative action

Read the first part of my update here.

Affirmative action measures such as quotas and targets are seen to be problematic for many reasons. Perhaps the biggest concern is that women will be selected for roles based on their gender alone.

This leads to a double negative. First, there is a perception that women themselves will suffer the stigma of being in a role under false pretences. Second, that merit is eroded leading to a performance deficit, as women selected under these conditions are not deemed suitably capable.

What’s the evidence for stigma?

Numerous studies led by Heilman and others between the mid-1980s and mid-2000s explored the idea of stigma. Their research showed that women hired and explicitly identified as being hired under affirmative action programmes were generally seen to be less competent and less deserving of their positions.

This applied even where it could be demonstrated that they were as competent and qualified as male colleagues. (It’s something of a conundrum that women as competent and qualified as male candidates had to be hired through an affirmative action programme…).

Both men and women assessed the women described in this way as less capable. The women appointed through these processes themselves held these views, even in the face of contradictory evidence about their competence!

They also went on to take less credit for successful outcomes and indicated less interest in continuing in leadership roles.

More recent meta-analysis of this same databank, as well as more recent research, creates a more refined view that points to a fundamental problem with how we see affirmative action.

Why Affirmative Action?

Affirmative action is designed to ensure proactive investigation of whether or not equality of opportunity exists. And if it doesn’t, to take steps to eliminate barriers and establish real equality.

Quotas and targets are amongst such measures, in recognition that women and men of equal talent and skill tend not to be appointed to roles with the same frequency, as noted above.

The more refined view reinforces the importance of the language we use. Unzueta and his colleagues found that women’s self-image benefited generally from affirmative action policies, so long as they did not think they had personally benefited.

Other studies have shown that those who benefit from affirmative action recognise the success of such policies, see them as providing them with opportunities, and enjoy working for employers with affirmative action policies. Where women are told their qualifications are high, they do not experience the same negative effects.

Feeling Stigma?

In summary then, stigma may well occur under certain conditions, and how women’s success is described is a critical factor. If women are told they have won their role solely because they’re women, they are more likely to feel stigma.

Where there is a general environment that opportunity is being re-balanced and women move into senior leadership roles, there seems to be no stigma.

Where women are told they have won their roles because they are competent and capable, whatever the affirmative action landscape, there appears to be no stigma. (And this happens not just for women, but for any group in the minority, including male nurses working in a predominately female working environment.)

As it is so unlikely that women will be placed in roles solely because they are women, and as long as women are not described as winning roles solely on the basis of their gender, stigma should not be an issue.

Is Merit Eroded?

Merit is often discussed as if it were an absolute. As if there were perfect standards and assessment tools that allow raters to make unequivocal judgments about individuals. There is however clear evidence that measures of merit include subjective elements and are influenced by stereotypes. The testing community willingly admits to the challenges of making fair assessments of individuals.

Test construction and conditions remain open to bias, and plenty of research supports this. Given that implicit beliefs that associate men with leadership and women with support roles are held at least slightly by the greater majority of the population, it is clear that even those of us with good intentions may not be able to suppress these when we are  assessing capability.

And according to Crosby, most people just don’t notice persistent injustices unless they have access to systematic comparative data. At individual decision level, and even within departments, and even by those attuned to such discrepancies, discrimination between different demographic groups isn’t discerned.

Detecting Different Patterns

It is only when reviewing large amounts of aggregated data comparing smaller groupings across a larger collection, that people are able to detect different patterns in hiring women and men.

Crosby and her colleagues put this down to a fundamentally human need to believe we live in a just world. When we perceive difference, we would rather put it down to a random quirk than to intention (discrimination), and so we miss the pattern.

Because observers are not always able to detect unfairness in processes, valid assessment of the merits of women are harder to achieve than valid assessment of the merits of men.

In Crosby’s words, “the main reason to endorse affirmative action … is to reward merit. Without the systematic monitoring of affirmative action, one can maintain the fiction of a meritocracy but will have difficulty establishing and sustaining a true meritocracy”.

What to do:

  • Prime women for competence
  • Prime others for women’s competence
  • Take care in choosing assessment methods, and as far as possible structure assessment processes to avoid priming on gender lines
  • Increase transparency of the numbers.

Dr Karen Morley is an Executive Coach, Associate Dean at Mt Eliza Education, expert on gender-balanced leadership and registered psychologist.

Gender Balanced Leadership – Token Representation to Critical Mass

For gender balanced leadership, moving from 10 per cent to 30 per cent representation doesn’t happen ‘naturally’.

gender balanced leadership

In a couple of recent posts on LinkedIn, I’ve explored the areas of women’s representation in politics and on boards, and have been pondering why achieving a critical mass of women seems so challenging.

Here’s a summary of the three key barriers to critical mass.

1.  Token numbers lead to complacency and stall progress

The existence of women in token numbers creates a belief that the glass ceiling has been breached. ‘Token practices’ lead to a form of complacency – women perceive that as long as one woman has made it, their own mobility is possible.

Once at least 10 per cent of board members are women, men also view hiring practices as equally fair to men and women.

Even where the number of women in senior roles doesn’t change over time, women still tend to believe that hiring is fair. They view their organisations as providing them equal opportunity. Men are aware that they have a greater chance of promotion under token conditions. And under token hiring practices, men feel that their status as the majority is legitimate.

Recent research into the gender balance of the five highest paid executive roles in 1,500 US firms between 1991 and 2011 found that once one woman had been appointed, the chance of a second woman joining this group dropped by about 50 per cent.

The researchers had expected to find that the introduction of one woman into this top echelon led to a snowball effect. That did not occur over this 20 year period.

2. Homophily restricts network reach creating gender stall

Networks are the traditional basis for and continue to influence board appointments. Homophily is the tendency to associate with those like ourselves.  At token representation levels, the density of the female director network remains subcritical.

Token conditions mean that women already in the system can’t develop a strong network that enables them to invite a sufficient number of other women onto boards. Men’s tendency to network with other men also means that prevailing conditions don’t change.

Without intervention, critical mass cannot be generated. Too many boards with no women, and too many boards with token numbers, equals gender stall.

3. Gender bias limits women’s perceived legitimacy for leadership roles

Leadership continues to be associated with agentic characteristics such as dominance, competitiveness and ambition. The pervasiveness of this set of beliefs means that decisions about legitimate leadership are routinely biased against women and in favour of men.

Women face a dilemma. They’re damned for being competent as leaders, or doomed to support roles when they demonstrate gender-associated warm and communal behaviours.

It is well researched (e.g. Bhonet et al 2014) that hiring and selection decisions are impacted by unconscious bias based on candidate gender. Males are more likely to be selected even where experience, skills and abilities of male and female candidates are identical.

Targets, quotas and other methods are required to to counter-balance these forces, and achieve critical mass.

Make sure you come back for the second part of this article next week.

Dr Karen Morley is an Executive Coach, Associate Dean at Mt Eliza Education, expert on gender-balanced leadership and registered psychologist.