Category Archives: Women in Procurement

How To Free Your Decisions From Bias

It’s not easy to free yourself and others from decision bias. But the pay off for your organisation is worth it…

A CEO mentioned recently to me his frustration with a few of his Senior Leaders who play the ‘merit card’ whenever diversity is raised. In doing so, they stymie good initiatives. Each small block they construct rebuilds the wall as fast as the CEO and supportive leaders tear it down. ‘What can I do?’ he asked. I shared his pain: invoking the ‘merit card’ is a wicked, if effective, tactic for, paradoxically, subverting merit and keeping control.

The CEO and his leaders have an awareness of unconscious bias and know a bit about how it works. Until recently unconscious bias was heralded as the holy grail for achieving significant improvement in diversity and inclusion outcomes. But the value of unconscious bias training in particular, and diversity training in general, is being challenged.

Dobbin & Kalev’s influential article ‘Why diversity programs fail’ importantly identified that command and control approaches, adopted by many organisations, backfire. You can’t get people to change by telling them to. And you don’t get people to change by blaming them for doing the wrong thing.

Making training about beliefs and preferences mandatory is almost guaranteed to fail. That’s because suppressing unconscious beliefs, to ‘do what’s expected’, is  well-known to make bias more, not less, likely. And that’s the danger with these senior leaders who play the ‘merit card’; their biases may increase rather than decrease.

Unconscious bias awareness is not a silver bullet, it is however, worthwhile. It’s not easy to free yourself and others from decision bias, so what will make it worth the CEO’s effort? You can’t work with it effectively if you don’t understand it. And it’s how you work with it that counts. 

Debias by accepting your fallibility

At an individual level, part of the work is to accept your own fallibility. We are susceptible to many types of bias, that cover all sorts of decisions. Frustratingly, because these biases operate unconsciously, we can’t really know when we are in their grip. And our bias for overconfidence means that we tend to think that our decisions are much better than they are. So, we’re not actually very likely to think we’re biased. It’s bit of a Catch-22.

The most practical approach is to be aware of the tendency towards overconfidence. Be more modest, less certain, about your decisions. Whether or not you know you are biased matters less than accepting that you are likely to be biased.

Leaders who play the ‘merit card’ probably suffer certainty bias, they don’t think they are biased. They don’t like the suggestion they have a ‘weakness’ like ‘bias’. Without that openness, their decisions remain narrow. Feelings of certainty are biases themselves. It’s when we feel most certain that we are most likely to be unsystematic, think we know, circumvent objective methods, or neglect to ask for alternatives.

If you accept that you are likely to be biased you are more likely to act to mitigate against bias. And that, currently, seems to get the best results.

Biases show up in:

  • What we notice
  • What we expect
  • What we ask, and
  • What we value.

What we notice

Collectively, we are getting much better at noticing gender-participation differences by industry and occupation. When we take the time to collect and examine the data about, for example, pay, it transpires that there are often gaps that can only be attributed to gender.  When we notice the difference, we can act on the difference.

At the individual level, what we notice has a big impact on careers.

Letters of recommendation for male academics emphasise research skills, publications and career aspirations, which are the ‘get ahead’ characteristics. Whereas teaching skills, practical clinical skills and personal attributes, the ‘get along’ characteristics, are more often identified for females.

Women scientists’ early career advancement is hindered, even when they have the same qualifications as male scientists. Male and female faculty make biased hiring decisions, preferring male candidates over female. Their capabilities are noticed differently. Male candidates are seen as more competent, more worthy of mentoring and deserving of a higher salary than female candidates.

Notice what you notice

Set yourself a noticing challenge. Pair yourself up with someone of the opposite gender, with whom you will be interacting regularly throughout a designated day. Commit to taking observations during the day. Each half hour, record what you have observed in terms of interpersonal interactions.

At the end of the day, compare your notes with each other.

What do you notice about who takes what kinds of actions, and what is the impact of their actions on others? What’s similar in your observations, and what’s different?

What we expect

We expect men to be ambitious and we don’t expect women to be. This erodes women’s ability to express their ambition. In numerous professions, from policing to medicine and science, women begin with the same levels of ambition as do men. Yet, while men’s ambition increases over time, women’s decreases. Because women are constantly fighting structural barriers, their ambition often wanes.

We expect men to be competent and women supportive. A recent European study reviewed 125 applications for venture capital funding. Forty-seven percent of women’s applications, versus 62% of men’s, were funded. Women applied for and received less funding.

There were four distinct differences in the language used to assess applications:

  • Women were described as needing support, men as assertive.
  • Women were not described as entrepreneurs but as growing a business to escape unemployment. Superlatives were used about men’s fit with entrepreneurship and risk taking.
  • Women’s credibility was questioned, men’s was not.
  • Women were seen to lack competence, experience and knowledge; men to be innovative and impressive.

Expectations about how men and women should behave were carried over into evaluations which then affected their relative success.

Disrupt your expectations

What happens if you disrupt your expectations regarding ambition and competence? What if you spent a day imagining all the women you engage with are ambitious, competent and want to get ahead? Imagine the men with whom you engage want to provide support and take a back seat.

If our Senior Leaders imagined that the men in their teams wanted to leave work to pick up the kids from school and prepare dinner, how would they think about their next career move?

What we ask

The group of researchers involved in the VC funding example above observed the full application process. They concluded that the questions that were asked undermined women’s potential, but underpinned men’s.

A recent US study found a similar kind of bias. In a start-up funding competition, venture capitalists (VCs) were much more likely to ask male entrepreneurs promotion-oriented questions. They focused on ideals, achievements and advancement. By contrast, VCs asked females entrepreneurs prevention-oriented questions. These questions focused on vigilance, responsibility, risk and safety. Male-led start-ups raised five times the funding of females. Consistent with what we know about unconscious bias, the research found that male and female VCs displayed the same questioning biases.  It is often assumed that men favour men and women favour women; increasing the number of women on selection panels is routinely seen as the solution. Yet unconscious biases about gender are held as commonly by women as by men. While simply increasing the number of female decision makers does make balanced decision making more likely, it does not guarantee it. However, when panels have gender balance, or are female only, bias tends to disappear.

Question what you ask

 How might you disrupt the kinds of questions you ask men and women? Do you ask men and women the same questions? What happens when you do?

Imagine our Senior Leaders asked men and women the same questions they ask women. What would they learn?

What we value

Johnson & Johnson, which fields about 1 million job applications for over 25,000 job openings each year, now uses Textio to debias their job ads. When they first started using it they found that their job ads were skewed with masculine language. They were disproportionately valuing male characteristics. Their pilot program to change the language in their ads resulted in a 9% increase in female applicants.

Even when managers and decision-makers espouse a commitment to gender equality and a desire to promote more women into leadership positions, they are prone to evaluate women less positively

By deliberately analysing and structuring how information is conveyed and options are presented, it can become easier to make fairer decisions.

Women are commonly demoted to traditional gender roles. Forty-five percent of women in one study have been asked to make the tea in meetings. Some were CEO at the time. Female doctors are often mistaken for nurses, female lawyers for paralegals and female professionals of many kinds for personal assistants.  We do not expect women to hold senior roles, despite the fact that, increasingly, they do.

Student evaluations of teaching appear to be influenced similarly. Even in an online course where the gender of the instructor was manipulated so that identical experiences were provided to students, those students who believed they had a female teacher provided significantly lower teaching evaluations. While these lower ratings misrepresent actual competency, they nevertheless may create a self-fulfilling prophesy where women’s career advancement choices begin to conform to the stereotype. And erroneous beliefs about women’s competency levels limit the opportunities that are provided to them; the misrepresentations are perpetuated.

Put the value back into evaluation

Debias evaluation by using blind, automated processes. Take human bias and error out, and increase the value of the decisions you are making.

Would our Senior Leaders be prepared to do this? Would they be prepared to take themselves out of the equation? Would they believe an objective merit-based process could occur for a decision in which they have an interest, but in which they were not involved?

Put it all together

People are responsible for their own minds. Our CEO has provided opportunities for his senior leaders to engage with curiosity, respect and candour in their diversity programs. There are some wonderful stories emerging.

The challenge for those who don’t yet get it, is to agree to the overarching purpose that people decisions are based on merit. If merit is what we are aiming for, we should all be prepared to sign-up for practices and tools that increase and uphold it. Will they do this?

But merit is both more and less than it seems. It is more complex and difficult to define than most people think. It is less objective and rigorous, particularly in knowledge work and leadership roles. It is ripe for bias. Paradoxically, invoking merit is perhaps the most powerful way to subvert it.

It’s time for Senior Leaders to throw away the ‘merit card’; their people deserve a fairer hand.

Eroding merit corrodes culture, and culture is where the CEO leaves his biggest legacy. What can he do? To leave a lasting legacy, the CEO knows he needs to call out the fallacy of the ‘merit card’ and hold his Senior Leaders to account for fair people decisions. He can help them to exit the organisation if they are not prepared to play a fair hand.

If the Senior Leaders are prepared to admit to fallibility, to be aware that they may notice and value the behaviours of different groups of people in different ways, there are many practices that will make sure bias is minimised and fairer decisions are made.

We can all keep working to debias our decisions.

What to do if you believe in merit:

  1. Accept your fallibility – be more modest, less certain about your decisions.
  2. Notice what you notice – record what you notice and assess it for fairness.
  3. Disrupt your expectations – imagine women are ambitious and men supportive.
  4. Question what you ask – ask the same questions of everyone.
  5. Put the value back into evaluation – by using blind processes.

#Metoo: Coming To Your Workplace In 2018

#Metoo changed the gender equality landscape dramatically in the space of a few months. Here’s how we can build upon those hard-won gains.

Sundry Photography/Shutterstock.com

#Metoo has shaken the world – and rightly so. That it has taken until 2017 for significant attention to be paid to the harassment and abuse that women have been subjected to by men they know, in workplaces that proclaim their ‘values’, is staggering.

In the U.S., the #metoo movement has raged its way through Hollywood, the music industry, the church, the military, and government. The corporate world won’t escape this tide of transparency. While corporates have historically been under more pressure to stamp out sexual harassment and discrimination, it still occurs and is often poorly handled.

The big myth that organisations ‘protect us from harm’ has been outed. Even in the days when it was acceptable for organisations to be benevolent and protective, they weren’t. The Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse is a prime example of this. As is #ChurchToo, #MeTooMilitary and #MeTooCongress in the US, the closure of the Presidents Club in the UK, and other responses across the world.

Why has it been so hard to attract a spotlight with sufficient wattage to this issue?

Because women know it’s dangerous to be outspoken on gender equity – you get targeted if you are.

Sustaining a focus on harm, abuse, and violence is exhausting. It’s overwhelming and becomes depowering. We go elsewhere to be replenished, and then lose momentum.

When we see white men persistently holding on to power, and not sharing it, it is unclear what can be done.

And what we now know from the unconscious bias research is that women have the same biases and inconsistencies; it isn’t women versus men, it’s gender-based views about women’s and men’s roles, which is complicated, and confusing.

This year’s International Women’s Day refocuses the #metoo momentum in a positive way. #Pressforprogress provides an optimistic, action-oriented window of opportunity for change. #Pressforprogress calls on us to set up a virtuous cycle instead of staying trapped in this one. To focus on rights, rather than wrongs.

A clear focus on progress will help make progress visible, and make more progress.

What has #metoo achieved?

One of the intentions of the #metoo campaign was to draw attention to the prevalence and unacceptability of sexual harassment. It has done much more than that.

On a personal level, #metoo reminded me of my own small experience of harassment. In my first days as a full-time worker in a large organization I was told by co-workers that my new boss, a middle-aged man, chased female employees around the office on a regular basis. I was staggered by this news. At first, I couldn’t believe it.

Then I saw it happen.

And yes, he did it on a regular basis. Thankfully, I learnt pretty quickly that if you didn’t play the game, that is, run when expected to, he didn’t play either. What a relief! What strikes me as I remember it is that slight frisson of fear ‘What if he catches me?’ So far as I know, he didn’t ever catch anyone, but that isn’t the point. The point is the intimidation and fear that is caused by something projected as a seemingly harmless ‘game’, but which clearly is not.

Ironically, his name was Mr Speed, so perhaps he thought that gave him some kind of license. But his license also came from our collusion in being chased. There’s a kind of helplessness to do anything different even though it’s clear that it’s not OK. More frighteningly, tacit license came from the organisation and its authority figures. His behaviour wasn’t a secret. And it wasn’t sanctioned.

This is minor in comparison with the abuse that many have suffered. I appreciate that I have been lucky – there’s no other way to explain it – to have avoided serious abuse and harassment in my life. And for that I remain extremely thankful.

 What progress has #metoo made?

On a broader level, #metoo:

  1. Saw public, tough consequences for some (admittedly high-profile) abusers;
  2. Opened to scrutiny what had been widely known about, but not subjected to public awareness. It created a sense of transparency and accountability;
  3. Catalyzed men and women into joining the movement against widespread, endemic abuse. We stood up and said publicly that it wasn’t acceptable.

#MeToo has put serious dents in some myths about women (and they still need work):

  • ‘Women don’t enjoy sex’: men who believe this don’t buy ‘no means no’, and expect women to resist;
  • ‘Women are men’s property’ which means that consent doesn’t matter;
  • ‘She must have provoked it’ which means that it’s her fault;
  • ‘She could have just said no’, which means that she said no and I ignored her anyway.

There’s certainly been some collateral damage, and if only it could have been avoided. Victims are traumatised, there are false accusations, not everyone has been called to account, there’s backlash and disagreement about what it means.

It’s time to shift the dialogue, and #pressforprogress makes for good timing. We’ve outed past wrongs. We’ve gone some distance in redressing some wrongs. We’ve challenged myths. Now how do we get better gender equity so that we don’t backslide; so that we keep these gains and build upon them?

A relentless focus on progress will speed the rate of change. We need to see the task ahead as akin to rain falling, collecting and being channelled along the rocks. As it collects and gathers force the runnels go deeper and wider. The flow increases and gathers force. The underlying rock is eroded and the runnel becomes a river that becomes a waterfall. Like water pouring over a waterfall, each drop, each surge of progress, erodes the resistance, deepens the possibilities, and increases the momentum.

How organisations can #pressforprogress:

As a foundation, organisations must provide a safe environment for all workers, and pay particular attention to those who have lower levels of power. They need to ensure there is a zero tolerance policy for harassment, and actively grow a culture founded on respect for others. They must be both deeply committed to safety, and advocate strongly for equality, to create a culture that is true to their words. Nothing else is good enough.

The single most important factor in motivating people to put in effort, is the perception of making progress in meaningful work. When people experience a sense of progress, they are more intrinsically motivated.

 Organisational leaders should ensure that they:

 Notice all progress towards safety and inclusion, no matter how small;

  • Provide structure, resources and help to support diversity and inclusion;
  • Provide emotional support to nourish human connection and belonging.

 And do these things relentlessly.

 What can individuals do?

The best way to use our effort to make progress is to be hyper-aware of even very small signs of progress and draw attention to them.

Notice some signs of progress every single day. Notice even tiny amounts of progress. Share your own. Share other’s stories. Tell progress stories whenever you can. This magnifies motivation to make progress.

While we are not there yet, there have been many gains, and 2017 has increased the momentum for equality. The ability to notice even small amounts of progress reduces the impact of setbacks, boosts positive emotions and engagement, and sustains effort to achieve long-term outcomes.

Progress motivates people to accept difficult challenges more readily and to persist longer.

#Pressforprogress in 2018 by noticing and sharing your progress, and the progress of others.

Punished For Parenting – The Most Expensive “Time-Off” You’ll Ever Take

Ah, the joys of parenting! If you’ve got children, you’ll know that it’s pretty damn difficult, and costly, to return to the workplace post-parental leave – as if you needed that extra stress! What should your organisation be doing to ease your transition? 

Nomad_Soul/Shutterstock.com

You’re coming to the end of nine months (give or take) parental leave  and my guess is that you’ve never felt less “in the zone”.  You’re sleeping an average of four hours a night, haven’t had a shower in three days, can’t remember the last time you had a conversation about something other than nappies, Peppa Pig or puréed carrots and you’ve got 2157 emails, and counting, in your inbox.

Returning to work after having children is tough for numerous reasons; leaving your child(ren) in someone else’s care (and paying a hefty fee for the privilege), negotiating flexible working conditions, re-adapting to work and taking a sizeable pay cut to name but a few.

The true cost of maternity leave

It won’t come as a surprise that women are the most economically punished in this scenario.

A recent UK study by PwC, entitled “The £1 billion career break penalty for professional women” revealed that women returning to the workplace post-parental leave are losing out on an average of £4000 anually.

Numerous reports have considered the hours worked (around 100 p/w) by stay-at-home mums and calculated their deserved salaries  (in excess of £100,000) but we aren’t living in a dream world. Most women, in some capacity, have to return to the real world and they sure as heck aren’t earning what they deserve or filling the roles that reflect their experience and skillset. Indeed, PwC’s report suggest that two-thirds of women are working below their potential when they return to work and one in five are moving into lower-paid roles.

The stigma associated with CV gaps and a lack of workplace flexibility in many organisations are both contributing factors to these concerning statistics, but there is some hope! By fully utilising the female-returner workforce, the UK could add £1.7 billion to its economy.  And a number of organisations are recognising this and taking promising steps to implement programmes that make the transition back to work seamless and accommodating for working parents.

Here are a few examples:

1. Offer mid-career returnships

Think you might be too old for an internship? What about a returnship? Returnships, open to men and women, are a growing trend in UK businesses, aimed at helping those who have taken extended career breaks by updating skills and easing people’s fear about big CV gaps and a lacking or out of date skillset.

Women Returners explain that “Returnships are higher-level internships which act as a bridge back to senior roles for experienced professionals who have taken an extended career break. They are professionally-paid short-term employment contracts, typically of 3-6 months, with a strong possibility of an ongoing role at the end of the programme.”

And the benefits are two-fold with the employer benefitting as much as the employee. They gain access to a high calibre diverse talent pool and are given a low risk opportunity to assess a potential employee’s suitability for a permanent role.

Companies in the UK who currently offer returnship programmes include PwC, Deloitte, 02, Mastercard and Virgin Money. You can take a look at the full list of companies offering returnships and what these programmes entail here. 

2. Let the dads parent too!

The easiest way to prevent parental leave destroying careers for women is to level the playing field for all genders.

The concept of paternity leave is still a fairly new one. Sweden became the first country in the world to introduce paid parental leave just forty years ago and, whilst more than half of EU countries have followed suit since then, the uptake is still low.  Men are reluctant to take their full entitlement of paid leave because of the cultural stigma attached. Most companies and countries offer far less leave for men than women and it sends a message: “Men don’t really need parental leave.” Fear of judgement, lost career opportunities and lack of role models all contribute to the lack of uptake.

When men and women are offered, and start claiming, paid parental leave in equal measure, it becomes everyone’s problem to find better ways of accommodating this leave within businesses- and that’s when change happens!

Some of the trailblazing companies include Netfix, whose parental leave policy allows parents up to a year of flexible paid leave, Amazon, who launched “Leave Share,” allowing Amazon employees to share their paid leave with their partners and Spotify, who offer six month full pay to all parents.

3. Build a creche

Flexible working is crucial for parents upon their return from a career break. Employees who are offered flexible work options such as being able to work from home, and at hours that suit them could be the difference between a parent returning to a senior role and having to take a more junior position, for which they are overqualified. What does it matter if one of your top employees leaves at 3pm each day to collect their children if they’re willing to work late into the evening to get the job done?

We talk a lot on Procurious about better assimilating family life with the workplace and whether it’s becoming more acceptable to bring your children to work. A number of companies are better providing for their employee parents with on-site childcare facilities. Goldman Sachs, for example, opened London’s first on-site creche in 2003.  It currently offers staff four weeks free care to ease the transition back to work from parental leave.

In the U.S. a third of Fortune’s top 100 companies to work for provide on-site child care.

Why Being Reliable Spells Doom to Your Career

Do people in your workplace ever refer to you as reliable, trusty, dependable? That’s got to stop! 

Are you a woman working in procurement? Join Bravo, our specialised group on Procurious. 

Truth or myth

Myth: Having a reputation for being “reliable” and “getting the job done” makes you valuable.

Over the weekend I’ve been helping a friend in a sticky situation. She is downsising her business, which is a smart move.

She has the potential to sell her business, which is a lucrative move.

In either case, she has to make layoffs.

Ouch.

As we strategised together on how to deal with this difficult decision, a staffer’s name kept reappearing.

My friend feels indebted to her for all her years of service.

I asked her what value the woman brought to the team. How does her work enhance results, solve problems, and propel the company forward?

Her answer?

“I don’t know…she just always does what I ask and gets the job done.”

Hire or fire?

We discussed this some more and came to the conclusion that despite her loyalty and workhorse ethic, this staffer would not make the cut and has to be let go.

That’s painful. And I see this a lot.

When I ask women what their special sauce is at the office, I hear “I’m known for my work ethic” or “I always do a good job” or “I’m reliable and get the job done”

I get it. I was once that person, too. And it cost me thousands of hours of my life and hundreds of thousands of dollars that I could have been earning.

Dammit!

Being known for getting the job done is not enough to build value and does not get you the pay scale, nor the flexibility you crave.

And what is even harder to see is that, most likely, working hard feels good. And when something feels good it becomes a hard habit to break.

When you realise how much you’re worth, You’ll stop giving people discounts. – Karen Salmansohn 

There is certainly pride in staying at the office late to produce a stellar result. And it’s nice to be the first one the boss reaches for when there’s a difficult task at hand that will require overtime. Who doesn’t want to feel needed?

Yet, when you are the person who is routinely called in to do the tough jobs that require a maximum time commitment, the only person to blame is YOU.

Sorry.

It’s okay to work an 80 every now and then if you’re in your flow and loving what you do.

And it’s great to commit to a special assignment that will open up doors of opportunity.

But it sucks to work that 80 day-in and day-out while telling yourself “it’s only for a year or two until I prove myself”

Don’t hold yourself back

Finding value in how hard you work is a script from your childhood. And if you’ve watched my master class you know what those scripts do. They hold you back. They make you trade hours for dollars. They keep you from your littles. They pull you off course so you can’t be the real, authentic you.

Defining your value and pouring your heart and soul into developing that is priceless. It’s a linchpin in your ability to create the career you really want.

You just need to hone it, sell it, and make sure the whole world knows your secret sauce solves their acute pain. Now you are simply PRICELESS! (But you already knew that, didn’t you?)

And the best part about this is that anyone can do it. You don’t have to be special, you already are special…you just have to find that special spark inside and nurture it. You don’t have to be lucky, you create your own luck by seizing opportunities and taking a stand for what you care about. And you don’t have to be master craftsman. Women always think they don’t have the skills, experience, or blah, blah to do this. Of course you do!

So when are you going to claim the life you really want? If you’re not living it today, then I suggest now  is a good time, right?

Are you a woman working in procurement? Join Bravo, our specialised group on Procurious. 

This article was oringally published on LinkedIn. In 2003, Kathleen Byars  left her lucrative executive career to go live on an island. Today she specialises in helping corporate women redesign their lives and leverage their talent to create fulfilling, flexible careers without sacrificing the success they’ve earned.

Evergreen Wisdom for a Changing Profession

When was the last time you reached out to a Procurement Guru? Although the battleground is changing, those among us with scars have a lot of relevant insights to share.

We knew we’d be in for a treat when we locked in an interview with ISM board member Ann Oka. Ann is the former senior VP of supply management (CPO) for Sodexo, Inc. in North America where she was responsible for a whopping US$5.5 billion spend.

While working, Ann believed in contributing beyond her formal role, and served on the board of trustees for the A.T. Kearney Center for Strategic Supply Leadership at ISM, the board of the Sodexo Stop Hunger Foundation, and was a member of the executive committee of the GS1 Foodservice Initiative.  She retired in June of 2014, and other than the ISM board, now occupies her time with family and leisure.

Of course, she has a wealth of knowledge to draw from thanks to decades of procurement experience but, interestingly, she’s objective about its value to the next generation of procurement professionals. “Some things don’t change over time; motivating and leading people, looking at evolving tech and enlarging the sources of value. But, whilst there might be a lot of insights those of us with scars can give, the battleground is changing.”

The battleground may well be changing but surely that means Ann’s insights, as a seasoned pro, are all the more significant? As such, we were fascinated to learn how she has seen the profession develop over time and what she believes the future holds.

The evolution of procurement

Ann explains how drastically procurement’s role has changed over the years, both in terms of job responsibilities and external perceptions of the profession. “Where people were once identified as buyers or negotiators, they became category managers as the implementation of strategic sourcing evolved. These developments redefined the role of the average procurement person – they became professionals; their strategic impact increased and they had a broader scope.”

It’s a tricky and lengthy transition to lead any team through. “There’s a big task in the up-skilling of your people, particularly when you want to bring as many of them along with you as you can.”

Of course, some things don’t change. “The major evolution of procurement that we’re currently experiencing is comparable, in many ways, to what happened twenty years ago” Ann begins. “It was in the mid-90s when I first realised the importance of systems, technology and data. There was a tremendous amount of data available to procurement and category management, but harnessing it and getting it into the hands of the supply professionals was the challenge.”

What does the future hold?

Ann believes that the most competent procurement professionals will take the onslaught of Artificial Intelligence entirely in their stride. As she puts it, in a message to “The Change Resistant”:

“The train has come to the station. You have the choice of getting on it – and we’ll help you with the ticket – or you can be run over.”

The bottom line, she says, is that “people may well have been successful in the past, but the world is changing and you need to change with it, or it will pass you by.”

As far as procurement roles being totally displaced by AI, Ann is sceptical at best. “I don’t think the advent of new technology really changes a procurement role. Those with an ability to look at the long-term picture will be able to incorporate that into their strategies. Look at how the future is evolving and the possibilities it presents and work out how you’re going to work with the firm and with your supply base to extract the maximum value.”

Permission To Fail, Please!

It’s apparent that Ann rates a good procurement leader as much as, if not more than, someone who’s AI-ready.  “The harder thing for many organisations is having a management team that allows employees room to stretch and fail, that lets them try new things without instilling a fear of repercussions. There is such a thing as a successful failure. People are loath to say a project they’ve run hasn’t worked  out, fearing they will be judged on its success or failure. But occasionally  encountering a failure is a part of the journey to improvement.”

Procurement leaders can effectively work as safety nets for their teams. They should allow enough flexibility but know when to pull the plug to avoid too much fallout.

“I was in my position at Sodexo for 11 years. It allowed us to do things like put in some industry-leading systems, change the way we worked with suppliers, and harvest a culture of continuous improvement. In this time the continuous improvement team came up with several far-fetched ideas and used the leadership  team as a sounding board. It’s useful to invite new ideas and to have an off-the-wall ways of looking at things.”

Of course, not everyone thinks in this way. The key is finding people who have strategic vision. “Leaders should be on the look out for hires who have an intellectual curiosity and the courage to tickle the edges of things that are scary.  Embracing functional diversity is important in achieving this – perhaps your next star will come from legal, or IT, or straight out of college?”

Once a CPO, always a CPO

She might be retired, but its clear to see Ann still lives and breathes procurement. “I have people from past roles who, surprisingly, come back and approach me for our old heart-to-hearts”. She holds­­ board positions and still mentors younger professionals.  Safe to say there’s a spot for her on our board any day!

We concluded the interview with a final piece of advice from Ann; “If you’re a CPO, think about how you best position your company for tomorrow. Keep an eye on emerging technologies and bring the conversation to the table.” In other words, don’t miss the train!­­

 

Can I Really Be Me And Succeed At Work?

Scores of women struggle to be their most authentic selves at work without the fear of negatively impacting their careers. How can you be your fabulous self in the workplace and still succeed! 

Join the women in procurement conversation in the Procurious Bravo group. 

I moderate forums quite regularly for women that focus on the themes of vulnerability, building business acumen and authentic leadership. There is a consistent theme in the conversations I have before, during and after these forums. Frustration and exasperation that women are not advancing quickly enough into leadership.

The structural, system level reasons are well documented, however women tell me:

  1. I want to advance, but encounter barriers and exclusion due to implicit bias
  2. I am perceived to lack the confidence that men typically do in the workplace
  3. I want to show up authentically, confidently and courageously, but do not believe I will be rewarded for ‘being me’

Why do women feel like they cannot be authentic?

One answer is the issue of likeability. There is a catalogue of articles about the ‘Heidi/Howard’ story cited by Sheryl Sandberg in her seminal work, Lean In. Heidi who is an authentic female entrepreneur and go-getter, successful, wealthy, powerful and respected. Her success story, profile and achievements are reviewed by a group of students from NYU. Then her name is changed to Howard and the same group of students review her/his accomplishments.  The students rate Heidi/Howard the same for competence, however Howard was rated as more likeable and someone that the students would prefer to work with.

Heidi is ‘selfish and not the type of person you would want to hire or work for.’

It feels true, doesn’t it? It also feels awful and contributes to the exasperation and frustration that women feel. However, there is hope. Andersen Cooper from CNN recently reran the experiment with a group of students. This time around, students rated the female entrepreneur as more likeable and desirable as a boss than the male. Hooray! But why?

  1. Because in the 10 years since the original study, we have seen more women ascend to positions of power
  2. Women’s participation rates in the workforce are at their highest rate ever

However, the societal expectations of how ‘nice girls’ behave and as a result, the challenge of being an authentic leader, female or male, are not shifting quickly enough.

To put a completely gendered lens to this issue; I asked women;

  1. Can I really be me and still advance at work?
  2. Is my authentic feminine leadership style valued the same way as traditional male leadership styles?

Disappointingly, many women say no to both questions. Women are waiting for the right environment to advance to be truly authentic feminine leaders. I say wait no longer!

We expect a lot from women

We want them to lead, manage, coordinate and juggle life, leadership and career. Often this results in women prioritising their career last in a long to do list.  I want women to invest time and effort in themselves, their development and their fulfilment because I know, from my own experience, that understanding myself, my skills and how to use them effectively has positioned and propelled me into doing what I love and what the world needs. More women in leadership!

Get the career advice you need

In her Ted Talk watched over 3 million times, Susan Colantuono says get the career advice you need, not what you’ve always received! Here is some good advice;

  1. Traditional training, development & advice will get you to the middle, not the top
  2. Embrace your identity as a leader
  3. Identify and act to close your leadership gaps

Identify and act to build your leadership muscle

If you want to lose weight, get fit and be healthy, then you would identify and act, wouldn’t you? You might get a gym membership, start eating healthy or engage a personal trainer to help keep you committed, focussed and accountable.

Why not use the same formula for your career?

  1. Lose weight:lose the incomplete career advice, lose the lack of confidence.
  2. Get fit:practice self-awareness & business skills exercises and build authentic leadership muscles
  3. Be healthy: discover your purpose, your vision and values then build a career advancement plan

These are logical steps but require commitment, discipline, support and expertise. That’s why I want women to think of me as their career personal trainer. I have designed a 6-step program to build the career muscles that matter for women.

Advancing Women workshops are designed to build the EQ (Emotional Quotient) IQ (Intellectual Quotient) and SQ (Social Quotient) muscles of the current and next generation of female leaders in Australia.

Advancing Women programs are not designed to ‘fix’ women, they are designed to provide the strategies, tools and the practical actions to women who are serious about advancing their prospects. The learning content is balanced to ensure that women aren’t over-committing and perfecting skills, attributes and traits they are already comfortable with and competent at.    All of which result in women advancing, on their own terms!

This article was originally published on MichelleRedFern.com. 

Join the women in procurement conversation in the Procurious Bravo group. 

The Five Myths Of Workplace Underrepresentation, Busted!

Too scared to talk about workplace diversity and inclusion? Dominic Price will happily go first as he debunks the 5 most common myths about underrepresentation.

Danilov1991xxx/Shutterstock.com

As a 6-foot-4-inch straight white guy in tech, it might seem unusual that I’m writing about diversity and inclusion. The reason is,more of us need to: write about it, talk about it, and, especially, do something about it.

Just looking at the nightly news in recent weeks, or a new report that underscores the gaps between how tech workers view diversity within their companies and the realities of the situation, it’s apparent how crucial it is to speak out on issues of equality. Speaking up can feel uncomfortable (and heck, by writing this I know I’m making myself a target for criticism), but it’s no longer an option for those of us in groups who hold the most power to stay silent.

My colleagues rightly point out that as a white guy, I’ve got quite a bit of privilege in my industry, and there’s lots of good use for it. So, here’s my boldest attempt yet to make my privilege work for everyone. Specifically, I want to clear up some major misconceptions I hear from others, and predominantly from people who look like me.

Our position of privilege means we are the most removed from the hardships others face and we need to proactively reject the myths we hear.

Myth #1: “Why should we give women and minorities a leg up? Isn’t that unfairly prioritising one group over another?”

Standard words from a fish that doesn’t know it’s in water. It’s much easier to blame others’ misfortunes on lack of intelligence or hard work than on a lack of equal opportunities. This is a protectionist strategy by the strong and wealthy to reduce the power and potential of the perceived weak. For all of the talk about being “data-driven,” many seem to believe that everyone has an equal chance to be in the workplace, despite loads of evidence to the contrary. While it would be nice to think we are all treated equally, simply being a minority can mean being treated differently by others and having fewer social and economic opportunities.

Our position of privilege means we are the most removed from the hardships others in our industry face and need to proactively reject the myths we hear.

Advocating for increased diversity in our industry doesn’t mean people from marginalised groups want an unfair advantage or hand-outs. They just want the same opportunities that others have had.

Myth #2: “You have to be a minority to be involved in diversity & inclusion (D&I).”

A wonderful way to pass the buck. The prevalence of underrepresented minorities talking about a lack of opportunities is because they feel the pain every day and are intrinsically more motivated to make it right. Just because we’re not personally guilty of creating the unequal playing field does not mean we’re not personally responsible for helping to fixing it. When your child spills milk, do you say “not my mess”? Our predecessors helped tilt the playing field, and now it’s our turn to level it out. The sooner we realise we contributed to this problem, (even if only passively through lack of action) the quicker we move from rhetoric to making a difference.

Just because we’re not personally guilty of creating the unequal playing field does not mean we’re not personally responsible for helping to fixing it.

There are plenty of ways to get involved: From merely drawing attention to biased behaviours you see, to getting involved in your company’s existing diversity efforts, or starting your own.

Myth #3: “We just don’t have a diverse applicant pool.”

Ah, yes. A favourite of many, especially in Silicon Valley where recruiting is particularly tough — for example by 2020, there will be nearly 1.5 million unfilled computer science roles. But have you asked yourself why you don’t have a diverse pool? Are you hiring your grads from the same tiny set of schools with very homogeneous student populations? Have you searched for underrepresented candidates, or created programs to bring more into the fold? What have you changed to attract and support them? While the talent pipeline is a common excuse, in truth discrimination,  implicit and explicit, constantly blocks underrepresented minorities from entering or advancing in the field; two-thirds of predominantly white and Asian women in STEM report having to constantly prove themselves in the workplace, with black women facing even more extreme biases and challenges.

It’s also worth examining your recruiting tactics to see if you’re doing anything that could be discouraging underrepresented candidates. From gendered language in job descriptions to playing up the office pool table versus paid parental leave on your careers page, you can inadvertently send the wrong message without realising it.

Myth #4: “This is political correctness gone mad.”

Political correctness is a real thing, but it’s also irrelevant to what we’re discussing here. Can efforts to promote diversity be merely political correctness when there’s a mountain of evidence pointing to it being a real problem? Many studies also show diversity has huge benefits when it comes to business and team performance, so it’s something we should all care about.

It’s true that diversity conversations can be very nuanced, which creates fear about saying the wrong thing. But there is a pretty simple fix, which is to ask questions. Listen to and believe the stories from people from backgrounds different from yours. Educate yourself. In the same way you’d tackle a new project or product feature, gather as much information as possible so you can make better, more informed decisions. This isn’t about stifling your voice, but creating room for everyone to express themselves in a way that helps us all do our best work.

Myth #5. “I don’t see gender or race” or “I treat everyone the same.”

This is straight up empirically false. Your brain sees gender, it sees race and it sees just about every other visible category imaginable, whether you consciously pay attention to it or not. Let me say it again: It is neuroscientifically impossible for you to not see attributes like race and gender, and to keep them from affecting your decision-making. I used to think treating everyone the same was what I should strive for, but it turns out that doing so actually results in discrimination and unequal opportunity. Treating everyone the same, even when they’ve faced vastly different challenges, only serves to keep them on a tilted playing field.

Embracing and supporting diversity is something we’re all responsible for and something that, by definition, we are all a part of (a single person can’t be diverse, so diversity includes white guys like me). To move forward, we need to take the crazy myths we’ve told ourselves that attempt to justify the status quo and throw them out the door. Guys like me have benefited from this mess of inequality more than any other group, so it’s our job to actively share opportunities. We’ll all win, as a team.

With what’s happening in the world, it’s important to keep an open heart and an open mind. The choice is yours. You can either become an active part of the solution or a stoic part of the issue in need of solving. Which one sounds more exciting?

Dominic West is Head of R&D and Work Futurist at Atlassin. This article was originally published on Collective Hub

Five Ways Procurement Can Change the World for Entrepreneurs

“Behind every growth story like ours, there’s always a procurement person who has provided an opportunity.” Procurious caught up with inspirational dynamo Nina Vaca at ISM2017 to discover why procurement needs to give entrepreneurs every chance.   

“The unsung heroes of my stories are always in procurement and supply,” says Nina Vaca. The Chairman and CEO of Pinnacle Group has experienced a roller-coaster of ups and downs in her 20-year journey from a niche IT business that was started on her living room floor to the workforce solutions powerhouse it is today.

“Success is rarely linear,” Vaca says. “Some of the hardest moments of my life were after 9/11, when we were at the brink of bankruptcy and almost didn’t make payroll. But every time, someone in procurement saved the day by providing the opportunity to bid.”

Procurement wasn’t just responsible for pulling Pinnacle Group back from the brink. A series of big breaks, provided by people who saw the vast potential in Vaca’s business, enabled an incredible growth story from a local, to regional, to national, to a global player. “Whether it has been the CPO, or a procurement executive, or a procurement manager responsible for our sector – those are the people who have always given us a shot,” she says.

Vaca gives the example of an RFP from the procurement team at Verizon. “We lost the first, the second – by the time we got the 10th RFP, we asked them for mentoring to discover exactly what we needed to do to win the contract. When we eventually won the contract it had grown from a tiny piece of work to a significantly bigger opportunity.”

“Our next big break came from the CPO of Electronic Data Systems. At that point we were a $40 million company, and we won a $160 million contract. Again, it was because the CPO really believed in us, and mentored us through the process. That contract took us from four states to all 50. That was followed by our biggest contract in Pinnacle’s history, awarded to us by the CPO of Comcast. We didn’t know each other very well initially, but he was willing to take a leap of faith and was very intentional about doing business with us. They were looking for a minority-owned company for a very strategic piece of work. That was a very aggressive RFP process, but winning that contract affirmed our ability to provide service on a very large scale and helped us become the number one fastest growing woman-owned company in the US.”

The result of Pinnacle Group’s incredible growth was that the company found itself breaking through a ceiling that no other Hispanic, female-owned company had crossed before. “When I broke through that ceiling, I found myself to be the only woman, and the youngest, to be in that position. That’s not acceptable to me, which is why it’s so important to nurture hope and inspiration in others to do the same thing. In a way, when the CPO awarded us that contract, the community benefits outweighed business benefits.”

“‘Ambition’ is seen by some as a dirty word, along with wealth creation. That’s how the U.S. has prospered, through people creating wealth not only for their families, but for their communities and the nation. For my daughters, ambition is a necessity, so long as you approach it in a positive way, and not by trying to succeed at the expense of others.”

Five ways procurement can help entrepreneurs succeed:

1. Provide them with an opportunity to play: Big breaks, such as those that propelled Pinnacle into its position as a market-leader, were only made possible because someone in procurement saw potential, took a risk and provided an opportunity.

2. Do your homework: “Look for the best and brightest, not just at the numbers”, says Vaca. Depending on your organisation’s goals, you might be looking for the fastest-growing or most scalable organisation to work with.

3. Mentor entrepreneurs: Contracts are won when someone in procurement is willing to guide you, offer a helping hand, take your phone-call and provide an opportunity. The common thread across all of Pinnacle’s big breaks is there was a supportive CPO mentoring them through the process.  

4. Sponsor wherever possible: Vaca has a very clear definition of sponsorship: “Sponsorship means someone being willing to put their personal brand on you – your success is their success.” How do you attract sponsors? “Be crazy good at what you do, and you’ll become a magnet for people who want to sponsor you. They won’t sponsor you if you’re not bringing your best every day.”

5. Get engaged in the ecosystem: For procurement, this means getting out of your comfort zone and getting engaged with organisations like ISM, or ramping up your online presence to build your network. For Vaca, engagement means philanthropy and providing inspiration and information to people who may want to follow in her footsteps. For this reason, she launched ninavaca.com, immersed herself in promoting STEM education, and takes every opportunity to give back to the community. “We host groups of students all the time at Pinnacle headquarters, and we are the industry partner for Thomas Jefferson Collegiate Academy – an early college high school preparing students to work in STEM fields upon graduation. If you want to do global things, start locally.”

Nina Vaca is Chairman & CEO of Pinnacle Group, and Presidential Ambassador for Global Entrepreneurship.

Don’t Argue With Footballer Daisy Pearce

The “Don’t Argue” is a classic move in the often-brutal game of Australian Rules Football. While we wouldn’t recommend shoving your colleagues in the office, there are plenty of lessons to be drawn from the world of elite sport.   

It’s always interesting interviewing sportspeople for a business-related publication. Before the interview, I usually have my doubts that I’ll be able to find something in their story that is relevant to the audience I’m writing for. Five minutes in, however, I’ve filled pages of notes about the many insights professionals can glean from elite performers.

This was the case with Daisy Pearce, AFLW star and captain of the Melbourne Team. In the space of 30 minutes, she provided links between her on-field performance and business agility, advice on how women can thrive in a male-dominated profession, and finished up with some leadership-related gems.

Daisy and the “Don’t Argue”

The theme of this year’s 10th Asia-Pacific CPO Forum (taking place on 17–18 May in Sydney) is “Pivot”. Why Pivot? Because in an era where flexibility and agility are seen as essential leadership attributes, the profession’s top practitioners must be able to pivot at a moment’s notice to gain commercial advantage from disruptive forces, including new technology. In essence, this means having the ability to rapidly and intelligently adjust short-term strategies to ensure you can achieve your organisation’s long-term objectives.

When I mentioned this term to Daisy, she immediately drew a comparison with the “Don’t Argue” move in football. “When you’ve got the ball and someone comes to tackle you, a “Don’t Argue” is when you send them off – push them away – and keep moving. Basically, you give them a shove with your arm, quickly change direction, and keep going.”

For non-Australian readers (and non-footy fans), here’s an explanatory video from the AFL:

So, what are the parallels between a “don’t argue” and a business attempting to PIVOT?

  • Your short-term strategy may change but the overall goal remains the same: although Pearce may suddenly need to run in a different direction to her original course, she’s still focused on the goal posts at the end of the field.
  • It happens fast, it’s immediate, and it’s often instinctive: CPOs often don’t have much time to plan and react to a disruptive force (an enormous footballer bearing down on you at high speed makes a great analogy). Decisions have to be made fast.
  • There’s no time to argue: Depending on the nature of the disruptive force, you won’t have time to initiate a long, internal debate about what to do. Instead, a fast decision could enable your company to mitigate the damage of a disruptive force, or even profit by it.

Thriving in a male-dominated profession

While the AFL (men’s football) has been around since the 1850s, women’s football in Australia has only officially existed since 2013.

“When I was 14, the rules were that I had to stop playing football with the boys in my hometown”, said Pearce. “I didn’t know back then that there was going to be a Women’s League, and thought my football career had finished. I turned to volleyball instead, before being drafted in the AFLW in 2013.

“I wouldn’t say I’ve had to overcome many barriers to become a footballer. Then main barrier, I’d say, would be that I simply didn’t consider football to be a career choice. The real barriers existed for talented women who wanted to play professionally before 2013.”

Pearce has more than one string to her bow – she’s entered the world of football commentary (also dominated by men), started a career on the speaker circuit, and has also worked as a professional midwife. “The opposite is true for midwifery”, she says. “There may be young men considering a career as a midwife, but are daunted by the female domination of the profession. My advice is to go for it – if you’re passionate about something, and it’s what you really want to do, there’s nothing stopping you.”  

Leadership on the field:

As captain of the Melbourne AFLW team, Pearce has plenty of leadership insights to share:

“My main piece of advice for leaders is to first, have a really good understanding of yourself and about how your behaviours impact others. Secondly, make an effort to understand the people on your team. Appreciate that everyone has different strengths, and will respond to different things.

“Invest in your relationships with team members and build rapport. In the long-term, it will help enormously when you need to have tough conversations. You can be both supportive and tough at the same time – people need to know you’re coming from a place of care rather than disinterest.”

Daisy Pearce will wrap up day two at PIVOT: The Faculty’s 10th Annual Asia Pacific CPO Forum.

Photo:  Getty Images

Why We Need To #BanBusy

Reckon you’re one of the busiest bees in procurement? Michelle Redfern might just convince you to join the #banbusy movement!

I made a sidebar statement at a couple of speaking gigs I did recently. I said, I want to be the founder of the #BanBusy movement!’ I implored the women listening to me, ‘If someone asks you how you are…please don’t answer busy. The B word is a state of doing, not a state of being.’

The answer ‘busy’ conjures up, not coping. Not in control. Not capable.

Busy is enormously exasperating

I have been exasperated about the auto-response of ‘busy’ when you ask how people are. It used to be just in the hallowed halls of corporate Australia that this occurred. However, I have felt like this canned response was creeping further and further into the daily vernacular. It feels to me like ‘busy’ is becoming the equivalent of the chirpy, insincere have a nice day’ that we Australians have long sniggered at.

Busy has become a status symbol

The Sydney Morning Herald described the term as ‘an overused humblebrag’ in its article in late 2016. A way to demonstrate one’s own importance, value and a dubious badge of honour. Unfortunately, studies which have shown that declaring one’s busyness conveys a perception of hard work which in turn will bring the busy person success. Oh dear, my #BanBusy movement is under threat!

What about busy women?

My chief concern is the effect that ‘ugh I’m so busy’ response has for women who want to advance. Navigating gender bias, perceptions about gender roles and the prevailing belief that women are too busy with the 3 C’s (Caring. Cooking. Cleaning.) to worry about advancement is challenging enough without inadvertently adding fuel to the fire.

Here’s what I learned about busy

I did an impromptu survey of women in my WWGI ecosystem about what busy meant to them. I was surprised at the insights and as a result, I realised that there is an opportunity to change the game. Busy might be a status symbol for some, but perhaps it’s a shield for others?

  1. Busy is a deflector
  2. Busy is a defence mechanism
  3. Busy means I am bored out of my brain
  4. Busy means that I work on meaningless crap
  5. Busy is a cry for help
  6. Busy is a status symbol
  7. Busy means I am disengaged
  8. Busy means I want you to go away
  9. Busy means I am not slacking off even if you think I am

The solution is authentic, compassionate leadership

Leaders, time to step up to the authenticity and compassion plate and take a swing! Yes, I mean connect with the human you have asked ‘How are you?’ by having a caring, compassionate and accountable second question ready. Demonstrate your care, compassion and respect for the person you are enquiring after.

Question Answer Follow Up
How are you? ‘Phwoar, busy! Really? So, what’s creating all that busyness? Can I help?
How are you? I feel like I haven’t seen you for ages? ‘Sorry, so busy, been in back to back meetings all day/week/month’

 

Wow. Sounds like you need a hand. What can we do?
How are you? ‘Flat out busy, schedule is crazy’ Come and have a coffee, let’s talk about what’s going on for you.

If you can’t do this, don’t ask ‘how are you’ as its simply the fairy floss of conversation. Saccharine sweet and disappears in a jiffy.

Women, #BanBusy!

I’m still going to champion #banbusy for women because I believe that women are joining a cult that no one really wants to be in. I want women to own their leadership brand and to be confident, authentic and fearless. Answering ‘busy’ doesn’t honour or do your brand any favours, ever!

However, the 10th thing I learned about #BanBusy is that leaders need to get to the heart of what’s really going on for their people and their workplaces. Leaders need to #askmorehumanquestions