Looking Through The ‘Glass ceiling’ – 30 Years On

Have women smashed through the glass ceiling in the last thirty years? 

Seeing the many posts regarding International Women’s Day made me think – what is all this fuss about?

We’ve got this sorted, haven’t we?

But then I think back to where my procurement journey began and realise only 30 years ago the world of procurement that I inhabited was vastly different to the one we work in now.

I realise that I was complicit because I just kind of accepted it as ‘the man’s world’ that I had dared to enter.

February 1987

I started out in February 1987. I remember my first boss in civil engineering saying

“Mandy, you are very good at what you do, but you have two problems, one is that you are young and two is that you are female.”

He went on to tell me that I’d have to work really hard to prove myself in the ‘buying game’.

He had a point.

I remember the crane driver who refused to take a request from me because “he wouldn’t take orders from a woman” (yes, really!). I recall how I was referred to as the ‘lady buyer’ and on a good day was perceived as a ‘bit of a novelty’. I just brushed it off and got on with it, never realising how accepting this would have ramifications for other females in my position or that I would be calling it out in an article years later for the blatant sexual discrimination that it was.

Ten Years Later…

In 1997, ten years later, I remember an appraisal with my then boss at a manufacturing organisation. During the meeting, he spoke about the ‘glass ceiling’ and how I should manage my career aspirations accordingly.

I didn’t even know what the glass ceiling was at that time but I got the gist of what he was saying.

Fifteen Years Later

Fast forward another five years, to 2002, and I’m the only member in a group of all male managers who doesn’t have a company car as part of their employee package.

I grumbled and moaned, but it was only when I pointed out that I was

  1. The only member who didn’t have a company car in that group


  1. That I hoped this wasn’t because I was the only female…

…that the car miraculously materialised!

Twenty-Five Years Later

Ten years later as Regional Procurement Director at TATA Steel (as you can imagine, pretty much a male dominated environment) the words of my first boss echoed in my ears.

I HAD to prove myself. This meant turning up at meetings when my son was sick at home, early starts and late finishes balancing motherhood and a career, whilst trying to build productive relationships with colleagues in the business.

“Finding success” were the words of my Engineering Director colleague when he pointed out that relationships between Procurement and Engineering had never been better.

The Buying Game

While I hope this article shows how far women have come in the “buying game” and how behaviours and attitudes have changed, and that I now personally feel total peer equality with my male counterparts, I would hate for any other women in procurement to feel gender inequality and just brush it off as expected.

I don’t regret my decisions, I did what I thought was right at the time but in this modern age of procurement, it isn’t acceptable – so don’t stand for it.

There is still so much more we can do, for all women in procurement. I would rather be seen as a success and a woman rather than a success because I am a woman.

Even in 2018 this is a rarity, in manufacturing especially. To International Women’s Day and all women in procurement

Here’s to strong women.

May we know them.

May we be them.

May we raise them.