Tag Archives: gender bias

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.

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

and

  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.

Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose: Why The Young Are Snapping Up Tech Jobs

Job satisfaction comes down to three things: autonomy, mastery and purpose. Does this explain why millennials are dominating in the tech industry? 

Anton_Ivanov/Shutterstock.com

Numerous industries have been accused of many different types of hiring bias and flawed hiring policy.

The service industry, for example, has long been subject to questions about its lack of affirmative action in this area based on the demographic of candidates that tend to be allocated these roles. The same applies even within typically diverse workforces.

Hiring bias at its worst

Few sectors have faced the intense scrutiny aimed at the tech world in recent years, owing to its pervasive reputation for hiring vastly disproportionate percentages of younger males.

A quick Google search of “industry hiring bias” results in almost an entire first page of links to think pieces about Silicon Valley.

There are countless arguments to be made on the subject, many of which rightly focus on the urgency of addressing this gender imbalance. One popular proposal for tapping into the vast, and shamefully underused, female talent pool suggests funding schools to better promote careers for women in computer science.

But if the tech industry is also heavily skewed towards youth, how long would those careers remain satisfying for?

Job satisfaction at the biggest tech firms

This latter question prompted a recent research project by online compensation and benefits analyst Payscale. By gathering data from almost 35,000 workers across 17 of the biggest tech firms in the world – including eBay, Google, Cisco, Facebook, Samsung, Intel, Apple and Microsoft – researchers attempted to gain an overview of how employees’ job satisfaction levels mapped on to various metrics such as median age, early and mid-career pay levels, and total years of industry experience.

When transposed as a series of infographics, the data seems to highlight some marked trends across the board: in particular, workforces with higher average ages in the study group (notably IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Oracle and Samsung) were among the lowest-scoring in terms of overall job satisfaction.

Moreover, many of the same names also placed highly in terms of their employees’ length of tenure with the company and total years of industry experience, while coming in amongst the lower rankings for both early- and mid-career median pay levels. Taken at face value, this immediately presents various possible scenarios.

One natural observation would be that the ‘more satisfied’ workers were often among those being paid the most relative to their experience, which, let’s face it, doesn’t seem much of a hot take.

What appears to be a fairly direct inverse correlation between median age and reported job satisfaction is potentially more interesting, but the question remains as to whether this phenomenon is in any way unique to the tech industry. After all, there’s every chance that the methodology of the study simply benefits companies who have a high turnover of younger, less experienced workers, whose expectations and needs are typically less complex at such an early career stage.

Are millennials best-suited to tech jobs?

When it comes specifically to tech roles, and the fact that they’re so commonly filled by younger-than-average staff (the national median age for a US worker is 42; at Facebook, it’s just 29), many people don’t think it’s quite that simple.

The much-quoted author, speaker and ‘business guru’ Daniel Pink, responsible for such widely read titles as Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, might be chief among them. Pink’s theories around what ultimately leads to lasting job satisfaction focus on the triumvirate of ‘autonomy, mastery and purpose’. In other words, a sense of independence, a feeling of capability, and a genuine motivation to keep plugging away.

Millennials entering the tech industry may be particularly well-placed to tick all three of those key boxes because of, not in spite of, their age. Pink notes that, having grown up in an environment of always-on connectivity that didn’t fully exist 20 years ago, millennials are finding it much easier to adapt as the internet rapidly erodes the decades-old concept of a standard office-based work week.

He also points out that today’s all-pervasive digital culture means new graduates no longer seek to separate their work and social lives to nearly the same extent as previous generations did. As a result, the boundary between professional performance and success in other areas of millennials’ lives is arguably less clearly defined; this in turn becomes an obvious source of general motivation that perfectly suits the thrust and structure of many cutting-edge tech firms.

Combatting age discrimination

The extent to which these sorts of theories hold water is very much up for debate. What we do know is that the debate is heating up: last year, Bloomberg reported that in just eight short years, 226 complaints pertaining to age discrimination had been registered against the top 150 Silicon Valley firms.

While tech employers continue to perform well in global Best Employer lists, the conversation will certainly benefit from some longer-term data as we start to develop a clearer picture of career movement across the wider industry in the coming years.

Best of the Blog: Overcoming Gender Bias In Procurement

Jackie Aggett, Regional Commercial Manager at Laing O’Rourke, discusses the gender bias she has come up against in procurement, and how she has overcome it to get to where she is today.

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Everyone loves a good throwback article, which is why we’re hopping in our time machine to bring you back some of the biggest and best Procurious blogs. If you missed any of the golden oldies, look no further!

This week, we’re revisiting an interview with Jackie Aggett who explains the gender discrimination she’s endured and her advice on how to overcome it. 

Jackie Aggett hadn’t been in procurement long when she needed to spend weeks preparing a major annual report about the procurement of earth moving tyres.

She handed it over to the site manager and watched him hurl the report angrily across the room. It hit the wall and fell apart.

“What would you know about earth moving tyres?,” he bellowed?
The 28-year-old calmly walked over and picked up the report, and told him again that there were going to be changes. Like it, or not.

“Every part of me wanted to turn around and run out the door, but I’ve always found ways to overcome challenges in the workplace and turn them into opportunities,” Aggett says.

Finding a Voice

The experience did nothing to dampen her conviction. She has worked in male dominated roles for 25 years. She started out in a supply cadetship at BHP Billiton and then went on to work in rail, construction, marine services and a seawater desalination plant.

“I learned a lot in that cadetship. My boss at the time gave me the cadetship because he saw me as being very courageous, which was part of my upbringing. He sent me straight to Port Headland, where I was the only female.”

Her colleagues weren’t used to working with women. The only uniform available to her was the men’s trousers and shirts. “They were ill-fitting and very uncomfortable. Procuring some clothes to wear to work was high on the list in those early days,” Aggett says.

If anything, her presence among the male workforce was seen perhaps only as a novelty. But that all changed once she began finding her voice in the business, and began offering new solutions to old problems.

“I had a good work ethic and believed in what I was doing, and hit the ground running. But the team weren’t engaged when I started to suggest change, and that was a difficult process to go through. However, I didn’t give up. I continued to speak up and stand up for myself.”

Creating Trusted Advisors

Aggett’s depth of experience covers roles in commercial, contractual and financial management from project start-up through to close-out. This includes all facets of tender preparation, negotiation, contract award and subsequent on-site contract administration, claims, project controls, forecasting, financial reporting and risk management as the client asset owner or contractor.

Six months ago, she was tapped on the shoulder and offered the role of procurement head with international engineering enterprise Laing O’Rourke, which took her across the country from Perth to Sydney. She jumped at the chance.

Her focus in her role has been creating a vision – working to transform the procurement function from spend managers to trusted advisers, firstly among her team of 35 people.

“It is imperative we move beyond being seen and acting as a governance compliance function. We need to understand the business strategy and align our objectives to deliver sustainable value,” she says.

Challenging the Norm

Aggett has implemented a supply relationship management programme among other initiatives, which has been a big step forward for the procurement function within the business.

“A key part of this has been challenging the way in which we engage with the supply chain. The supply chain has a wealth of knowledge and capability which, if tapped into, can provide value creating solutions for our clients, ourselves and our supply chain partners.

“Unfortunately, the construction industry does not often afford the supply chain the opportunity to bring their knowledge and capabilities to the table. Our supplier relationship management program seeks to change this.”

Aggett wasn’t specifically chasing roles in such large corporate organisations, saying one thing just led to another.

“It certainly wasn’t planned that I’d work in male-dominated industries. I had four brothers and a working mother, and was raised to believe that girls can do anything.”

Overcoming Roadblocks

She admits that early on in her career, she came up against road blocks, but didn’t for a moment consider that had anything to do with gender bias.

“I definitely came up against a lot of unconscious bias in my early roles, and at times doing my job took some courage and self-belief. Being female has definitely been a challenge in the roles I’ve held.

“I’d wonder why someone wouldn’t listen to me, or how I could better showcase my skills. I’d work very hard to win someone over, and go through the problem solving process to try and work out why I wasn’t getting the result I wanted. The fact that I was a woman was always at the bottom of the list. Now, after 25 years working in the industry, I arrive at that conclusion a lot quicker and obviously have a lot more confidence in the role.”

Aggett hopes times have changed and that young women entering the procurement industry don’t come up against the gender bias she experienced.

“Saying that, I have been fortunate to work with individuals and organisations that have encouraged me to take opportunities, to believe in my abilities and to reward me for my efforts. I have experienced many organisations that have allowed flexibility in my working week, as I’ve raised two daughters as a single parent.”

While there are no requirements to do so, she advocates the importance of having a degree behind you for anyone working in procurement. Her law and finance degree has stood her in good stead, she says.

“It has absolutely served me well to have the formal qualifications behind me. When people are passionate about procurement and they’ve got the formal education, it gives them a seat at the board table in any situation they’re in.”

Procurious launched Bravo, a group to celebrate and promote women working in procurement. Get involved by joining here. 

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 To Stop Writing ‘Like A Girl’ In The Workplace

Are women inclined to be more apologetic and less definitive in the workplace than men? Is a woman’s language and writing style more likely to be unassuming, uncertain – and possibly even self-deprecating?

As part of the Bravo campaign, Procurious will be hearing from a number of high profile procurement leaders on the topics of diversity, equality and women in procurement.

I’m a staunch feminist. Career driven, financially independent and proudly vocal about gender equality.

But I am also a copywriter and corporate trainer – a profession that forces me to scrutinise the way people write in the workplace every day. And although I routinely come across all types of business professionals who write poorly, I recently wondered: do women have specific bad writing habits of their very own?

So I did some quick research, and within a few minutes my hunch was confirmed.

According to Leadership Coach and Strategist Ellen Petry Leanse, women are three to four times more likely to use the word ‘just’ in their emails and conversations at work.

‘I am just wondering if you are available to discuss…’
‘Just following up on that report…’
‘I’m just writing to let you know that…’

So what’s wrong with ‘just’?

As Leanse explains, it’s a permission word. An apology for interrupting. Or a shy knock on a door before asking a question we have every right to ask.

Why do women feel the need to undermine the importance of their requests before even making them? I suspect we’re scared of being labelled overbearing, controlling – or god-forbid bossy. And so we overcompensate.

But here’s the more important question: What’s the consequence for women who use this weak, hesitant language at work? My hypothesis? Slower, fewer and less substantive responses to our requests… and ultimately, lower levels of respect from colleagues and clients.

(And trust me, women don’t need extra help when it comes to subtle sexism and gender inequality in the workplace.)

However, using the word ‘just’ is not the only writing crime females are more likely to commit than males. Here are some more email writing habits that could compromise your credibility at work.

  1. Overuse of qualifiers

Words such as ‘might’, ‘probably’, ‘maybe’, ‘somewhat’ and ‘possibly’ weaken your message and reveal a lack of confidence in what you’re saying.

If you don’t believe what you’re writing, why should your reader?

Before: You might want to reconsider our financial targets as I think they are probably a little too low.

After: I recommend we increase our financial targets.

  1. Unnecessary apologising and over-justification

Although apologies are appropriate on certain occasions, think twice next time you want to use the word ‘sorry’.

Do you really have something to be sorry for? Or are you simply asking a colleague to perform a task that falls comfortably within their job description?

Before: I am sorry for the inconvenience as I know you are very busy, but can you please pop by my workstation when you are next available as my computer seems to be quite slow today.

After: My computer is very slow today. Can you please come to my workstation today to have a look?

And be careful not to apologise for something that’s outside your control – or for not fulfilling an unrealistic request:

Before: I am so sorry but I wasn’t able to meet your deadline. I had too many other commitments and I need to get up really early in the morning. I tried my best but just couldn’t manage it. I hope you understand.

After: As suspected, I wasn’t able to meet your deadline. I will call you tomorrow morning to discuss next steps.

  1. Asking superfluous questions. Seeking permission.

Questions such as ‘is that okay with you?’ and ‘am I making sense?’ show a lack of confidence in your own opinions, suggestions and accomplishments.

If you need to ask whether or not you’re making sense, then you either already know your email is confusing – or you are revealing that you’re unsure of yourself and your ability to communicate effectively.

Before: ‘Would you like to see a summary of my research? You may find it quite surprising.’

After: ‘Here is a summary of my research. It contains many surprising findings, including…’

  1. Overly polite and waffly

What’s wrong with being polite?, I hear you say.

Nothing. But many of us take it too far, which can dilute the core message we’re trying to communicate.

Before: I hope you are well and that you had a really great weekend. I am just writing about our catch up next Friday and was wondering if we could possibly reschedule to the following week? Is that okay with you?

After: I have a conflict next Friday and need to reschedule our meeting. Does the following week suit you?

So, c’mon, ladies. Let’s stop undermining ourselves. It’s time to ditch these words and phrases from our emails and earn ourselves the respect in the workplace we know we deserve.

Vikki Maver is a specialist web content writer, marketing copywriter and writing skills trainer. This article first appeared on her website, refreshmarketing.com.au.

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

 

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.

ChristianChan/Shutterstock.com

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.

Overcoming Gender Bias in Procurement

Jackie Aggett, Regional Commercial Manager at Laing O’Rourke, discusses the gender bias she has come up against in procurement, and how she has overcome it to get to where she is today.

Overcoming Gender Bias

Jackie Aggett hadn’t been in procurement long when she needed to spend weeks preparing a major annual report about the procurement of earth moving tyres.

She handed it over to the site manager and watched him hurl the report angrily across the room. It hit the wall and fell apart.

“What would you know about earth moving tyres?,” he bellowed?
The slight blonde 28-year-old calmly walked over and picked up the report, and told him again that there were going to be changes. Like it, or not.

“Every part of me wanted to turn around and run out the door, but I’ve always found ways to overcome challenges in the workplace and turn them into opportunities,” Aggett says.

Finding a Voice

The experience did nothing to dampen her conviction. She has worked in male dominated roles for 25 years. She started out in a supply cadetship at BHP Billiton and then went on to work in rail, construction, marine services and a seawater desalination plant.

“I learned a lot in that cadetship. My boss at the time gave me the cadetship because he saw me as being very courageous, which was part of my upbringing. He sent me straight to Port Headland, where I was the only female.”

Her colleagues weren’t used to working with women. The only uniform available to her was the men’s trousers and shirts. “They were ill-fitting and very uncomfortable. Procuring some clothes to wear to work was high on the list in those early days,” Aggett says.

If anything, her presence among the male workforce was seen perhaps only as a novelty. But that all changed once she began finding her voice in the business, and began offering new solutions to old problems.

“I had a good work ethic and believed in what I was doing, and hit the ground running. But the team weren’t engaged when I started to suggest change, and that was a difficult process to go through. However, I didn’t give up. I continued to speak up and stand up for myself.”

Creating Trusted Advisors

Aggett’s depth of experience covers roles in commercial, contractual and financial management from project start-up through to close-out. This includes all facets of tender preparation, negotiation, contract award and subsequent on-site contract administration, claims, project controls, forecasting, financial reporting and risk management as the client asset owner or contractor.

Six months ago, she was tapped on the shoulder and offered the role of procurement head with international engineering enterprise Laing O’Rourke, which took her across the country from Perth to Sydney. She jumped at the chance.

Her focus in her role has been creating a vision – working to transform the procurement function from spend managers to trusted advisers, firstly among her team of 35 people.

“It is imperative we move beyond being seen and acting as a governance compliance function. We need to understand the business strategy and align our objectives to deliver sustainable value,” she says.

Challenging the Norm

Aggett has implemented a supply relationship management programme among other initiatives, which has been a big step forward for the procurement function within the business.

“A key part of this has been challenging the way in which we engage with the supply chain. The supply chain has a wealth of knowledge and capability which, if tapped into, can provide value creating solutions for our clients, ourselves and our supply chain partners.

“Unfortunately, the construction industry does not often afford the supply chain the opportunity to bring their knowledge and capabilities to the table. Our supplier relationship management program seeks to change this.”

Aggett wasn’t specifically chasing roles in such large corporate organisations, saying one thing just led to another.

“It certainly wasn’t planned that I’d work in male-dominated industries. I had four brothers and a working mother, and was raised to believe that girls can do anything.”

Overcoming Roadblocks

She admits that early on in her career, she came up against road blocks, but didn’t for a moment consider that had anything to do with gender bias.

“I definitely came up against a lot of unconscious bias in my early roles, and at times doing my job took some courage and self-belief. Being female has definitely been a challenge in the roles I’ve held.

“I’d wonder why someone wouldn’t listen to me, or how I could better showcase my skills. I’d work very hard to win someone over, and go through the problem solving process to try and work out why I wasn’t getting the result I wanted. The fact that I was a woman was always at the bottom of the list. Now, after 25 years working in the industry, I arrive at that conclusion a lot quicker and obviously have a lot more confidence in the role.”

Aggett hopes times have changed and that young women entering the procurement industry don’t come up against the gender bias she experienced.

“Saying that, I have been fortunate to work with individuals and organisations that have encouraged me to take opportunities, to believe in my abilities and to reward me for my efforts. I have experienced many organisations that have allowed flexibility in my working week, as I’ve raised two daughters as a single parent.”

While there are no requirements to do so, she advocates the importance of having a degree behind you for anyone working in procurement. Her law and finance degree has stood her in good stead, she says.

“It has absolutely served me well to have the formal qualifications behind me. When people are passionate about procurement and they’ve got the formal education, it gives them a seat at the board table in any situation they’re in.”

Jackie Aggett
Jackie Aggett

Jackie Aggett was one of the keynote speakers at the second annual Women in Procurement 2016 event. Catch up with what happened at the event here.

International Women’s Day 2016 – Pledging Parity

As the world gets ready to celebrate International Women’s Day, there is an ominous warning that progress towards gender parity has slowed.

International Women's Day Celebration
Image Courtesy of http://www.happypics99.com/

According to a report produced by the World Economic Forum at Davos earlier this year, gender parity is now unlikely to be achieved until 2133. This represents even slower progress for parity than had been predicted just 12 months previously, with 2095 the estimated timescale.

Pledge for Parity

It is against this backdrop that the official theme for International Women’s Day this year is Pledge for Parity. The concept behind the theme is that every individual has the ability to make a change, whether it is in highlighting imbalances, helping girls and women achieve ambitions, or create more balanced cultures.

Since launching the campaign a little over 2 weeks ago, over 14,000 people have made an individual pledge. However, this is by no means enough. For the target of 2030 to be achieved, both the International Women’s Day organisation, and the UN, are looking for more people to get involved. You can make your pledge here.

Gender Bias in the Workplace

Procurious has written in the past about the major imbalances between the sexes in the workplace. Although more women than men enrolling at university in 97 countries, in just 68 of these countries do women make up the majority of the skilled workforce. Only in 4 do they represent the majority of leaders.

There is an on-going challenge to organisations to get more women involved in traditionally male-led professions, such as engineering. Career stereotypes, discussed heavily during International Women’s Day 2015, persist, made very clear by last year’s #ilooklikeanengineer campaign on social media.

And the situation is worse when it comes to the wage gap too. According to the WEF report, women now earn on average what men were earning 10 years ago, with men still earning twice as much as women. In country leadership, 50 per cent of countries have a female leader, but only 19 per cent of parliamentarians are female.

Onus on Organisations

In the UK, the Institute of Directors’ (IoD) Lady Barbara Judge, the first female chairman of the Institute in its 110-year history, has called on organisations to make changes. Specifically, to support efforts to increase the number of women in executive leadership positions.

Her recommendations include shaking up recruitment practices, and introducing gender-blind applications; creation of part-time and job-sharing executive roles; and introducing mentors and role models to champion women in senior roles.

She also said, “The remarkable success in increasing the number of women on boards in the UK over the past six years shows how enthusiastically businesses have embraced their role as champions of female progression. Now, we must channel this progress into tackling the next item on the agenda – getting more women into senior, executive, decision-making roles. The onus must be on employers to do everything they can to harness their female talent. After all, it is a business’s loss if it fails to make the most of half their workforce.”

However, it is not about introducing quotas, as has been suggested by some. Gender-balanced leadership expert, Dr. Karen Morley, has spoken extensively on this subject, giving recommendations to businesses to achieve their “critical mass“, but also why affirmative action is not the solution.

Make a Difference

Beyond making a pledge, there are a number of ways you can get involved with International Women’s Day celebrations.

  • Events – Throughout the week there are events around the UK, and around the world, focusing on the celebrations. Find out if there is an event near you, and get along to it.
  • Raise Your Voice – If you are a witness to gender imbalance, tell someone about it. Whether it’s discrimination in the workplace, or impingement of rights, only by speaking up and shining a light on this can a difference be made.
  • Social Media – Can’t make it to an event? Make sure to follow all the progress on the 8th on social media. Follow International Women’s Day on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. Share your thoughts by using the hashtag .

And if you need any more persuasion to get involved, look no further than Procurious’ own Tania Seary. Tania is major advocate for equality and has frequently highlighted the females who have influenced her career. You can read her thoughts here and here.

Gender Balanced Leadership – Affirmative Action

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

Andrey_Popov/Shutterstock.com

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.