Tag Archives: gender bias

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? 

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.

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.

Gender Equality

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

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

Disproportionate Power

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

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

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

Social Dominance Theory

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

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

Support for Social Dominance

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

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

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

Opposition to Equality

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

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

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

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

Gender Differences

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

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

Changing the Landscape

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?

affirmative action

Read the first part of my update here.

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

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

What’s the evidence for stigma?

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

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

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

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

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

Why Affirmative Action?

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

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

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

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

Feeling Stigma?

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

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

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

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

Is Merit Eroded?

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

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

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

Detecting Different Patterns

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

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

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

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

What to do:

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

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

Gender Balanced Leadership – Token Representation to Critical Mass

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

gender balanced leadership

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

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

1.  Token numbers lead to complacency and stall progress

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

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

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

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

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

2. Homophily restricts network reach creating gender stall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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