Tag Archives: women in procurement

Women and Indirect Procurement – A Perfect Fit!

Indirect procurement is a perfect fit for women. And women in indirect procurement are a perfect fit for a company.

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At a recent fantastic CIPS CH event on ‘Women in Procurement’, it got me thinking about why indirect procurement is a great function for women.

My path to leadership in procurement happened by accident. In the late 90s, when indirect procurement was emerging as a strategic sourcing function, I joined the corporate sourcing team at a large Swiss bank.

The team had been formed specifically to implement ‘strategic sourcing’. I got my first taste of the three things that make women in indirect procurement such a great combination.

  1. Indirect procurement is results oriented

One of the realities of being a businesswoman is that the range of acceptable behaviour can be pretty narrow. Being clear about your opinion in a meeting easily becomes being ‘too direct’.

But the great equaliser is delivering financial results. Everyone wants to hear more, especially senior executives.

But not just any numbers will do…

  • Clear financials – Focus on savings that bring the cost base down and have P&L impact via a tight link to the budget process (see my previous article on this topic).
  • Long-term savings commitment – The first time we committed as a team, I was nervous presenting it to the executive committee. But after we delivered the first year, my nervousness was gone.

Women who advance into leadership roles in corporations are all results oriented and tend to be super exact because the winnowing out process is earlier and harsher.

Mary, the leader of the US professional services category was exactly this kind of woman, delivering business innovation and significant numbers every year.

As part of our strategy for breaking through on more difficult categories, she led a new approach by working across regions. I also gave her a leadership challenge to think bigger on the numbers. She did. And the team delivered some great innovation to the business and tripled the savings delivery.

  1. Indirect procurement is flexible

One of the greatest aspects of being measured on results is that it makes space for flexibility between work and home time.

After some years in consulting, I was back in industry with a full-time role, and two small children, leading a big team for the first time. There were several other women with children in the team trying to manage work and home time. We needed to do something.

There were two things going for us.

  • A results oriented CPO even though he was an old style German man!
  • Procurement is in the ‘client’ role so sales people try to match your schedule.

This combination equals control of your agenda and gave us a chance to organise time differently.

  • No meetings after 5pm, but with the expectation of being online post bedtime.
  • Working fewer hours than the men just by being more focused. There’s nothing like needing to be home to get focus.

There’s no pretending that this was easy to do. But in addition to being able to balance work and home time, there were two side affects of this way of organising things.

  • The leadership team was young. And the men also started to organise themselves this way after they had children.
  • Talent retention and growth of women rising on the organisation.

Isabelle, a young woman in my former team recently had her second child and had the chance to take over a regional head role. We met for coffee and discussed her fear of taking the role with young children.

She made a clear plan on how she would manage her work and home time, including how many late evening conference calls she was willing to make, and went for it.

Great for her and great for keeping and developing talent in the company.

  1. Indirect procurement has P&L impact

Women continue to be underrepresented in senior management, and the ones there, are often in non-powerful functions like HR.

One of the key ticks in the box for advancing is P&L responsibility. Indirect procurement can have high impact on the P&L and therefore crucial ‘visibility’ to senior management. Keep in mind:

  • Senior management cares about the P&L. You need to not only deliver the numbers, but make sure you are up there presenting to them. And it’s a chance to show you can handle the pressure of executive level presentations and questions sessions.
  • Know your numbers inside and out. This means being aware of the status of all material projects driving delivery on a monthly basis.
  • Can you measure and track it – proof! Have a clear report that is linked to the budget cycle

The more visibility women have, the better their chances to advance. This naturally adds to the pipeline of women for a company – the lack of which is the eternal topic in every article about why there aren’t more women in senior positions.

The bottom line is empowered women deliver.

Pauline King is the CEO of Heykins GmbH, Rapid Results Procurement, focused on working with clients’ existing teams to deliver tangible financial results.

She is a recognised expert in indirect procurement with deep operational experience in procurement transformation. Pauline also works closely with The Beyond Group AG where she heads up the Indirect Procurement Practice.

Inspirational Words from Women in Procurement 2016

The Faculty’s Hugo Britt shares some inspirational words and thought-provoking ideas from the 2nd Annual Women in Procurement conference. 

Back in March, I attended Quest Event’s 2nd Annual Women in Procurement conference in Melbourne, representing Procurious as the event’s media partner.

Literally within minutes of the conference being opened by NBN Co’s Chief Procurement Officer Coretta Bessi, I was scrambling to keep up my note taking as a flood of ideas, inspirational words and thought leadership came from the podium. And this pace didn’t let up over the two days of the conference.

Why run a conference exclusively for women in Procurement in Australia? Because the numbers are dire.

According to Jigsaw Talent Management’s Trends in Gender Diversity, the average split in the Australian national workforce is 54 per cent to 46 per cent in favour of men. But in the Procurement profession specifically the numbers are much worse – 63 per cent to 36 per cent in favour of men. Let’s not also forget the widening gender pay gap – currently averaging 17.1 per cent.

All of these figures point to an urgent need to drive change through a gathering of minds such as that seen at Women in Procurement.

Rather than try to summarise the content of the key speakers’ presentations, I’d like to share what I took as the most inspirational words and thought-provoking quotes from the conference.

Coretta Bessi, CPO, NBN Co.

“Ask yourself every day: ‘What am I doing today that will make me better tomorrow than I was yesterday?’”

Kelly Irwin, Head of Procurement Australia and NZ, Holcim

“Have the courage to leap out of your comfort zone.”

“A boss depends on authority, but a leader depends on goodwill.”

Jonathan Dutton, Director, JD Consultancy

“The secret to success in procurement is staying relevant to the vision.”

“Corporate Social Responsibility has the potential to change the fabric of our decision-making in procurement.”

Dutton’s four big critiques of modern procurement:

  1. An unproductive focus on cost
  2. Organisational isolation with no customer focus
  3. Glacial pace of procurement processes
  4. Acting without enquiry and not asking WHY.

Margaret Ruwoldt, University of Melbourne, speaking on the “Working out Loud” movement

“Hierarchical boundaries are much more permeable in a networked world. You have personal development opportunities that didn’t exist five years ago.”

“’Working out Loud’ is ‘How to Make Friends and Influence People’ meets the internet”

“Don’t wait to be plucked from the crowd – make yourself stand out.”

Jackie Aggett, Head of Procurement, Laing O’Rourke and The Faculty Roundtable member

“Courage, for me, means believing in myself, and believing my ideas are worth sharing.”

Sharon Hoysted, Procurement Manager, Supplier Management, Boeing Aerostructures Australia

“Diversity and inclusion are key to fostering a culture of innovation in your business.”

Nelli Kim, Senior Supplier Management Specialist, Telstra International Group

“If you can get through the self-doubt and give something a try, it’s a win.”

“What are YOU doing to personally manage your development?”

Professor Margaret Alston, Monash University

“Australia’s gender pay gap has grown to 17.1 per cent differential. This is simply not equitable. To achieve the same wage in Australia, women would have to work 64 days extra per year.”

Jennie Vickers, Director Australia and NZ, IACCM

“Don’t be defined by your job title or you’ll find yourself disappearing.”

“Make the case and articulate the benefits of supplier relationship management.”

Honey Meares, Procurement Manager, Supply Strategy, Genesis Energy

On clarity of purpose: “It’s important to know what you are trying to achieve.” 

Sarah Collins, Chief Procurement Officer, NSW Roads and Maritime Services

“Don’t try to change everything at once – rather, concentrate on starting the momentum.”

You can check out the full programme for the event here.

Hugo Britt is a Research Consultant at The Faculty, helping to support The Faculty Roundtable, an influential group of Australian procurement leaders, who gather to share their experiences and insights. The Faculty will be hosting their ninth Asia-Pacific CPO Forum, the region’s premier procurement event dedicated to accelerating commercial leadership at the highest level.

For more information on The Faculty Roundtable or CPO Forum, contact Program Manager, Belinda Toohey.

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.

Transforming the Procurement Function from Within

It’s a tall order to come in and completely transform the procurement function within an iconic global company.

But Kelly Irwin didn’t beat around the bush when she started as Head of Procurement at the Australian subsidiary of Swiss group at Holcim (which has since merged with the French group LaFarge) five years ago.

The company, which is a leading supplier of aggregates, concrete and concrete pipe and products, had plenty of room for improvement. In fact, the company’s procurement department was mostly handling complaints, rather than handling strategic buying for their future.

The 20+ year procurement industry veteran soon realised the magnitude of the role, so set about implementing improved systems and processes for the procurement function. The first step was to establish a centralised purchasing model, then build a talented procurement team to support her role.

“It was a very dysfunctional team that had little direction, that wasn’t aligned with the company’s strategic directions,” Irwin says.

Building an Effective Team

Today, Irwin heads of a team of 34 people and manages a mind-boggling AUD $900 million budget. She has implemented and centralised structure and processes within the procurement function. She has previously worked in procurement for Qantas and building firm Boral, though this role with Holcim Australia is her first where the procurement buck stops with her.

With those changes bedded down, her remit is again broadening, and she will now handle all buying across New Zealand for the company, with a recent trip across ‘the Ditch‘ to establish processes there.

Not only this, Irwin has developed a highly effective procurement team, which has been awarded the Internal Customer Excellence Award for Holcim Australia for three years in a row.

Her approach has transformed the procurement function for the company, with her team has an 80 per cent engagement score, which was the highest in Holcim Australia in 2015.

Irwin has strong capabilities in building effective working relationships with teams, development of Procurement strategy, management of supplier and keyholder expectations, highly developed negotiating skills, contract management, risk management and compliance expertise and operational experience through the implementation of change initiatives and process improvements.

Irwin was also recently awarded the CIPS Procurement and Supply Chain Management Professional of the Year.

Building Individual Engagement

Irwin keeps staff informed on all aspects of the business, has an open door policy, and doesn’t mind being contacted after hours.

“I recently read that people play harder when they know the score. This is something Holcim Procurement do well. Not only do we have clear goals, (quantitative, savings targets), but we have the measurement tools the accountability element to keep score on how we are tracking.

“I believe this shared goal, as well as individual accountability to reach this goal builds individuals’ commitment to team uniformity direction, and overall engagement,” she says.

To emphasise her point, she recalled talking to someone in procurement who had major issues trying to speak to the head of the department. This was slowing down their ability to tackle their own role.

“This person would need to book a meeting with their superior two or three weeks ahead, and it was usually a walking appointment as he was always in between meetings. I honestly don’t know how someone can be that busy, that they’re practically unavailable for their own staff. You’ve got to make sure your staff feel engaged and supported, and that you’re a team.”

Nearly 70 per cent of her team is degree qualified, though that wasn’t a prerequisite when she entered the industry more than two decades ago.

“I always look to hire people that complement the skills we have, and find people who have talents in areas we need to improve in.

‘Be Inquisitive Problem Solvers’

Like so many working in procurement, it was never a deliberate decision to follow this career path.

Irwin deferred university and entered the workforce before stumbling into a procurement role, with the sound of buying things for a living appealing to her. She’s since completed a number of qualifications, certificates and management courses that support her role.

“Procurement is one of those professions that you’ll excel in as long as you’ve got the right soft skills.”

Irwin describes herself on being approachable, down to earth and honest. And she doesn’t take herself too seriously.

“Though depending on where you’re standing, that can be a bit rough as well,” she admits.

Procurement professionals need to be inquisitive problem solvers with strong communication skills, she says.

“While your superiors might be great at what they do, with all due respect, they don’t necessarily know more than you about your function within the business. Realising that you could well have a far better idea of the best approach than other senior people within your business can be professionally liberating.”

As far as the future goes, Irwin says the procurement function has an increasingly broadening remit.

“Procurement was entrenched in a brown cardigan mentality in the past, but that’s changing, and we’re now a business function that’s well respected across the globe.”

Kelly Irwin is one of the leading Australian professionals to speak at the second annual Women in Procurement 2016 event, which inspires leadership, advances careers and drives innovation in procurement, and supply chain function and practice. The event will be held in Melbourne in 21-23 March. Book your ticket here.