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Women in Procurement: The New Power Players

By Jelena Brown |
Women in Procurement

It’s a reality of the US workforce that women are underrepresented in almost every industry, especially at the corporate level. Procurement at large is no exception. Though companies that want an edge on their competitors would be wise to course-correct. Based on its own experience, LogicSource knows there is great benefit to be gained from hiring and promoting women at every level of the business.

As an organization that has been able to grow and thrive as a result of industry-leading talent development processes, LogicSource identified before many others in the industry that women embody all the traits necessary to be game changers and difference makers in procurement. Businesses (and women) are missing out on what should be a value creation that connects the right talent to the right opportunity.

 

Fact Check

 

We know that procurement and supply chain has been—and remains—a male-dominated industry. More than the eye test, this is simply a bald fact. In a recent study, women represented 38% of employees across 300+ procurement organizations surveyed in the US, Europe and Asia1. While broadly this number has been climbing the last three years, if we look a little closer—particularly at executive and leadership positions—the trendline remains stagnant. Of the 320 Fortune-500 companies surveyed, only 7% employed women as supply chain executives.

For a long time, LogicSource was right in-line with these numbers. As recently as 2016, only 36% of our company’s workforce was female. After refining the way we attract, acquire, and retain talent, women now comprise 45% of the company’s workforce, and 28% of those women hold Director-level positions or higher. It’s a change that has been nothing but positive for our organization, and one we believe that can bring about positive industry-wide changes.

The reasons for the underrepresentation of women are largely speculative and objective, varying by company and on an individual basis. Nancy Nicoll, Vice President Indirect Sourcing for Retail Business Services and a 20+ year procurement veteran struggled with what many consider the default challenge for women and working mothers: balancing career advancement with family life. After a conversation with her then-CFO, Nancy realized that sometimes that perceived limitation can be self-imposed. “The best advice I can give,” Nancy said, “is you don’t have to be Superwoman. Pause, understand what is important, communicate with leadership, lean-in to your mentors and make sure you aren’t assuming and being unreasonably hard on yourself.”

While Nancy’s experience won’t be everyone’s, it’s clear that there is no one-size-fits-all answer to why the industry sees this kind of underrepresentation. Taking that into consideration, it’s best to let the above facts speak for themselves. It’s not our intention to put the industry on trial, but rather call attention to a massive value-add that many companies might not even be aware of. We can only speak to what has been true for us, and that is, when we made a concerted effort to bring more talented women into the business, our company improved. It’s that simple.

 

The (False) Perception

 

It’s misguided to assume that there are no opportunities for women in procurement. Historically, it’s understandable why women might feel this way. Think about it. If you’re a talented woman making a career choice between procurement, which employs 38% women or a career in marketing, which employs 67% women2, which industry would you choose? Which would you feel offers you more opportunity?

LogicSource Managing Director of Strategic Sourcing, Teal Williams, offered her unique insight into why the problem persists in procurement, saying, “I think a lot of procurement companies and departments are largely filled with those who have been doing procurement a certain way their entire career and aren’t as comfortable with someone bringing a different model to the table.”

The good news is that the industry standard does not have to remain static, and shaking up the status quo can be an exciting project, despite the difficulty. “It can be challenging to try to get others to be comfortable with a new perspective or approach to the way it’s always been done, but being able to see a problem and respond to it creatively to reach a different solution than what may be expected or has been done before is part of the fun,” Teal said.

By fixing a fresh eye on finding a creative solution to this old problem we’ve found a dramatic market inefficiency when it comes to finding top procurement talent.

In working frequently with indirect procurement, we have seen firsthand that women possess all the traits that make great procurement professionals. Their interpersonal skills and Emotional Intelligence often exceed those of men, making their talents critical for nurturing relationships with both suppliers and clients.

 

Traits of Successful Procurement Professionals

 

So, what exactly makes for a great procurement professional? We look for a handful of critical attributes: astute negotiation skills, effective communication, attention to detail, a willingness and eagerness to learn, coachability, creativity, self-reliance, an ability to understand and assimilate multiple unique perspectives, active listening rather than waiting to speak, and being a team player among both internal teams as well as clients and suppliers.

Cindy Headen, Senior Vice President of Supply Chain Services for Domino’s, seeks similar attributes in procurement professionals joining her team, but elaborates further. “It’s very important to maintain objectivity and rationalization, regardless of where you are at, whether you are male or female, and depending on level in the organization. The ability to either put yourself in the other person’s shoes or put yourself in your client’s shoes (internal or external) is important. It’s important to remember who you are serving—you’re not there to serve yourself, but the client. At the end of the day, understand that your role is to drive the optimal outcome for the enterprise or for your client.”

Cindy has it right. Throughout our recruiting process, we have seen these traits shine through in women. It wasn’t until we took the time to identify what those traits were that the light bulb went off and the dynamic changed. We went looking for traits and found more and more often women were rising to the top of our candidate list. And most importantly, the change we made manifested from a place that was objectively good for the business. We were well-motivated to hire women simply because based on our criteria, women made great hires.

Nicole Zhang, a Procurement Director at our company said, “Young females need to join the field of procurement with full confidence and conviction in their ability to achieve excellence.” Nicole certainly did and it has served her well during her stellar career.

If you don’t want to take our word for it, data backs up everything. According to research, CPOs (Chief Procurement Officers) believe that the presence of women on their teams has led to increased creativity and innovation, ultimately leading to better company-wide performance3. The case for more women in procurement is anecdotally and objectively strong.

 

How We Can Help Paint a Different Picture

 

Importantly, women have agency in changing the way they perceive themselves when it comes to working in procurement. Some of the best female leaders we work with shared some critical advice that could change minds.

Teal Williams wants women to know, “You don’t need to be a ‘tough as nails’ negotiator to succeed in procurement. It is just as important to be able to leverage some of the softer skills, like emotional intelligence or empathy when trying to get to the root of what may motivate someone to shift their position or consider an alternative solution.”

Cindy Headen, who spent the first 12 years of her career in engineering and R&D before overseeing three operating divisions of the Domino’s supply chain, offered some pointed advice of her own. “The more complicated and challenging the better as you approach your career because it’s better for your learning—don’t shy away from challenges because that’s how you learn,” she said. Ending on an empowering note, Cindy advises, “Don’t act and behave a certain way because you are a female. Act and behave the way you want to be viewed as a professional. Be known for what you bring to the table.”

Calling for a two-fold solution, companies have an active role to play too, starting with identifying the type of leadership team shaping the procurement department. According to Cindy there are two schools of thought among procurement leaders, “You have a hardcore team that has nothing but Procurement experience, or you have a culmination of people that come with varying backgrounds; and they bring in a broad perspective which is better than what you can have from Procurement generalists—a melting pot of talent.”

Confirming Cindy’s melting pot idea, Nancy Nicoll believes that diversity is key. Without diversity—not just procurement experts, but all facets of business demographics—you can’t grow the field and get exposure to areas that might help your Procurement function be the best it could be. “Procurement is so dynamic and has changed more in the last 5 years than in my entire career. Companies have to capitalize on new opportunities with diversity as the lens in hiring practices or they risk moving forward with outdated business models. Done right, procurement and sourcing will drive a significant competitive advantage for organizations. Looking at the procurement model without a new perspective, becomes a competitive disadvantage.” Nancy warned.

We’re certainly partial to the diverse melting pot approach in our business but knowing the style of leadership that is steering the ship can reveal the best way forward when it comes to change-making.

From here, specific procedural and messaging change can help get your business where you want it to go. Much like Teal’s approach, identify traits that make a strong procurement professional in your own terms, within the specific context of your organization. Then go to market making it crystal clear what your company is seeking. If you lead with some of the traits we discussed above like Emotional Intelligence, coachability, creativity, self-reliance, etc. women will identify those skills in themselves and their perception of opportunities in procurement can shift.

 

How Might This Look in Practice?

 

  • Attracting young talent is critical for any business. If we want to attract a new generation of female procurement professionals we need to meet them where they are, and with clear objectives. An increased presence at career fairs and industry-related conferences can get a business more visibility, as well as participation in affinity groups (i.e. LinkedIn, local area “meet-ups”, etc.
     
  • Articulate exactly why women make outstanding procurement professionals. We can’t assume that our criteria are intuitive. Be prepared with female success stories from within your own organization. If you demonstrate that women not only have opportunities in your business but are making a daily difference, more women will be compelled to pursue opportunities within procurement.
     
  • Educate your hiring managers so that they understand exactly why the company is emphasizing the key traits you’ve defined and that those skills often present more strongly in women, making them uniquely positioned to be successful procurement professionals.
     

These core areas will lay a strong foundation for increasing female representation across the industry. A focus on young talent, transparent hiring goals, and complete alignment with HR can help your company attract hidden top talent and gain a competitive edge.

Hiring is only half the battle. Once you’ve got talented women in the building, the company needs to develop, retain, and promote those women. When asked about professional development offered throughout her career, Nancy Nicoll reflected that most of the opportunities she pursued were driven by her own desire to get better, indicating the need for a more concerted talent nurture program on the part of employers. In her view, individuals should seek and capitalize on all professional development opportunities, but concedes, “procurement is generally not well understood in most organizations, and is not seen as an opportunity for significant growth and development and as such does not always attract talent.”

Internal promotions and talent development should be areas of special attention regardless of gender or hiring priority. The real value-add for your business is the cultural shift that this encourages. As you hire more women who exhibit the critical traits of great procurement professionals, promoting those women communicates to the organization as a whole the kinds of skills, behaviors, and performance that get rewarded. What’s more, as those ideal candidates transition into leadership roles, they can share their skills and nurture those key traits within their team members.

 

Here’s a Sample of LogicSource’s Talent Development Plan:

 

  • Ensure developmental career opportunities are available. An organizational chart that may or may not have room to move up isn’t enough. Companies would do well to offer learning and training courses, provide mentorship opportunities, provide clear performance goals and on-going performance feedback so that the employee knows perceived strengths and areas for improvement.
     
  • Make mentoring a core practice for your workforce. More than just growing knowledge and receiving much-needed career guidance, mentoring is essential for networking, and forging support alliances.
     
  • Recognize good work. Have a system in place for identifying and celebrating the achievements of all employees. This not only creates an inclusive work environment, but it provides another opportunity for you to showcase the skills and behaviors that you want to elevate in your organization.
     
  • Have career pathing opportunities. Every employee should be provided with a clear development path with endorsement from leadership that if they’re diligent in achieving their goals, they will get where they want to go.
     

Practices like this help will not only help your organization retain talented women, but it communicates to your team what your organization truly values. If your company can implement programs like this, it signals complete buy-in from leadership on down.

 

Conclusion

 

The facts bear it out – women are underrepresented in procurement. This isn’t a criticism, it’s simply the truth, and ultimately an exciting one for women and procurement companies alike. The status quo isn’t the result of lack of opportunity or active repression, but a confluence of contributing factors that no longer need to shape the industry and also reveal ways companies can easily course-correct so that they don’t miss out on superstar talent. Because while underrepresentation is a bald fact of the industry, so too is the fact that women make rockstar procurement professionals who can drive productivity and performance.

LogicSource has proven through our own revised hiring practices that women possess all the traits and more that are desirable in procurement professionals. Our findings are backed up by the insights and experiences of long-time female procurement leaders like Teal Williams, Cindy Headen, Nancy Nicoll and Nicole Zhang. Enhanced Emotional Intelligence and myriad other soft skills make women uniquely qualified to manage relationships with clients and suppliers and achieve better outcomes for all parties. And that, after all, is what we’re all striving for.

Women have less to fear from procurement than they realize, and changing minds is a vital first step. Teal Williams reminds women that the perceived need for hardnosed intensity and cutthroat negotiating skills have their place but aren’t necessary for success. Nancy Nicoll encourages women to try procurement, saying, “As you start experimenting, you may be surprised. In procurement, you have a chance to develop skills, foster partnerships, and learn way of working that’s unlike anywhere else in the organization, while creating crucial organizational advocates.”

With that, companies also have changes to make. Leading with transparent hiring criteria will bring hesitant applicants out of the woodwork. Give women the opportunity to identify for themselves that they are a fit for your organization. It’s much easier to feel confident in saying “Yes, I’m creative, yes I’m a strong negotiator,” than discrediting a job in which they might excel because they lack x-years of procurement experience. Help create a narrative that allows women to envision themselves joining your team.

In the end, this is an exciting time for women in procurement. Opportunities for lasting careers in procurement are there for the taking. We know the way forward: practical, boots-on-the-ground strategies for messaging, outreach, talent development, mentorship, and career pathing that starts with top-level leaders. If you can do all that, your business is poised for success, and you’ll have talented women to thank.

 

About LogicSource:
LogicSource was purpose-built to drive profit improvement for their clients through better buying. LogicSource focuses exclusively on the sourcing and procurement of goods and services not-for-resale, which typically represents 20% of a company’s revenue and the area of greatest spending inefficiency. Tested time and again in the marketplace, their proven engagement model builds profitable partnerships that achieve 4-15x ROI. Learn more at www.logicsource.com.

 


 

Author: Jelena Brown is a Chief Talent Officer at LogicSource

Co-Author: Christine Sabato is a Senior Manager, Talent Development at LogicSource

Content Contributors:

  • Teal Williams, Managing Director, Strategic Sourcing, LogicSource
  • Nicole Zhang, Director, Strategic Sourcing, LogicSource
  • Cindy Headen, Senior Vice President, Supply Chain Services, Domino’s
  • Nancy Nicoll, Vice President, NFR / Indirect Sourcing, Retail Business Services

 

References:

  1. Nougues, X., Swette, K., Djaad, L., Elbaz, M., & Hjiej, A. (2019). Women In Procurement: Gender Parity is a Key to Better Performance. Retrieved from Oliver Wyman website: https://www.oliverwyman.com/content/dam/oliver-wyman/v2/publications/2019/feb/Women-in-Procurement.pdf
     
  2. Duggan, Bill. (2018). A Diversity Report for the Advertising/Marketing Industry – And a Call to Action. Retrieved from Association of National Advertisers website: https://www.ana.net/blogs/show/id/mm-blog-2018-11-ana-advertising-diversity-report
     
  3. Nougues, X., Swette, K., Djaad, L., Elbaz, M., & Hjiej, A. (2019). Women In Procurement: Gender Parity is a Key to Better Performance. Retrieved from Oliver Wyman website: https://www.oliverwyman.com/content/dam/oliver-wyman/v2/publications/2019/feb/Women-in-Procurement.pdf

 

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