‘No better time to embrace diversity’

The time is now to support diversity in procurement and particularly the role of women, a top headhunter has said. 

“There is an appetite for this, and organisations and society are demanding it, so there is no better time to stop talking and start putting some of these things into action,” said Lucy Harding, partner and head of procurement and supply chain practice at Odgers Berndtson. 

Speaking at the CIPS Women in Procurement leadership steering group today, on the sidelines of the Inspiring Women in Business conference in London, Harding said there was a strong business case for diversity in leadership, and that a diverse procurement leadership also tends to lead to a diverse supplier base.

But Harding, who recruits at CPO level and CPO minus one, said there was a lack of women looking to break into leadership roles.

“When you get into your mid 30s, not everybody, but you start to have family pressures,” she said. “You start to actually become more financially secure, in which case the drivers to actually go out and work and keep pushing and pushing start to become less.”

Women are also concerned that asking for flexible working hours or taking maternity leave may hold back their career, Harding said.

“If you’re in an outward facing role, 'Is someone going to come in and replace me with those relationships and I’m going to come back to nothing? So do I bother going back at all?'” she said.

Women also network differently to men, said Harding. Women tend to focus more on performance than their network, to network for their company rather than themselves, and network with people of a same level of seniority.

“Men tend to focus on who’s going to be useful, 'What am I going to go to', and, 'I’m going to make sure that I use my network in a better way for personal gain.'”

Women are also not as good as keeping their network alive, partly due to the fact they are more focused on job performance and tend to have more family commitments, said Harding. Of the people who contact her for regular catch-ups over coffee, the ratio is 10-1 male-female, Harding added.

When working with women coming through the ranks, Harding said it was important to point out when they are doing these things and help them correct this behaviour.

“This is real… and it’s senior women that exhibit some of these behaviours. And I think we have to call it out when we see it and correct it.”

Harding also encouraged women to network outside their function and within the wider business, and not be afraid to speak to HR directors or their seniors about their career projection – something that men do often.

“You need to take control, and make sure that the people that are around that [hiring] decision making – they’re not in your function, they’re not your direct boss.

“There’s an ecosystem around [you] that’s going to be involved in their career decision at some point,” said Harding. 

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