Procurement leaders need to be consciously inclusive

In order to encourage innovation and ensure diversity in business, our teams must be aware of their unconscious bias, says CIPS group director Cath Hill

You know, I’ve always considered women to be people.” This was the response from Game of Thrones creator George RR Martin when asked how, as a man, he wrote female characters with such authenticity. Martin’s response is rather more encouraging than tech entrepreneur Evan Thornley’s “Women: like men, only cheaper.”

I recently spoke at a CIPS Central London branch event to coincide with the week of International Women’s Day. Presentations from CIPS Fellow and former CPO of Centrica Heather Benjamin and Yvonne Smyth, group equality, diversity and inclusion director at Hays, looked at some of the difficulties facing women in the workplace and how they can overcome them.

The audience engaged in a lively discussion about inequality and the fact that this can also relate to ethnicity, religion, and social class. I come from South Wales, where there is a culture of strong women and I never felt like my gender held me back, but equally I have always been aware of an uneven playing field. I once had a (male) boss who told me that I wouldn’t get on in my career because I didn’t have sensible hair.

This year’s International Women’s Day, #PressforProgress, called for a celebration of women’s achievements, forging positive visibility of women, challenging stereotypes, and influencing others’ beliefs and actions. CIPS and Supply Management are ideally placed to do this. Following our own Women In Procurement Leadership event (A FTSE 100 CEO is more likely to be called John than be a woman, SM February 2018) our steering group are working to ensure diversity and inclusion are covered in the CIPS Global Standard; to identify relevant knowledge and thought leadership. This year we have launched the Best Procurement Diversity Initiative as a new category in the CIPS SM Awards. We hope to share some great case studies later in the year.

It’s clear that the procurement talent pipeline for men and women is pretty equal, but what is stopping women breaking through the ceiling into more senior roles? A lack of female role models is a factor putting younger women off aspiring to senior roles. Julia Brown, CPO at Carnival Cruises, suggests that female leaders don’t always set a great example by the hours they work. Young people are seeking careers with a work-life balance and so are staying in roles where they can achieve this rather than perhaps reaching for their full potential.

This challenge is further exacerbated if women choose to have a family. High-profile media executive, and author of Win Win: When Business Works for Women Joanne Lipman, calls these “invisible women”, the “world’s greatest untapped resource”. Lipman suggests leaders need to adapt roles for women who want to step back when their children are young, offering projects that don’t require face time, but which allow them to continue to contribute and grow.

Another influencing factor is recruitment bias. Male directors often appoint in their own image, which is why a diverse interview panel is key.

To fully embrace diversity and inclusion within our teams we must become ‘inclusive leaders’. It’s human nature to make recruitment decisions based on ‘like-minded people’, but this doesn’t make for the most diverse team.

We are not normally aware that we make these decisions, so an inclusive leader must also be a conscious leader, quashing their unconscious bias. A less diverse recruitment strategy leads to group think and stifles innovation, while diverse teams positively challenge the status quo, question fellow colleagues’ decisions and bring new ideas.

The conscious leader needs to understand what it feels like to be an insider versus an outsider. And the case for change towards equality in the workplace must be a team sport made up of both women and men.

Men need to acknowledge some of the challenges that women face, and women who have never encountered inequality also need to accept that it is there.

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