Firms need to live by their policies to support women in procurement, says Co-op CPO

6 May 2022
Supply Management spoke with several leaders about the experiences of women in procurement, considering the barriers to career progression and how the profession can do more to support women on the path towards leadership. 
In part one, Co-op CPO Claire Costello discusses gender balance, supporting talent, and acting on your policies. 
https://www.cips.org/supply-management/news/2022/march/lack-of-opportunities-for-women-to-enter-procurement/
In a previous article on Supply Management, Sara Jones, procurement and social value manager for development agency Ambition North Wales, told Supply Management there was a lack of opportunities for women in the profession. Where do you stand on this and the belief that harmful stereotypes still portray women as unsuitable for roles involving tough negotiations and long hours?
I completely disagree with this. There is often a difference in style, but there is no less success by not having a desk-thumping and dominant personality. This outdated thinking is akin to the challenges thrown at Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand. She does a great job at articulating that being female is not the same as being “soft”. From an hours point of view, I’ve always been a believer in outputs rather than inputs. Long hours doesn’t necessarily equate to doing a great job.
What barriers exist for women in senior and leadership roles, and what do you think would help improve this? 
There is often still a perception that moving up the ladder will be an impact on or be impacted by other life decisions. This is bigger than procurement and seen across other professions too. There is a need for women leaders to keep opening the doors and sharing their experiences and for male leaders to be genuine allies and sponsors of their talent. Hear their concerns, understand, coach and support. 
To what extent would you attribute the smaller number of female leaders to bias and lack of support during maternity and child-raising years? 
I was personally supported by more than one male boss during and following maternity and child-raising years. However, I hear from colleagues that this still feels more prevalent in certain sectors and industries than others. I also think that some of this is more fundamental to how women challenge themselves to be confident to progress – that if there are 10 things, they’ll see the three they can’t do. This anecdote always resonates with women I speak to (and myself!)
For women who have taken a career break, what practical steps would you recommend when returning to work? And how could you ensure a career break wouldn’t harm your prospects? 
This always feels like it should be about how you look after, properly manage and support your talent. It’s driven by the communication, clarity and agreement of what you want and need, why you’re taking time off and how you want to manage any ‘keeping in touch’ moments during the time away. It should also include a really clear re-onboarding for when an employee returns. It also needs a change in attitude. There is a real lack of understanding of how time away can impact confidence, and how much can really change during that time out (it’s usually the multitude of small things) in an organisation that is then having to be caught up on. But everyone will assume that because you’re not new that you know it. How you come back into a business after time off will depend on what you need going forwards, and I’d like to think that we are aware that flexible and/or hybrid working is becoming much more the norm to help people – both male and female – navigate domestic and working needs.
How can leaders learn to support women in senior roles during challenging life, for instance during the menopause?
Having a policy is the first thing – something that is clear, supportive and understood. The next is to really live up to those words. Encourage this to be understood in the same way as maternity is, talk about it as the norm. For example, I benefit from hybrid working because I don’t always sleep well at night, so knowing I don’t have to be up super early everyday of the week for the train gives me a chance to recover and be at my best. Leaders need to role model the way and look to lead. If you see someone that you wouldn’t expect to be struggling, sharing your own experience and your vulnerability will allow them to open up, and then you can work on how to help. Leaders need to educate themselves on the challenges being faced and therefore the reasonable adjustments that can be made.
What can women do to prepare for menopause to feel more in control of their job and options? 
First would be to educate themselves to understand more about the peri-menopause and menopause. Knowing what the symptoms are, looking for them and how they can impact you – because it’s often a lot of small things and not just the well-talked about hot flushes – can help reduce the slow decline towards loss of confidence. Also, finding support groups in the organisation or peers that you can share experiences with, and then being clear on what is a reasonable adjustment, if one is needed, to help you be at your best. 
In a truly gender-balanced workforce, 50% of people may be experiencing pregnancy, maternity, child care pressures and/or menopause at various points. As a procurement leader, how much of an impact do you think this would actually have?
There is a lot of evidence that shows that having a diverse workplace, and in particular, having women in your business delivering and at the leadership table, has a real commercial benefit. The life experiences that are gained such as with people, influencing (have you ever negotiated with a toddler?), problem solving, plate spinning skills, let alone empathy, I could go on…It brings those broader softer skills to reality. These are so needed in today’s complex business landscape. In terms of disruption, it’s as easy or as hard as you want to make it.
How can we support change to make a better work-life balance for all employees, not only women? 
Start with “yes, and how do we make this work?”, rather than no. In most cases, you can agree either the ask or a compromise. In return, you’ll get an uplift in productivity, loyalty and positive engagement. Celebrate the successes. Be transparent and honest about what you can and cannot support. And have transparent policies that are lived by.  

How can procurement do more to support women in the profession?

Supply Management spoke with several leaders about the experiences of women in procurement, barriers to career progression and how the profession can do more to support women on the path towards leadership. 

Part one considers gender balance, supporting talent, and living by your policies with Co-op CPO, Claire Costello. 

A recent article argued that there is a lack of opportunities for women in the profession, and harmful stereotypes still portray women as unsuitable for roles involving tough negotiations and long hours. Where do you stand on this?

I completely disagree with this [sentiment]. There is often a difference in style, but there is no less success by not having a desk-thumping and dominant personality. This outdated thinking is akin to the challenges thrown at Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand. She does a great job at articulating that being female is not the same as being “soft”. From a working hours point of view, I’ve always been a believer in outputs rather than inputs. Long hours doesn’t necessarily equate to doing a great job.

What barriers are preventing more women from reaching senior and leadership roles? And what can be done to change this? 

There is often still a perception that moving up the ladder will be an impact on or be impacted by other life decisions. This is bigger than procurement and is seen across other professions too. There is a need for women leaders to keep opening the doors and sharing their experiences, and for male leaders to be genuine allies and sponsors of their talent; to hear their concerns, understand, coach and support.

To what extent would you attribute the smaller number of female leaders to bias and lack of support during maternity and child-raising years? 

I was personally supported by more than one male boss during and following maternity and child-raising years. However, I hear from colleagues that this still feels more prevalent in certain sectors and industries than others. I also think that some of this is more fundamental to how women challenge themselves to be confident to progress – that if there are 10 things, they’ll focus on the three they can’t do. This anecdote always resonates with women I speak to (and myself).

Do you have any advice on returning to work, to ensure a career break wouldn’t harm your prospects? 

This always feels like it should be about how you look after, properly manage and support your talent. It’s driven by the communication, clarity and agreement of what you want and need, why you’re taking time off and how you want to manage any ‘keeping in touch’ moments during the time away. It should also include a really clear re-onboarding for when an employee returns. It also needs a change in attitude.

There is a real lack of understanding of how time away can impact confidence, and how much can really change during that time out – because it’s usually a multitude of small things within an organisation that the person then has to be caught up on. But everyone will assume that because you’re not new, you know it. How you come back into a business after time off will depend on what you need going forward, and I’d like to think that we are aware that flexible and/or hybrid working is becoming much more the norm to help people – both male and female – navigate domestic and working needs.

How can leaders learn to support women in senior roles when managing various life stages, for instance, during the menopause?

Having a policy is the first thing – something that is clear, supportive and understood. The next is to really live up to those words. Encourage this to be understood in the same way as maternity is, talk about it as the norm. For example, I benefit from hybrid working because I don’t always sleep well at night, so knowing I don’t have to be up super early everyday of the week for the train gives me a chance to recover and be at my best.

Leaders need to role model the way and look to lead. If you see someone that you wouldn’t expect to be struggling, sharing your own experience and your vulnerability will allow them to open up, and then you can work on how to help. Leaders need to educate themselves on the challenges being faced and therefore the reasonable adjustments that can be made.

What can women do to prepare for wellbeing issues such as menopause, to feel more in control of their job and options? 

First would be to educate themselves to understand more about the peri-menopause and menopause. Knowing what the symptoms are, looking for them and how they can impact you – because it’s often a lot of small things and not just the well-talked about hot flushes – can help reduce the slow decline towards loss of confidence. Also, finding support groups in the organisation or peers that you can share experiences with, and then being clear on what is a reasonable adjustment, if one is needed, to help you be at your best. 

If we achieve a true gender balance, half of the workforce are likely to experience pregnancy, maternity, child care pressures and/or menopause at some point. As a team leader, how much of an impact do you think this would have in reality?

There is a lot of evidence that shows that having a diverse workplace, and in particular, having women in your business delivering and at the leadership table, has a real commercial benefit. The life experiences that are gained such as with people, influencing (have you ever negotiated with a toddler?), problem solving, plate spinning skills, let alone empathy, I could go on…It brings those broader softer skills to reality. These are so needed in today’s complex business landscape. In terms of disruption, it’s as easy or as hard as you want to make it.

How can we support change to make a better work-life balance for all employees, not only women? 

Start with “yes, and how do we make this work?”, rather than no. In most cases, you can agree either the ask, or a compromise. In return, you’ll get an uplift in productivity, loyalty and positive engagement. Celebrate the successes. Be transparent and honest about what you can and cannot support. And have transparent policies that are lived by.  

LATEST
JOBS
Enfield (Locality), London (Greater)
£27,430 - £34,809 per annum plus excellent benefits
Lee Valley Regional Park Authority
Winsford, Cheshire
£29,793 to £36,369
Cheshire Constabulary
SEARCH JOBS
CIPS Knowledge
Find out more with CIPS Knowledge:
  • best practice insights
  • guidance
  • tools and templates
GO TO CIPS KNOWLEDGE