How procurement can retain talent by breaking taboos around menopause

20 May 2022

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.

In part three, we consider how to support women experiencing the menopause to stem the drop off of talent loss among women over 40, with general manager, CIPS Australia & New Zealand, Sharon Morris.

Do you think there are more barriers to progression for women than men in the profession?

In most countries women remain in the minority when it comes to senior positions. So clearly there are barriers causing the gender imbalance at higher levels. While I see a lot more women in senior positions in the procurement and supply chain profession – which is fantastic – the data is showing us there's still a gender imbalance and a gender pay gap that we can't ignore.

There's a variety of reasons for that. Flexibility of work plays a major role, that has changed slightly because of the pandemic, but has it changed for the better for women? Our work life balance has completely been blurred. We're doing longer hours; we’re doing more in our professional and in our domestic lives. There’s certainly a positive movement for more diversity and gender diversity, but this needs to translate into practical applications, such as the way we are promoting roles and encouraging people from diverse backgrounds to come into roles.

For example, on our job adverts, have we really thought about how we want to showcase the flexibility and benefit of working with our organisation? I also think caring responsibilities are still hindering women’s career prospects, whether that be caring for children or the elderly.

And there's all these assumptions about a woman's life that wouldn’t be made about a man's life. Assumptions around whether you will or won't have children in the future – that should just not even be a factor. So how do we stop that? How do we stop those thoughts and biases? It comes back to always being mindful of any unconscious bias.

How can employers create working environments that encourage more people to contribute ideas? 

Traditionally, women have had more difficulty in being heard and speaking up in conversations or providing an idea and that’s not being regurgitated moments later by someone else. That's something that as a leader, you really need to work on. You need to make sure that you're hearing all the voices in the room and that you're bringing people into the conversation at the right time, because often women (and some men too) will sit back and not contribute because there's been a whole legacy of not being able to, of not being enabled or empowered to contribute.

And you have to find your own voice as a leader. It took me some time, generally I prefer to speak when I've got something valuable to say. I'm not a person that will go on, I'll just make my point. But I also have to learn to elaborate and bring people along the journey, as well as choosing the right time to  present ideas.

We're talking about the menopause more than ever. But what can be done to support women during this stage to maintain the pursuit of senior and leadership roles? 

I think menopause is still a taboo in the workplace, and women need to talk about it. And they need to do that in an unashamed way. You can feel uncomfortable in meetings or when presenting, it's a physiological and often psychological phenomenon that you can't control. It can affect your confidence and comfort, you can forget things, feel exhausted from lack of sleep or suddenly get hot flashes and perspire. Verbalising what’s happening is helpful as it normalises menopause.

It’s also important to understand that it can impact women in different ways, not everyone will experience symptoms. There should be more awareness of the impact of menopause on a woman and workplaces should offer support.

Menopause should be talked about in a way that would be no different to what how you would openly discuss ways of supporting  someone who was going through pregnancy – their hormones are changing, their body is changing, they're feeling different. They may need to sit down, cool down, sleep in or do things differently to feel comfortable and work ready.

I believe it’s best to acknowledge what a woman is going through and ask how she can be supported. Because why would you jeopardise expertise and talent by not finding a way to make people feel comfortable? This could apply to anyone, really. Menopause is a natural part of life, it's been around since the beginning of humanity and it’s here to stay. 

So would you say the key to progress is open and honest communication about health issues in the workplace?

We have an obligation to speak out about how and what we feel, and what we're thinking. It's important to support each other in speaking out. If you are going through something, whether it's pregnancy, menstruating, menopause or something else, as women, we have a duty to help other women in this space and to be the first to go to them and say, “how can we support you?”

On many occasions, we'll have gone through the same experience. I'd also say hats off to men who are talking about these things as well and how it impacts their partners, sisters and friends. It is all about opening up these conversations, while supporting and allowing people to talk about what's going on in their personal life whether they're female or male. 

And what about the gender pay gap?

We cannot ignore it. It's real. The pay gap is real. The gender pay gap has reduced since 1990s, but has stalled in the last decade. We must advocate and raise awareness of the gender pay gap. As individuals, we need to know and articulate our worth when negotiating salary. Don’t make it personal; prepare, practice, benchmark yourself against others in similar roles and use the data to justify your worth.

Employers play a critical role in closing the gender pay gap. We need to consider our bias when making hiring and pay decisions, have a clear criterion around hiring to reduce personal views and be transparent about pay. The reality is it’s generally women who spend a greater time out of the workforce, which ultimately impacts on career progression and opportunities, so we need to manage women’s re-entry following a career break, and advocate for workplace flexibility to accommodate caring and other responsibilities, especially in senior roles.

We have to address the gender pay gap in the profession because having the right people in the right roles is crucial to the success of every organisation and individual, and that includes a diverse workforce – so maximise your female talent and ensure there is pay equity.

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