Women Leaders in Procurement: Insights from WSP Panel #1

By Mackenzie Oakley | April 20, 2021

There’s no doubt that each year,  International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month provide a fantastic opportunity to recognize and celebrate inspiring women working in procurement and supply chain.

But at Una, we believe we have the privilege and responsibility to do more than just celebrate. These events ought to be leveraged to bring key issues to the forefront, including the gender pay gap, diversity and inclusion in the workplace, and the importance of intersectional feminism, with the hope of motivating people to take action and inspire change.

With that in mind, we facilitated two Women Shaping Procurement panel discussions to gain advice and insights from some of the brightest women leaders in procurement.

In the first discussion, we spoke with Dawn Tiura, President and CEO of SIG, Cindy Rittel, Senior Sourcing Advisor at Una, and Jill Robbins, President of Business Fierce, to explore how women within the profession have adapted and thrived amid the global pandemic and their predictions for the future.

The speakers discussed the importance of empathetic leadership, the benefits of flexible working, and how multitasking has impacted business outcomes in recent months. Here are 6 big takeaways that stemmed from our first discussion.

Empathetic leadership is crucial

In recent years, employees and leaders have been increasingly encouraged to bring their personalities to work, but COVID-19 has certainly served to accelerate this trend. “The pandemic taught us that you need to go past ‘normal’ boundaries and have conversations that you wouldn’t have had before,” says Dawn Tiura.

It might once have been considered intrusive to ask your co-workers about their home lives or how their kids are doing at school, but in the Zoom era, all bets are off. 

Dawn also believes women are particularly adept at embracing this change and engaging in more meaningful and empathetic conversations, not least because they are well-practiced in juggling conflicting priorities and schedules.

“Women have always had the ability to engage in these conversations on a much more candid basis,” she says. “They’ll turn to an employee and be able to say ‘I get it. Your work schedule has to be completely flexible. I don’t care if you do the work at 5 am or 10 pm. When your child needs you, you need to be there.”’

She adds that while many women in positions of leadership have experienced moments of panic in the past year, they maintained the ability to nurture and uplift their teams during a time of crisis. “We’ve had to show incredible strength and positivity. Some of the things people perceive as our weaknesses often turn out to be our biggest strengths.”

Empathetic leadership will remain a priority post-pandemic

Dawn believes empathetic leadership is a crucial skill for procurement and supply chain professionals to hone, regardless of the pandemic. “If you lose empathy and go back to a command-and-control approach, you’re going to lose out and you won’t be invited to the table,” she says.

“The best thing a procurement professional can have is empathy, understanding, and curiosity about what makes someone else successful. People are the reason we got through the pandemic and the reason we were able to secure our supply chains. If we let the pandemic go to waste, then shame on all of us.”

Business outcomes won’t suffer, but they will be different

Jill Robbins recalls a very recent time when output was measured by physical attendance and leaders expected employees to be at their desks all day. “If you were at a doctor’s appointment and not in your seat, you were judged,” she says. “It’s ridiculous to think about because it should be about results.”

Jill strives to apply this mentality to how she leads, manages, and mentors others. “It’s important to be human and coach and guide people to treat others the way you’d want to be treated.”

She believes that business outcomes have improved and will continue to improve, but things will be done differently and the results may not look the same. “You’ll probably see more creativity when people work flexibly because they’re able to apply learnings from their home and family life.”

Having the autonomy to try new things, even if they don’t work out, is very important. “I’m a big fan of flexibility,” says Jill. “Years ago when working from home was not popular I had a direct convo with my boss and said ‘on Fridays, I’m working from home. If productivity slips or deliverables slip it’s on me.’ – but they never did.” As long as an organization measures its employees on their outcomes it’s ok.

Looking forward, Jill believes that corporate real estate will change and there will be much more flexibility awarded to employees.

There is no place for judgment

Remote work, and video conferencing in particular, has lifted the lid on employees’ personal lives like never before. The workplace has rituals, routines, structure, and perhaps even a corporate dress code, which can have a unifying impact on the workforce.

“Having Zoom meetings is a forced open-door policy to one’s home, and it should come with an understanding of how that impacts employees,” says Dawn. You’re suddenly aware of how your co-workers live, how much space they have, and who they are sharing that space with, and it’s all too easy to pass judgment. 

“People might judge the way you live but it doesn’t have a place [in today’s society],” Dawn says. “Why not learn about social pressures. I didn’t like 2020 but I don’t want to erase the year and pretend it didn’t happen. We’ve learned so much about humanity.”

AI and automation will keep businesses afloat amidst disruption

Some professionals have raised concerns that procurement and supply chain professionals could be replaced by AI and automation. Could this disproportionately impact women?

Not according to Dawn, who is a huge fan of automation. In the past year, we’ve learned that the data and documents sitting in office binders and cabinets must be made accessible to remote workers. “Most of the things we will automate are repetitive and boring,” she says. “To attract and retain the right people today, they don’t want to be doing [those tasks]; they want to be able to do the fun stuff.”

Una’s own Cindy Rittel agrees. “During the pandemic, businesses were divided into essential and non-essential.” It was a huge challenge figuring out how to get the essential employees into work safely, keep businesses operational, and make a profit. “When one person got sick or a production line got shut down, it took out the entire line or plant,” she says.

The question is, how do we automate so that we can keep businesses up and running? “From that perspective, I can see automation helping as well as hurting, but those are the conversations we’re having right now.”

Measurable goals are crucial

Cindy stressed the importance of KPIs. “I’m a huge believer and advocate that if you know what you need to do to be successful, you’re going to be successful.”  That goes for suppliers as well. “They need to know what success looks like when they partner with your organization.”

Post-pandemic, procurement professionals ought to review and adjust their KPIs to address everything that’s happened in the past year. “Procurement professionals are the most empathetic and sympathetic people when it comes to suppliers. But what they want is answers and corrective action.”

How do you add corrective action onto a supplier scorecard to mitigate against future disruption? “Let’s work together so moving forward there is the least amount of disruption as possible,” says Cindy.

Cindy also urges women in procurement to ask for withdrawals. “Ask your supply partners ‘why did this happen, what are we going to do moving forward, and can you guarantee me the following [won’t happen again].’” Now is the time to clean up the mess and ensure that moving forward things are better.

Want more insight from these women leaders in procurement? The full recap of Women Shaping Procurement is available now!  


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