Women have been entering the supply chain workforce in greater numbers in recent years. According to a report from Gartner Inc., female employees accounted for 41% of that workforce in 2021, up from 35% in 2016.
In the critical procurement area of supply chain, the statistics are similar — women now hold approximately 40% of procurement officer positions. However, they lay claim to only 31% of procurement management positions.
But women just starting out in a procurement career shouldn’t be discouraged by that statistic. If they have the proper support and mindset, they’ll be able to advance and flourish, says Dawn Andre, chief product officer of Jaggaer, a provider of cloud-based business automation technology for business spend management.
“It’s an exciting time to be in our space because there are so many new initiatives,” she says. “Women are hitting the forefront of the executive suite right now. The thinking is now oriented to diversity and inclusion.”
Andre believes that sponsorship is critical to success for women embarking on a procurement career. A sponsor’s scope goes beyond that of a mentor, who offers only counseling and guidance.
“A sponsor could also be your mentor, but a sponsor really is somebody who’s looking out for your next career progression,” she says.
A sponsor has advanced visibility into any directional changes a company might be taking. And, with the sponsored party’s skill sets in mind, the sponsor homes in on future opportunities and puts forth that person’s name as a fitting candidate for them.
Andre served as a sponsor at various times during her career and relished those experiences. “I loved that opportunity because I feel like if I put forth great candidates for new roles, it reflected wonderfully on my brand,” she says. “Sponsors who view it that way will invest time with you — and want to build their own brand and want you to be part of that.”
Potential sponsors don’t necessarily seek out early-career sponsor-seekers, however. Sponsor-seekers therefore need to be proactive in finding a suitable sponsor. So getting the attention of a potential sponsor, for the right reasons, is crucial.
“Ask a lot of questions — not just the tactical operational questions,” Andre says. “Help yourself and be responsible for understanding the big mission of the company, the department you work in and what’s important to your leadership, so you can begin to map your personal strengths to identify where you can make a contribution early. I think just asking those questions and being curious — bringing ideas and strategic contributions to a member of your organization, your leadership team — will get you noticed.”
Be Self-Reliant, Too
When Andre was growing up, her father had a favorite saying he shared with his children: “Self-reliance is the key to success.” As a youngster, she believed the saying’s intent was: “It’s all on me.” It was only after Andre entered the workforce that she understood it meant: “Don’t wait for someone to tell you what to do.”
In other words, early-career employees — including women entering the procurement arena — can’t rely solely on a sponsor to get ahead. They must be curious, accountable and willing to make a real contribution, too, Andre says.
“You can make a contribution on Day One even if you don’t have a background,” she says. “Know what your strengths are. Know what the objectives and goals of the organization are. And try to make a contribution right away. That’s self-reliance.”
Detour as Needed
Women embarking on a career in procurement also need to understand that the path to success is not necessarily a straight line. Fearing they will miss out on something, new employees tend to identify a specific career track and plan its progression, Andre says. By doing so, however, they often miss other valuable opportunities.
A nonlinear career path — one that detours at times from the expected — is often more rewarding. And Andre’s own career path is proof.
“Every move that I made, whether it was an operational function, a technology function, a customer-facing role or a back-office role, all of those throughout my career have helped me build skills and points of view,” she says. “And experience that has given me empathy. So when I’m solving problems today, I can look at the problem with a multi-faceted lens and can come up with a more holistic solution as a result of being in different lanes, across departments, across organizations.”
Demonstrating a sense of curiosity and a willingness to “be at the table” and truly contribute are not only important for finding a sponsor. They’re also critical differentiators for a woman who’s new to her procurement role, Andre says — making her stand out for reasons other than being “the only female in the room.”
New female employees also can differentiate themselves by embracing change, particularly when it comes to technology. For her part, Andre became interested early on about emerging technology and its future role in enabling procurement fulfillment, supply chain, distribution and vendor relationships.
“Taking that curiosity again, I learned about what technologies were out there and got exposed to many of them in my career,” she says. “And we moved some to the cloud, and I got exposed to cloud technologies." Andre says it's important to embrace change, and even be ahead of it. "Be well-educated on what’s the next wave — like today the next wave is artificial intelligence and machine learning, for example,” she says.
Finally, women can differentiate themselves by building relationships at each stage of their procurement careers. As Andre notes, one or two employees — usually other women — have been part of her core support group at each stage of her career.
“I think that having that circle at any point in your career is vital,” she says. “People you trust, who have your back and are looking out for you. Find those people.”
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