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Organizations are embracing diversity because leaders understand there’s power in reflecting the community in which they operate, and diverse points of view are differentiating. “We’re selling products to consumers, and we need to make sure we understand what their needs are,” said Bonnie Clinton, Chief Procurement Officer at Toyota Motor Sales. “We establish goals for diversity in our suppliers every year. With a diverse and inclusive workforce and supplier network, that’s when you get the products and services that make your company stand out.”

Clinton was one of four experts who traded war stories along with career advice at the SAP Ariba Live 2017 event during a panel discussion entitled, “Leading Change and Diversity in Procurement." Their discussion explored what women can do to meet the unique challenges they face in the procurement and supply chain industry.

Procurement leaders (above) speaking at SAP Ariba Live traded war stories and shared practice career advice for women. L to R: Caroline Nicholls, Deutsche Bank, Visna Lampasi, Woolworths Ltd., Bonnie Clinton, Toyota Motor Sales, Jenti Vandertuig, County of Santa Clara

Be yourself

Caroline Nicholls, Head of Client Coverage Operations at Deutsche Bank, attributed being her authentic self to achieving her career objectives. “For me, diversity is not about a life choice. It’s a necessity that we have to prove time and time again why we are where we are, and why we should be accepted like anyone else,” she said. “I’m not allowing anyone to tell me not to be me.”

Looking back on her career, Nicholls said she was inspired by a history teacher who brought classroom subjects alive. “I wanted to take that legacy, and be that inspirational person,” she said. “Too often women cover themselves protectively, when we should be approachable, normalizing success. Be that person you want to be remembered as. If you keep that thought in your head, the engagements you have will be authentic and memorable for the people around you.”

Communicate expectations

As for acting on diversity objectives at the organizational level, these experts advised open communication with suppliers about expectations. Jenti Vandertuig, Chief Procurement Officer at the County of Santa Clara, said her organization conducts vendor outreach to suppliers, explaining their commitment to gender diversity and inclusion. “We run a county hospital and a jail so our vendor base is very diverse, and depending on what we’re buying, we do face some resistance, especially with women negotiators,” she said. “However, it’s getting better day by day.”

Know who you are and what you want

Although she grew up in Australia, Visna Lampasi, Head of Group Procurement at Woolworths Ltd., said her experience was shaped by her traditional Croatian-style upbringing. “Diversity is also about inclusion, equality and acceptance,” she said. “I was the different kid who couldn’t speak English, and I desperately wanted to fit in.”

Lampasi offered practical advice to anyone negotiating with suppliers. “Know your stakeholders and if there’s something you can change in how you interact with them,” she said. “In situations where I’ve been disregarded as the decision-maker because of my gender, I’ve found if I can identify what’s going on, then I can deal with it. I can only change myself, and hopefully through education, I can change others.”

Help other women

Clinton said that she regularly advocates for other women, identifying who has the most potential and how she can support them. “I identify two to three women I’m going to spend my energy on, and when they learn from you, they go out and you start to build a community of women helping other women,” she said.

Smashing the glass ceiling

The speakers agreed that while advances have been made, the procurement industry has a long way to go in addressing bias ─ gender or otherwise. Vandertuig shared how she pushed back after being told that she’d reached the “glass ceiling” at her company. “I went straight to my CEO, and told him I was implementing SAP Ariba for first time in the United States government sector. When he saw how passionate I was about transforming the public sector, he asked me to stay,” she said. “Know what your power is. Don’t let others rule you. Either work it out or move on.”

Be a risk-taker

Pointing out that men always apply for jobs even if they can’t do them, Lampasi said it’s important for women to “identify your transferable skills, believe in yourself, and put yourself out there. Create your networks. As soon as there’s an opportunity, the men are lined up, but women often sit back waiting for the ad to come out or the phone call. By then it’s often too late.”

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