Julianne Bambacas   |   20 Mar 2023   |   5 min read

IWD Women in Procurement Series: Sharon Morris

Sharon Morris

The theme for International Women’s Day this year is #EmbraceEquity. With women still being at a clear disadvantage in the workplace, from the gender pay gap to underrepresentation, we wanted to take a moment to discuss how this applies to the procurement profession and explore ways we might be able to Embrace Equity and instigate change.

According to a recent study by Jigsaw Talent Management, despite comprising nearly half the workforce in this area, only 21% of procurement industry leadership roles are currently occupied by women, and on average, women are paid 5% less than men at each leadership level.

VendorPanel’s own Head of Product Delivery, Julianne Bambacas, recently sat down for a conversation with Sharon Morris, Director of Global Programs, Procurious (former General Manager of CIPS ANZ), to explore the values of diversity, inclusion and equity and highlight key considerations for organisations that want to promote positive changes in workplace culture.

How did you get into the profession and what role did you play within the procurement and supply chain industry?

I was working for over a decade in the not-for-profit sector, raising money for breast cancer research. The role involved leadership, raising profiles and working with key stakeholders. I had a bit of an epiphany moment while I was doing a yearlong adaptive leadership course and discovered the true merits of shared value. So I started to think about my next career move, and for me it had to be in a global context and it really had to fit with my purpose; bringing people together to make a difference.

So that's when I was introduced to the role of General Manager of CIPS Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands. At first I thought “Procurement?! What do I know about procurement?” But then I quickly realised it was more about the impact that supply chain has. Whether it's the cotton growers in Africa, right through to the garment makers in Bangladesh and into the retail stores in Melbourne, that impact is huge.

So, I was pretty much hooked from day one and I have been ever since.

What are some of the biggest challenges that you've seen that women face in procurement?

I think the challenges for women in procurement are no different to any other professions. Basically, women are paid less than men. And according to the World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap report in 2022, it will take 132 years to completely close that gender gap. So it's appalling and we must do something about it.

I think it's a chance for the profession really to stand up and do something about it. CIPS did a Hays Procurement Salary Guide, and that shows that across all countries surveyed, there is a gender pay gap and that gap widens even more once you get to the more senior roles.

Some of the challenges for our profession are really around the lack of women in the senior leadership positions. The gender bias in hiring and pay decisions, that's very much present and also, the lack of flexibility to accommodate for those that have caring responsibilities, especially flexibility in senior roles.

What are the some of the things that you would like to see to change in the profession to create more equity?

I think we must really promote this profession loudly and we have to do that to attract diversity. When I look at some of the key skills of our procurement professionals today, they include leadership, influencing skills, communication, supplier-relationship management and negotiation. And I think women are pretty well-placed to fulfil these roles at all levels.

I'd like to see the profession embrace not only gender equality but also diversity and inclusion. Over the last few years, all I hear is procurement leaders screaming for talent.

We've really got to throw out the old way that we went about getting candidates; getting like for like, or get what we've always gotten, and we've got to widen the scope to be more diverse. I would like to see organisations encouraging graduates to enter procurement from different fields such as IT, law, business, and so on. But also, why do they need to be graduates at all? Diversity is crucial for creativity, for perspective and for knowledge.

What has been the most important risk you've taken in your career?

I think leaving one job going to the next is probably always a risk. Certainly, when I left the not-for-profit world and jumped into procurement, that was a major step for me. But I'm a huge optimist and there's no doubt in my mind that you choose a certain path for a reason. As long as I'm fulfilling my personal purpose; bringing people together to make a difference, then it's always a huge opportunity.

I kind of see risks as challenges and they do help you advance in your career. They help you take professional opportunities and really push you and challenge you.

Risks are fundamental to your career and they've certainly helped me along the way.

What strategies would you recommend organisations implement to drive change and equity for all?

To embrace equity, you've got to address discrimination in all forms, whether that be in hiring practices or promotion or around pay transparency. You've got to improve everyone's work life balance and make work flexible. Let people start later and work later into the day. We've got to be more flexible because they'll be much happier employees.

We've also got to really demonstrate that it's everybody's responsibility for parental care. We've really got to increase the number of women in leadership positions. If that means quotas and targets, we've got to do it because research does show that targets help, and women are moving up the ladder.

The other thing I really encourage is for men to be champions of change. This is not a women's issue, men need to be there. When I run International Women's Day events, it's not women I need in the room, it's men I need in the room. It's those champions that need to be in the room and hear the story. The CEO really needs to walk the walk and then it needs to be bottom up, so the culture will become more focused on equity.

I always say you've got to earn, learn and return.

Earn: You've got to believe in yourself and you've got to know your worth, negotiate your pay and be prepared to make the ask.

Learn: Never stop learning, never stop listening to podcasts, going to networking functions, and keep building your knowledge to championing causes like equity and diversity.

Return: Help people up and along the way and encourage women. Encourage them to speak at conferences and forums. We don't want to see the same male, pale and stale speakers at every conference. If you're seeing that on an invite say, "No, I won't attend unless I see diversity in the agenda".

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