Leadership and Career Progress


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Proceedings — Session: W-2
2011 ISM Diversity Summits
February 9-11, 2011
Boca Raton, Florida

Presenter: Lara Nichols, senior director, Tyco International

For her WESMS session on CPO-recommended leadership characteristics and career management, Lara Nichols, senior director at Tyco International, began by summarizing the state of women in the work force:

The "career-scape" is very different than it once was. It's also very different than it will be.

"We're going to look forward, beginning by looking backward," she told attendees. "You've done a lot to sit where you're sitting, and you probably have a certain amount of responsibility. But, you likely want even more."

And they might get it, according to a handful of 2010 statistics which paint a more equal picture between men and women in the work force compared with past decades.

  • June 2010 — A New York Times article references "The Great 'He-cession,'" reporting a disproportionately large number of men, versus women, finding themselves jobless in the recent recession.

  • January 2010 — A Wall Street Journal headline reads: Wives Begin to Take Over as Top Family Earners. The article parallels the 1970 figure, when this scenario represented just 4 percent of households, with the 2007 figure of 22 percent.

  • March 2010 — The Atlantic reports, "[T]he weight of this recession has fallen most heavily on men, who've suffered roughly three-quarters of the 8 million job losses since the beginning of 2008."

  • March 2010 — Reuters claims men are taking the brunt of job losses worldwide: 95 percent in India, 77 percent in France and 54 percent in the United States.

  • August 2010 — Reach Advisors report that single, childless women under the age of 30 earn about 8 percent more than men of the same age. The discrepancy is even wider in New York (17 percent) and San Diego (15 percent).
Wait! Not So Fast...

In spite of these findings, Nichols pointed out that women still earn between 70 and 80 percent what their male counterparts earned in the same roles.

A gap also exists when it comes to women in leadership. Nichols zeroed in on Fortune 500 companies, just 18 of which are run by women CEOs — and only 15 women occupy these roles. (Kathy Bardswick heads up multiple Fortune 500 insurance providers; Monique F. Leroux runs a Canadian-based financial group comprised of several Fortune 500 organizations.)

Additionally, just 14.4 percent of Fortune 500 executive officers are women, and they occupy only 15.7 of board seats in these organizations. Meanwhile, 51.4 percent of management, professional and related occupying in Fortune 500 companies are occupied by women. "There's the gap," Nichols said. "Women aren't executives in these companies, and even fewer are on the board."

She went on to cite more foreboding statistics:

  • On average, a woman will work three years longer than a man before receiving a promotion.

  • Eight out of 10 women believe that family responsibilities are keeping them from getting the best jobs.

  • Related to this, nearly 60 percent of women fear they will be perceived as less dedicated if they reveal commitments at home. "They're a little reluctant to say they can't make the morning meeting, or why they're leaving on time versus putting in extra hours," Nichols said.

Even so, Nichols believes women are uniquely qualified to lead — if they can overcome some common mistakes, that is. In general, she contends that women seek to be powerful and likable, accept all tasks offered to prove themselves, send unintended non-verbal signals, over-collaborate, hesitate to decide, choose security over opportunity, and fail to use their networks.

"If you're seen as indecisive, you won't be asked to lead," she explained. "Also, women don't use their networks the same way men do. Men are out golfing and spending time at the bar together."

On the upside, studies show that women more naturally possess the kinds of qualities that make someone an effective CPO — industry knowledge, influencing and a high dependence on the team's (versus their own) ability to deliver.

"Women are more intuitively qualified in 2011 for leadership roles," Nichols asserted, citing the fact that the United States is now a service economy. These days, effective executives must be able to "sit still and focus," "listen effectively and bring others along" and "communicate openly."

When speaking about procurement leadership, specifically, Nichols drew upon interviews she has conducted with high-profile CPOs. When asked what makes a great supply management leader, the common denominator was the ability to develop others to succeed.

Unfortunately, Nichols continued, there is an imbalance in supply management graduate figures to take on these roles. Currently, women represent only 31 percent of supply management undergraduates and 38 percent of master's students. Related to this, just 20 percent of undergraduate and master's students in engineering are female.

"This is a problem because supply management candidates with engineering backgrounds are highly marketable," Nichols explained.

What's the Solution?

At this point in her session, Nichols offered her best suggestions for getting ahead in supply management as a woman. Borrowing from one of her favorite leadership books, Lions Don't Need to Roar: Using the Leadership Power of Personal Presence to Stand Out, Fit in and Move Ahead by D.A. Benton, she shared four pieces of advice.

1) Be optimistic. Success comes from confidence. Apply optimism as an accepting attitude toward others.

2) Have guts. Employ courage, conviction, strength and fortitude. Apply guts depending on the situation. Then, with good filters, decide. "Don't just go out there with all guns blazing," Nichols warned.

3) Develop competence. Know what you know and never, never stop learning. Be an expert in your field. Know the people in it. "Lots of CPOs do this with each other," Nichols pointed out.

4) Look for lucky breaks. Work to be in the right place. Look for the right time. Trust your instincts to take the right action. "It's not always about achievement," Nichols told attendees. "It's about knowing how to recognize an opportunity when you see it."

Beyond this, she encouraged the women in attendance to succinctly describe their leadership styles. "Consider key characteristics," Nichols advised. "A strong stage presence doesn't come naturally for most executives."

She also urged WESMS attendees to be flexible, adaptive, open-minded and pleasantly disruptive; to communicate in a practiced and refined manner; to share appropriate transparency; and to make people feel accepted rather than judged or challenged — "especially if you're a judging or challenging person."

"There is no 'trick' to success. There's no ceiling to break. It's just a scary walk across the bridge," Nichols said. "My advice for crossing that bridge is to bring along all the people who matter to you, have confidence you won't fall off, know you deserve to be on that bridge with everyone else, and draw from your skills and experiences as you cross.

"But most of all, take that first step," she concluded. "It's the most difficult part."

— Reporting by RaeAnn Slaybaugh

About ISM Diversity Summits

Every year since 2009, ISM's Black Executive Supply Management Summit (BESMS), Hispanic Supply Management Summit (HSMS) and Women Executive Supply Management Summit (WESMS) have been co-located. Collectively, these events represent the annual ISM Diversity Summits experience hosted by Tempe, Arizona-based Institute for Supply Management™.

All three summits were developed as forums for diverse executives in supply management to come together and share their unique perspectives. Summit attendees learn from thought-leaders and change agents within their fields and representing leading organizations.