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.
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:
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.
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
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.