Anu Gardiner: Women in Procurement

Anu Gardiner

To use a cliche, Anu Gardiner has worn many hats in her professional life. She currently serves as the senior director of procurement at DocuSign, a San Francisco-based electronic signature technology provider, where she runs the internal procurement organization. Yet she is also involved in the sales and marketing side of DocuSign’s products, where she provides critical insight into how the company’s technology can appeal to outside procurement teams. On a typical day, it isn’t uncommon for Anu to be on a call arranged by a DocuSign sales person one minute and the next to be talking sourcing strategy with DocuSign’s own procurement team. It is definitely a dual role she plays at DocuSign, but one that is both “integrated” and “interspersed,” she said.

But hearing more about Anu’s background, you realize pigeonholing her into a single role with a single function wouldn’t be right. To start, she has a degree in engineering, which has served her well in her procurement career — but more on that later. Her professional career involves academia, management consulting and roles within procurement and the supply chain. Early in her career, she was an assistant professor of industrial engineering at the State University of New York at Binghamton before making a shift to management consulting and working with Booz Allen Hamilton. She later moved into supply chain management at Cisco where she oversaw $500 million a year in spend. She also worked at Kaiser Permanente as director and senior director of IT sourcing. And that was all before she switched to her current role at DocuSign.

Being Comfortable with Change

The shifts she has made throughout her professional career were possible not just because of her wide talent and skillset but also because she is comfortable with change. Growing up in India in a military family, she moved often and learned to adapt to new places and situations.

“If I look at my life and my career, the big theme there is change,” Anu said. “Having done academia, management consulting, direct procurement, indirect, high tech, all these different things, it really comes from this comfort with change.”

The fact that she has made changes throughout her professional career has so far served her well. For instance, her years in supply chain management bring new value to the sales team at DocuSign. She sees her role in sales at there as important, as she is able to bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to drive how the company sells and provides useful solutions to outside procurement and supply chain management teams. She believes internal procurement organizations are currently underused by sales teams yet they can serve as an internal resource for the business.

“I think it’s a tremendous potential that a lot of companies do not even look at,” Anu said.

Engineering Your Own Professional Path

Anu’s background in engineering, too, has played an important role in her development. It’s a highly disciplined field that gave her good business sense and the ability to tackle new subjects instead of being intimidated by them. Engineering is something that has specifically helped with procurement as well.

“In sourcing, you have a lot of categories, but you are not going to be an expert in every category you are working with,” Anu said. “However, you have a good business knowledge of what the business drivers are in that category, who the players are. So I think it is a really good foundation.”

Studying engineering also gave her confidence as a young woman. During college, she noticed just about 10% of the engineering students were women. Despite being among a minority in the field, she decided to “make a go of it” and succeed despite challenges such as an unbalanced gender ratio or even gender bias standing in her way. However, Anu’s views on the gender gap, specifically in the professional world, have changed over the years.

“With that confidence as a young person, you don’t see that as a barrier at all,” Anu said. “But give it the perspective of 20 years and then you begin to see patterns and you begin to see that, no, it is not a level playing field all the time and it’s not because of your engineering skills or your business skills even. There are other forces at play.”

Specifically in procurement, Anu said there is clearly a lack of women in leadership roles. Women are working in procurement, they are just not making it to those executive positions, she said. It’s a trend that is “well established.” So, how do women respond to this reality? Anu suggests:

  • First, give thanks to the work that has already been done for you. Women should recognize the women who have made tremendous strides in the business world. “Knowing you are starting from a point of strength and are already ahead of the game, I think is really important for maintaining that confidence as you move forward,” Anu said.
  • Acknowledge that patterns of gender bias exist, then plan for and around them. As a young woman starting out in the business world, for example, it is important to recognize the patterns that exist in the workplace and understand how they may affect your career, Anu said. If you are looking to make a change — for instance, starting a family — it is key to ask how that decision may affect your career. “These are very, very important questions to ask, and women need to think about them in context of their situation — what their family goals are, what their career goals are and what they are going to do about it. You have to think this through. You have to plan for it.”
  • Seek mentorship. Women need to seek out other female mentors and sponsors and ask for advice from these people. She said women should “find your speed dial” — core group of men and women you can reach out to for advice on a specific topic. Personally, mentors in Anu’s life have played a huge role in her career, specifically when she was deciding to make the move from academia to management consulting years ago. “Sifting through that confusion and coming to a conclusion is best done with a mentor,” she said.

Looking Ahead

As Anu has said herself, change has been a constant in her career. So what is ahead for her? She has a couple of ideas. One is continuing to grow within procurement and supply chain organizations. Another is taking on a more advisory role with technology companies that are serving procurement organizations to develop even more efficient and effective ways of tackling all aspects of procurement, from procure-to-pay and contract lifecycle management, for instance. Regardless of which path she chooses in the procurement and supply chain management field, she aims to continue to create change for the better.

“It’s about the right opportunity, working with the right team. It’s about working with new ideas, Anu said. “To use a cliche, it’s trying to ‘change the status quo’ in a meaningful way. That is what is exciting to me.”

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