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Women in Procurement Wednesday: Amanda Prochaska and Jessica Walther on supporting other women, giving grace and learning to say ‘no’

12/02/2020 By

In the age of technology and digital transformation, it’s easy to forget about the human side of procurement. We may not consider how the relationships behind our interactions with suppliers and stakeholders are just as important as the tactics, dollars and cents behind a business transaction.

We’d even go so far as to say that the relationship with yourself in this space is just as essential to a successful process. Without positive and healthy relationships, our own duties and tasks could very well become obsolete.

For this installment of the Spend Matters “Women in Procurement Wednesday” series, we explore what it really means to focus on that human side of procurement — from women supporting other women, to taking time each day for yourself and learning to say “no” in a culture where that can be so hard to do.

How do you find the right procurement technology and vendor for your company? Spend Matters’ new 5-step “Procurement Technology Buyer’s Guide” can help — with how-to documents, checklist templates and other tips.

I had the pleasure of interviewing two amazing women for this week’s edition. Amanda Prochaska is the Founder and CEO of HPP, Inc. and Founder/Chief Wonder Officer at Wonder Services. Having spent 16 years in procurement where she fell in love with the novelty of each day, Prochaska became more entrenched in a Center of Excellence role that exposed her to almost every facet of the companies for which she worked. While she felt as though she was truly making a positive impact every day in her role, she always had a need to create something for herself and others in the entrepreneurial spirit.

Fast forward to today, Prochaska “had the opportunity to create three businesses of passion — something beyond my wildest imagination.” HPP is all about process improvement. Global Women Procurement Professionals is the first ever global women’s procurement organization, which was started in 2019 and helps women live their best careers in procurement and beyond. Wonder Services assists organizations with change management and engagement marketing.

I also had the opportunity to talk to Jessica Walther, founder and CEO of itivate. Walther describes her journey to supply chain and procurement as a very “windy road.”

Having held positions at Kroger and as the Director of Strategic Sourcing at Macy’s, Walther felt conflicted in her procurement role. Supply chain, as defined, was relatively new at that time of her career, and applying the best practices led to partnership sentiments that always felt somewhat forced. She felt as though these relationships were “supposed to be more natural than the corporate environment was allowing.”

While Walther still has amazing things to say about the mentorship she experienced in those roles and being able to “cut her teeth” in the industry, those experiences led her to question how she could have an impact in a different way. Today, itivate brings together all the best aspects of businesses that do well and redeploys them to give to small and mid-sized businesses to help them scale. After all, “at the end of the day, don’t let people in the business be the way you cut corners,” implores Walther.

What’s one way to ensure that? Purposeful engagement. Prochaska, for example, has a plan each week for how she is going to engage people, such as by making one introduction a day between two people in her network. That purposeful engagement may be more important than ever in the wake of COVID-19, as everyone is pivoting to virtual learning, remote work and countless Zoom/Teams calls.

Another concept that Walther wants to pivot is the question of what it means to be a woman in the male-dominated industry of procurement. When asked whether or not the procurement industry feels like the proverbial “old boys’ club,” both Prochaska and Walther insisted that they never really stopped to think about it.

To change the conversation about the “boys’ club,” Walther instead would like to focus the emphasis on women supporting other women. By coming together as women in this community, we can do more. That makes us a strength for one another rather than competition.

It may sound strange to some, but it’s true — there can be such a thing as compassionate procurement. In fact, this trend goes hand in hand with automation trends we so often see today. It may not seem like it, but when it comes down to it, what is one thing that cannot be automated? Relationships.

As such, Prochaska and Walther encourage women — and others in procurement — to use this unique quality of relationships, to use one’s emotional intelligence as a lever. Women, especially, are taught to hide their emotions at work. The human, relational and compassionate side of procurement begs to differ.

One final consideration Walther holds near and dear to her work today is the Burnout Institute. As you can imagine, relationships at work and in procurement take so much out of a person and in a totally different way from how a spreadsheet ever could. This bodes even more true for women in the field — or as Walther likes to call it, the “extra side of sauce for women” in the workforce today.

After all, while women working in procurement and supply chain have been taught to say “no” their entire negotiating careers, women (and men) often have the intense unwillingness to say no when it comes to taking on a task or helping someone with a project. So much so that it doesn’t even register for that person how it is impacting their life; you end up feeling like you don’t even have the energy to take care of the people you lead and instead feel like you are doing them a disservice.

So how can you help avoid burnout in the face of the technical, digital sides of procurement in addition to the human, relational sides? Dedicate time to yourself. Take a page from Walther and Prochaska’s books and go back to what you used to love doing as a child. Whether that be art and “flooding your senses with color,” or taking hikes where you don’t know what adventure waits around the corner, dedicating time to yourself is so very important to avoid the dangers of burnout.

To cap off this edition of our “Women in Procurement Wednesday” series, we asked both women for their advice when it comes to the industry and developing the human side of procurement. A broad request, I know. Nevertheless, they delivered with two important ideas when showing compassion. One: give grace to others (and yourself) in relationships. And two: know where to draw the line on your values.