Women in Procurement Wednesday: Katie Smith on taking chances and ‘leaning in’ to remove bias

Katie Smith is the Head of Procurement at Kimberly Clark. (Personal photo)

You may be familiar with the Hewlett Packard report that finds men will apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the required qualifications, while women will apply only if they meet 100% of them.

Katie Smith, the Head of Procurement at Clark Pacific, surely represents one of many of us who want to change that.

I recently interviewed Smith for our series as a successful woman in procurement. When it comes to advice for women who want to break into the procurement industry, Smith’s words can equally apply to any women who feel they need to have 100% of a job’s qualifications to apply: “Be willing to take chances. If you’re a little scared to take on a stretch project or your next role, that’s ok. It means you have a lot to learn and that’s a good thing — it will prepare you for what’s next.”

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In her 20+ years of taking chances, Smith has held various procurement and operational positions at Sears Holdings, to being the Senior Director of Global Procurement at Grainger, and most recently, the Global Director of Strategic Sourcing & Procurement COE at HERE Technologies. Now, Smith has embarked on the new endeavor as the Head of Procurement at Clark Pacific.

Having recently started her new role, she says “There is not a typical day while I am onboarding, as there is much to learn and many people to meet. It does though resemble a ‘week in the life’ in procurement, as our stakeholders and partners across all the functions of the company and their needs can be as varied as the business units themselves. It is what keeps procurement interesting to me — the variety of needs and demands, the learnings, and the collaboration.”

Now as a woman in procurement, Smith felt lucky in her early career “to be on teams that were largely women and women-led, meaning I saw a lot of leadership and a lot of support in that arena.” But that doesn’t mean there weren’t challenges.

Like many, Smith has been talked over and “mansplained” to at various points throughout her career. However, she is encouraged knowing that “there are a number of terrific and terrifically active networks and professional associations that are truly promoting women today — and I strongly encourage women and men to join in.”

Especially in the last year of social discussion, there is a conscious effort by many to remove bias. As you build credibility in your career, Smith asks that you “lean into your support, your amplifiers, to work around bias, and teach and remove unconscious bias.”

“A previous leader said to me ‘It’s not the work, it’s the people,’” Smith said,“meaning we can learn and understand the goals and demands of the work and deliver but to succeed you need to have great teams, mentors, sponsors and it is your responsibility to grow these relationships.”

Also in the last year, we’ve all certainly seen and felt the effects of the Covid pandemic on both personal and professional lives. As Smith put it simply, “It has affected everything!” Accelerating digital collaboration and the digitization of work. Deploying thousands in global workforces to remote work. Making many truly appreciate work from home “particularly with all of the challenges Covid brought us at home, as well.”

Still, though, she says, “People are craving to get back in the office and have those interpersonal interactions. But going forward, recognizing the balance of the personal and professional.”

Last but certainly not least, when it comes to trends Smith is seeing in procurement now, she calls out digitization of work as a trend that will continue beyond the effects of the pandemic, including the increase of business intelligence and smart solutions (RPA, ML, AI) to accelerate productivity.

With “an explosion” of procurement solutions and procurement solution partnerships that we’ve seen in the last year, as Smith calls it, she recognizes the need to take time now to get data “right and clean so that we can take advantage of these solutions!”

Read about other professionals featured in our "Women in Procurement Wednesdays" series. Are you a woman in the procurement space who has a compelling story to tell? We’re all ears. Send us an email at: sehrmann@spendmatters.com

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