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Women in Procurement Wednesday: Erin McFarlane on encouraging young girls to choose STEM and procurement

06/30/2021 By

Procurement can be a thankless job, or at least one that’s often forgotten about in a business setting. But that’s what Erin McFarlane, the Vice President of Services at Fairmarkit, loves about the industry. She says while it’s often ignored, it holds remarkable power to enact change.

“People don’t think about procurement,” McFarlane said. “Somehow they think about sales and they realize how much companies buy, but they don’t realize that on the other side of every one of those transactions is a procurement organization. So it’s this hidden gem. … The transparency that is involved in sourcing is transformative, not just of companies or me, but the world. If we can shift to a more responsible way of sourcing goods and services, we literally change the world. And I don’t know many people who can get up in the morning and say, ‘What am I doing? I’m changing the world. I’m making the world a more fair place.’ That’s incredible.”

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McFarlane said procurement has always been on the outskirts of her career since her first entry-level position. She began her career in order automation at CVS in an internship role.

Her next steps involved taking on sales positions in the value-add reseller space. She would search for different product offerings for clients, which introduced the opportunity to enter into the vendor management space.

An opportunity at the Royal Bank of Scotland to separate the procurement functions of the RBS and Citizens Bank was McFarlane’s big break. She found the right combination of sales, procurement and customer service. She called it “sales backwards” where the negotiating was in her court.

As she delved into the procurement technology space, she noticed things hadn’t changed much in the ten plus years that she had been a working professional. The industry was ripe with new ideas and opportunities, giving her an immediate avenue to explore different areas of the technology space.

“Procurement is my home and procurement technology is my passion,” McFarlane said. “So oddly enough, I don’t know if it was by accident. My first job out of college was procurement automation and now 20 some years later, that’s what I’m doing.”

Another topic McFarlane is passionate about is women in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics space. McFarlane was greatly shaped by the very few times in her early career where men discounted her opinions because she was a woman.

She tells the story of a coworker who disregarded her recommendations to fix technical problems because she wasn’t a trained engineer. Instead of going with the flow, McFarlane wanted to take that as an opportunity to learn a new skill.

“It annoyed me so much that I went out and I studied to become a Cisco certified network engineer, not because I had an intention of actually working as an engineer, but literally just so I could have this certificate. So I took the certificate, put it down on his desk and I said, ‘I am an engineer now. So, now you have to listen to me.’”

As the VP of Services at Fairmarkit, McFarlane wears many hats. But the main role of her team is to monitor all customer implementations. The team provides the software in addition to best practices so that customers can quickly get up to speed on the sourcing automation solution.

McFarlane enjoys being on the procurement technology side of the industry once again. She is equally as passionate about the potential careers of other women in the industry. She specifically wants to focus on ensuring that young girls increasingly choose STEM fields in school and their careers.

McFarlane said she had more troubles as an identifying female in the technology industry rather than procurement. However, she said it’s important for all women to lift each other up and work to better themselves every day.

She remains hopeful that by encouraging young girls to stay in STEM, it will usher in a new phase of positivity for women in the workforce — whether they choose to go into STEM, the arts, or anything else.

Part of the draw McFarlane sees for women into the procurement industry is its new impetus for diversity and inclusion efforts. McFarlane said in the last few years, procurement has truly taken a strong stance on improving diversity and inclusion in business through enhanced use of diverse suppliers and sourcers.

The biggest change has been at the executive level, McFarlane said. Diversity and Inclusion is      no longer a “pet project,” but a true corporate strategy. McFarlane said this will open up more avenues for women to succeed in the procurement industry.

She also said consumers are driving a lot of this change at the industry level, which will only further promote the role procurement plays in diversity and inclusion.

“What we’re finding is that especially the younger generation — Gen Z and Millennials — are very interested in making sure that their money when they buy from a company is being used by that company in an ethical way,” McFarlane said. “So consumers care much more about sourcing than they ever did. They expect a certain level of visibility, and they expect companies to be using ethical means to make the goods and services that they’re selling.”

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: