Beware Unconscious Assumptions – Diversity in Procurement

Most of the sessions at SAP Ariba Live in Amsterdam were about technology in some sense, naturally. However, one that I enjoyed was "Leading with Purpose - How to Celebrate Uniqueness and Challenge, a session run by two relatively young, black Ariba executives. Both were very impressive, and it was one of those rare sessions that finished leaving me thing “I wish that was longer!”

Kange Kaneene from the US is Director of Business Development and Ssiya Mnyanda from South Africa is a Cloud Procurement specialist, and they talked about diversity, including what we can all do to be more aware of unconscious assumptions. And before you switch off, remember this scary (and factual) report, that suggested procurement in the UK was the worst white-collar profession or function in terms of non-white people in management roles.

So, we started by doing a little exercise. On one side of a piece of paper, we wrote down three to five things about ourselves, then on the other side, an aspect of that which was not in line with expectations – with a “but" in between.

So perhaps, “I am a quiet person – but I don’t lack confidence”.

Or “I am of West Indian heritage – but I don’t like reggae music”.

The best was a young woman who said she was “half Irish and half Kenyan – but I’m not a redhead or a good runner”!  It was fun but did make me think. We do make assumptions – as I grew up people thought I was an “intellectual” because I was small, fair-haired, wore glasses and studied Maths.  But temperamentally, I’d always have rather been playing sport or a musical instrument than anything else.

We also impose stereotypes on ourselves, said Kaneene. We tell ourselves “I don’t like public speaking”, we avoid it, and it becomes self-fulfilling.  We might also have stereotypes in our procurement thinking and decisions – perhaps assuming that all suppliers from a certain country are poor quality.

But we can resist this, she said. Ask questions, don’t make assumptions, and let people speak for themselves rather than second guessing them. The example of a boss assuming that a female manager “won’t want that promotion because she balances work and family” – why not ask her?

Anyway, another point from the presenters was how we can “advocate” - support and help people to grow in confidence and perhaps fight some of those issues. We know about “mansplaining” and how women, minorities or just the less extrovert can be ignored in meetings or have their ideas stolen. So, if we are conscious of that, we can help.

“Jim, let Laura finish her point…”  Or, “Kange, that’s a great idea – tell us more”. Mnyanda spoke of how a mentor early in his career encouraged him to speak up in meetings and what this did for his confidence. And we don’t have to be “the boss” to do this, colleagues can equally look to act in this positive manner.

As a very frequent flyer, often upgraded, Kaneene also told us how she was often told by flight attendants “we’re not boarding you yet” when she had her first class ticket ready at the gate! An assumption was being made. I asked her after the session how she reacted – I thought she seemed quite restrained in that she said rarely lost her temper, but sometimes she did try and make the point about assumptions. I think I would simply be furious.

People often don’t mean harm, yet they can create negative experiences, Kaneene said. I guess that is a key message here. Hopefully, not many of us in business are overtly or even secretly racist, sexist or “anti-diversity”. But we can positively do good by being aware of our assumptions and actions, and looking to promote the cause – which really is to make sure everyone can contribute to our organisation’s (and society’s) success as much as possible.




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