Women, Weinstein and Whether It Matters To Procurement (Part 1)

The Harvey Weinstein scandal has led to the #MeToo campaign, encouraging women to come forward with their stories of sexual harassment and worse. There have also been a large number of other media articles – this is a very powerful example, as Jia Tolentino in the New Yorker explains the effect that sexual harassment has on its victims and why sometimes women don’t make a fuss, or even end up getting together with their abuser. It is highly recommended.

Another article in the Guardian talked of Suzanne Moore’s personal experience, which is pretty shocking too.  And anyone who is offended (quite rightly) by President Trump and his offensive “pussy grabbing” comments should remember how the now revered Bill Clinton pretty much destroyed Monica Lewinsky’s life. Jenni Russell in the Times brought that up, and also talked of the harassment her friends have suffered in very “normal” white-collar jobs in the UK.

“The worst is a young woman who finds her necessary professional messages to bosses during the day routinely ignored, but whose evenings are ruined by crude and insistent texts from her married male managers asking why she hasn’t joined the team at the pub and listing the many ways in which they want to f*** her”.

Arabella Weir, that excellent British comedy actress and writer, explains here in The Guardian that this is not just a US media issue, in case we thought it was. I found the article shocking, as she is clearly referring to people we would know and admire from UK TV shows making lewd and insulting comments aimed directly at her. More shocking again, when she does eventually object, she is met with ‘Come on, it’s a joke, lighten up.’ 

As a man, I can only apologise on behalf of what seems to be a significant proportion of my gender. It’s just horrible and without getting into amateur psychoanalysis, it seems in some cases to be about power as much as it about sexual desire. But, inevitably, it made me wonder: does this go on in procurement?

There are more female CPOs than ever before, but they are still very much in the minority. At junior and middle levels in the profession though, the male / female split must be close to even these days. We do know however that our profession does not have a good story to tell when it comes to employment of ethnic minorities in senior roles, as the report on diversity we covered here told us.

And as we commented (somewhat jokingly) here, CIPS currently has a Board with more female than male members, nine versus six, which is good news, and the Institute has had four female Presidents in the past 20 years, and two in the past 10, which is not quite so good.

But what are our professionals (and we shouldn’t make this totally a female thing) experiencing in their working lives? Does the sort of harassment and worse that seems common in the media business go on in procurement teams? Is there a CPO somewhere at this very moment suggesting to a younger, more junior colleague that a big promotion might just depend on something other than great job performance?

Do organisations have policies that explain to staff what is and is not acceptable, and are there clear processes laid out for handing complaints and issues? And does the organisation actually take action when something happens – or is it about damage limitation?

I’ve spoken very much off the record to a (fairly small) number of women in what we might call the procurement industry over the last week or so – some practitioners, a couple on the solution provider side, generally friends, plus a couple of more “random” contacts where the opportunity presented itself.  We’ll give you the feedback on that on Monday – but let’s just say there is absolutely no room for complacency in our profession.

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First Voice

  1. Claudia:

    It sure does, to women in any profession. I can tell numerous examples in Procurement teams and I have worked in several industries. They include:

    – Manager boasting about his exploits in Asian red light districts during business trips to female subordinates…. Stayed gainfully employed and retired with a nice fat pension
    – Category Manager grabbing colleague in the taxi queue and kissing her out of the blue. Calling her a dirty girl in the office. Promoted to Director shortly after, incidents were reported
    – Lewd comments by stakeholders when walking by, others laughing, no consequence
    – Senior Director, direct report to CPO and married sleeping with very junior staff member (not direct report), her breaking down crying in front of colleagues when he finished it. Nobody reported. Moved to another equally prestigious position within company
    – Guy given a development opportunity to lead team (while female team members were not considered ready to manage people). Slept with direct report throughout.
    – Lead for Procurement outsourcing project to Eastern Europe called all women from that country “whores” in front of fresh graduate female talent from that country. Was reported. He finished project and then moved into equally senior position in the same company.

    All these examples show – nobody actions anything. Women who report are seen as trouble makers and “not mature enough” to deal discretely with what has become an expected reality in business. Punished or ignored are those who report, not hurt or even promoted those who behave like that. And now you ask why women are under represented in the upper echelons of the profession? And by the way, the senior women have learned the rules of the “game” and more often than not ignore as well, in order not to be associated with the troublemaking “feminists” – they know very well that doing so hurts their careers.

    I laugh at some of the content out there by Procurement publications touting the profession as particularly welcoming to women. B…s… as myself and other women in the profession know very well.

    Appreciate you as a man raising the question. But we need both men and women in real life Procurement teams, including CPOs, stand up and be very clear what’s on and what’s not. And speaking up against inappropriate behaviour or relationships, sexual misconduct, bullying or other discriminatory practises is leadership, not “nagging”, “troublemaking” or anything like that. And men who behave inappropriately can’t keep on getting promoted, rewarded and cushioned throughout.

    And lastly, I have on one occasion see a young man at the receiving end of lewd comments from older female colleagues. This needs to be treated in the same vein.

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