Natasha Fraser   |   27 Mar 2023   |   4 min read

IWD Women in Procurement Series: Barbara Clarke

Barbara Clarke

The theme for International Women’s Day this year is #EmbraceEquity. With women still being at a clear disadvantage in the workplace, from the gender pay gap to underrepresentation, we wanted to take a moment to discuss how this applies to the procurement profession and explore ways we might be able to Embrace Equity and instigate change.

According to a recent study by Jigsaw Talent Management, despite comprising nearly half the workforce in this area, only 21% of procurement industry leadership roles are currently occupied by women, and on average, women are paid 5% less than men at each leadership level.

VendorPanel’s own Customer Success Manager, Tash Fraser, recently sat down for a conversation with Barbara Clarke, Procurement Transformation Manager at Redland City Council, to learn about her experience in building a career in procurement in the public sector.

How did you get into public procurement and what do you enjoy about it?

I didn't actually join procurement thinking I would have a career in procurement. I initially joined the Queensland Government through a traineeship in the central Queensland Government's procurement area.

I just naturally fell into it from that perspective and over my career just slowly climbed the ladder. I suppose what I love about it is the collaboration aspect and working with multiple people to deliver on particular projects.

In terms of why I stayed in public procurement rather than going private, I made a conscious effort to work in state government and local government because of that public connection to communities and people, so that I could see exactly the value I'm generating by what we’re providing.

What are some of the biggest challenges women face in procurement?

I think these challenges are not just in procurement, but challenges that any working women would struggle with. For me, there are three key aspects that I notice.

The first one is work-life balance. I think as a mum, and a career-driven woman, I struggle with the balance and the expectations I put on myself being a leader, versus knocking off at 4:30pm and heading home to transform into my mum role when my kids need me. I think that dilemma is something any woman in the workplace struggles with, particularly women in leadership roles.

The second one is imposter syndrome. That expectation that we put on ourselves and the doubting that we do of ourselves as women. Although confident in my ability, I don't generally self-promote to the point that I see some of my male colleagues do.

And the third one is the lack of leadership and mentoring that we have as women in procurement. If I can think back to when I started in my journey, particularly in public procurement, I saw a lot of CPOs in state government that were female. Whereas now, I’m not seeing that as much, although there are many female CPOs in the private sector. Therefore, there's not a lot of mentoring opportunities in public procurement that we can access as we progress through our careers.

What have you seen change for women in procurement over the years, and what are some things you would like to see change?

I don't know necessarily that it's particularly women in procurement. I think in public procurement I've definitely had the same ability to apply for jobs and opportunities as my male colleagues. It's not necessarily a change, but I would love to continue to see the growth of women in CPO roles and having the opportunity of progressing through the hierarchy of roles in their procurement careers.

In terms of my personal experience, there has been the challenge of starting from the bottom and having to work my way up. I didn't come into procurement in a management position and for the first couple of decades of my career, there was progression and support from the organisation to provide, not only the hands-on operational experience, but also to seek qualifications to support me in expanding in my professional development. I've seen that kind of support drop off over the years, and I'm not too sure why that is, but I see it across the board.

What is the most important risk you've taken in your career?

That would have to be when I chose to leave my state government job and take a redundancy. I had been with them 22 years and it was my first job, so I was very comfortable in that environment. Choosing to take that leap and join the world of consultancies felt extremely risky for me, and I'm a risk-averse person.

I tend to avoid any sort of risks like that, and although I loved the flexibility, I didn't like not seeing through procurement projects and seeing the outcome and collaborating. So then I started my journey of finding another organisation that I could get back into procurement with.

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