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Anastasia Papadopoulos | 13 Mar 2023 | 4 min read
IWD Women in Procurement Series: Marnie Benney
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 Anastasia Papadopoulos, Account Manager, recently sat down for a conversation with Marnie Benney, Acting Procurement Manager at City of Stonnington in Victoria, to hear about what has changed over the years for women in public procurement.
How did you get into public procurement and what do you enjoy about it?
I actually fell into it. It found me. I came to backfill a position for seven weeks and I was asked to create our, back then, contracts and compliance department from the ground up.
There are so many opportunities. People find procurement really challenging and it’s because we are bound by legislation in the local government space.
We don't have our money; we have ratepayer’s money. That puts some constraints around what we do and how we do it. I love nothing more than driving change and improvement with staff and processes at council. I am lucky to work in an environment where I can help staff through challenging situations and encourage them to learn from the experiences to get a good outcome.
What are some of the biggest challenges women face in procurement?
I think there are a lot of parallels with women and the procurement space. As women, we've very much had to build a profile to get a voice in the industry. When I first got into procurement, it was predominantly a man's world but we've come leaps and bounds from then. I think women in the procurement space are accepted now.
It’s interesting to observe similar challenges the procurement industry has with profile building. Today it's all about building procurement's profile, rather than fighting to build your own profile as a woman in the profession.
What have you seen change for women in procurement over the years, and what are some of the things that you would like to see change in the future?
I'm definitely seeing more women now than when I first started in the procurement space. Today women are taken seriously and trusted for their expertise.
I have an example from when I first started in procurement. At the time I was at another council sitting in a meeting with procurement staff from a number of councils, and somebody asked a question. One of the ladies at the table answered the question. The individual asking the question turned to the male beside him and said "What are your views?" He then continued with the exact same response as the female staff member. However, when the male responded, the person asking the question replied "Great, good answer".
What the women had said was spot on. Why did he need to validate that with a male's point of view? I don't see that kind of thing anymore and that's a real positive. We've come a long way since that time.
What strategies would you recommend organisations implement to create change and equity for all?
It's really important that you have unbiased processes and systems in the place to make sure that you're creating transparency and accountability. Ensure people are put into positions based on their skill set, and not based on who they are.
For example, let’s look at soft skills like negotiating and bidding during the procurement process. Typically, these roles have been assigned to male counterparts because traditionally they're seen as the wheelers and dealers. Whereas today, we're seeing women are being skilled up in procurement to prove they have those sorts of skills.
I believe organisations should have mechanisms in place to ensure equality and fairness. This would lead to people getting opportunities based on merit and skill set, and not on gender.
What is the most important risk you've taken in your career?
There have been a number of risks over the years, but I think the biggest risk that I took was jumping ship.
With ten years experience, I was very comfortable in my old role. When I came to council, I was given the opportunity to create the Contracts Compliance business unit, which at that stage was one male staff member and myself.
I helped build that from the ground up, and watch it grow to where it is today. Seeing what our team has achieved and the opportunities that are available to us now is incredible. That jump in career was scary and made me think “Can I really do this? ”. I took a gamble on myself, and it paid off.
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