ISM World 2023: Bias and Other Continuing Challenges for Women

May 10, 2023
By Melanie Stern

The room was full on Monday as the Women’s Supply Management Committee session began at the ISM World 2023 Annual Conference at the Gaylord Texan Resort & Convention Center in Grapevine, Texas.

The room of mostly female attendees was indicative of the challenges women still face within the profession: only three men attended, actively sharing their concerns. Gender bias, pay inequity and racial disparity in advancement opportunities exist, but the call to address those issues appears to rest solely on women.

“Please know that what you will hear today is not specific to women in this Committee, but universal challenges,” said session moderator Shami Anand (pictured above), owner and founder of Power Your Impact, LLC, an organization designed to help women elevate their leadership impact in supply management.

Although the committee, in partnership with Institute for Supply Management®, serves to connect, promote, empower and advance women in the profession, a recent survey revealed truths about the challenges women face.

Women Must Speak to Be Heard

Missteps by organizations in hiring and career advancement practices — among the biggest obstacles for women — can be corrected through education and insights. Leaders can better support and enable opportunities for women of all ages, race and sexual orientation, Anand said. However, she added, the change in conversation begins with women.

“Near 50 percent of women surveyed felt racial injustice,” Angela Rankins-Jones says, citing a finding from recent ISM research. A procurement human resources category management leader for MassMutual Insurance Company and lead for the Women’s Committee, Rankins-Jones shared another survey participant result: 55 percent of women said their employers were finding innovative ways to address women’s challenges in the workplace. “But what about the other 45 percent?” she said.

A Surprising Gender Reveal

A panel of guests provided perspectives, many based on their own experiences, on the challenges women face as emerging practitioners, seasoned professionals and leaders. Panelist Tania Santiago, Visa global sourcing vice president, was passed on early in her career, she said, “because I was a girl and I smiled too much. Looking back on it, I wish I could have responded differently.” She added that, over time, there were advocates that pointed out those situations to her, “helping me shift perspective.” 

Change across the profession is evident but the prevalence of inequity shows in women’s survey respondents’ numbers: Two-third (67 percent) experienced workplace gender bias, and 52 percent experienced age bias, 30 percent more than men. Nearly three-fourths (72 percent) experienced unconscious bias in workforce advancement, compared to 47 percent of men.

Stacey Taylor, finance operations and procurement vice president for Ocean Spray Cranberries, Stacey Taylor, was also on the panel, and she focused on gender pay inequities. Recalling a time when recruiting for new hires in the hospitality industry, she says there was obvious bias when it came to pay negotiations for women.

“I had to use data to prove the value of candidates, to lift pay ranges for recruiting new talent from various areas across the country,” she said. Taylor added that human resources representatives will often use geographic location and gender to adjust pay scales, which she believes is irrelevant to an individual’s career worth.

“Companies are being forced to look at pay inequities because the information is out there,” Santiago says. She added that talent must use the information to build a case for increasing compensation and create a business case to prove individual worth.

Santiago also suggests showing employers the inequality that exists between men and women in the organization. “It’s a constant conversation I have with my HR partners,” she said, “but 20 years ago, these conversations would never be considered.”

Top Five Challenges Women Face

Throughout the session, panelists and attendees agreed that having the courage to stand up for oneself amid salary negotiations directly correlates to one’s level of self-worth. Santiago said, “I didn’t negotiate my salary until I became more confident.”

Strides have been made in creating a level playing field in supply management salaries but there is room for improvement, says Anand. “Inequity in pay numbers, according to our survey, shows that women make 82 cents on the dollar compared to every dollar a man makes,” she said, adding that disparity levels increase for women of color.

Anand says the top five challenges faced by women in supply management are 1) inequality of pay, 2) stress, 3) a glass ceiling, 4) unconscious bias and 5) imposter syndrome.

The information resonated with many attendees — for some, a validation, and for others, a wake-up call.

The Power of Shared Learnings

At the second Women’s Committee session during the Conference, a cocktail hour on Tuesday, supply management professionals indicated they are positive about the future, representative of a collective willingness to support all women.

“We can learn from other people’s experiences, share our own and help the new generation coming into supply chain learn how to deal with certain situations before they come up and hopefully never come up,” said Rose Berbarian, indirect sourcing manager for Key-Seybold Clinic in Texas.

Added Rankin-Jones, “Leaders can break the glass ceiling within a company by advocating and championing for women. Allow them more visibility within the organization and open that door. It’s up to us to help motivate and encourage.”

With the survey findings and other learnings in hand, attendees were ready to roll up their sleeves and develop a plan of action. Anand said, “Working together to identify action steps and taking them back to our organizations; whether an individual or people leader, every one of us can make a difference.”

Doing the Work

“If not us, then who; if not now, then when.” — John Lewis

Women and men filled tables on Wednesday morning at workshops facilitated by Anand, who shared a recap of the Monday session and recapped main takeaways from the ISM findings.

Breakout sessions of 15 minutes followed, with participants focusing on how stress has impacted work and personal balance, while revealing recommended practices to help mitigate burnout and other potential negative outcomes.

Sentiments among workshop attendees included:

  • Employees need to be more flexible, with women still carrying the brunt of child care responsibilities.
  • There is no balance in career-to-home life. You don’t have to do both really, really well.
  • Identify what’s important to you and make those your priorities.
  • Stress management comes down to prioritizing your whole life.

Once the breakout sessions concluded, individuals were invited to speak to all attendees and share meaningful learnings in stress management. “Check the source of the stress. Sometimes, we give oxygen to the things that aren’t necessary,” Anand said.

She referred to the workshop as a “call to action,” and urged attendees to “commit to one another and continue the conversation,” going forward. More details on the Women’s Supply Management Committee can be found here.

About the Author

Melanie Stern

About the Author

Melanie Stern is Manager, Communications at Institute for Supply Management®.