Women In Procurement- Redefining Procurement & Negotiations

In this big interview with CPO Innovation, Sapna Alva Tariyal, SVP, Head of Sourcing at Societe Generale Global Solution Centre shares her experiences and an inspirational journey from starting into the hospitality industry to joining the Indian Armed forces and finally nurturing a career in Procurement.

Q: Tell us about your career path. How did you get into sourcing & procurement? Was it purposeful or by accident?

I was never one of those who knew or could answer anyone who asked me where I wanted to be in 5 years’ time. All I knew was that I would always choose a career that I am passionate about and enjoy doing. 

I started my career in the hospitality industry and worked for the International Sales team at Taj Group in Mumbai, post which I followed my dream to wear the most prestigious uniform and joined the Indian Armed forces. This meant a huge cut in salary and leaving a comfortable life in a metro city. Never once did I regret this decision to serve the nation and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. 

I strongly believe in embracing every phase of one’s life differently! When being with family was a priority, I chose to get back to the Corporate world, with no clue about what Procurement or Sourcing meant and I landed up in choosing this as my career. And Yes! Very much accidentally! An ex-army officer who I consider as my mentor today, introduced me to this field explaining how closely correlated it was to one of the key functions during my life in the Army.  I owe my career in Procurement to him and ever since I have thoroughly enjoyed my journey!

Q: What has been the single most significant development to impact your profession during your career and why?

I believe having the right attitude and constantly willing to learn is the most important trait that has helped me in my career development. 

It is absolutely alright to accept the fact that one does not need to have all the answers and the attitude and willingness to learn from anyone is key (irrespective of their level in the organisation).

I have always believed in Teamwork and in the spirit of the quote “Alone we can do so little and together we can do so much”.  Developing a dependable team at every phase of my career has been extremely significant in my success.

Q: Why are there so few women in senior procurement positions?

I guess they did not encounter the same accidents 😊. Jokes apart, I feel, this is a career that not many are aware of and we do not really have professional courses specifically for a career in Procurement. I hope the CPO platform, will play a role in reaching more discerning professionals, who would like to consider this career.

Q: Share your views on diversity in the Procurement and Supply Chain space?

Honestly speaking while our profession may have diversity with respect to people from different cultural, ethnic backgrounds with varied levels of experience, I think diversity in terms of disability, orientation, and gender for sure requires some focus. Though I have seen some women in the space, the ratio is very lopsided. 

Q: What do you consider to be your greatest achievement career-wise?

Post my Army career, shifting back to the corporate world, threw up several challenges. 

Personally, for me having the opportunity to work with different cultures and building partnerships globally has also been a significant part of my career.  I was fortunate, to work with some of the most prestigious organisations.   

I was extremely fortunate to have set up the Sourcing/Procurement teams in India and been instrumental in implementing Vendor Management and Governance into the domain. I also had the opportunity to bring innovation in the form of digitalising various processes within the function.

Q: Can you tell us how you feel Societe Generale Global Solution Centre work culture has helped you through your career as a women leader in procurement, where women representation generally is so limited? Any tips for other companies to promote diversity?

At Society Generale, we believe that Diversity and Inclusion is not only a set of best practices but a trained and inclusive mindset of viewing every person as a unique individual and celebrating the differences irrespective of culture, race, disability, orientation, nationality, gender, religion and so on.

A 150 + year old organization, for us Diversity and inclusion, is about empowerment, enablement and focus on merit-based on an individual’s ability and the differences. These differences are what make us a thriving fraternity that focuses on functioning Differently Together. With over 44% women employees worldwide and a high representation of women on the group’s board, the organization is culturally inclusive. Several women leaders spearhead additional responsibilities, such as PWD, Pride & Allies, while I head the Gender Diversity initiative.

I think it is important that organisations realise the importance of inclusive and diverse work culture and this is something I strongly believe needs to be driven from the top so that it truly becomes a part of the organisations’ DNA.

Q: What’s your biggest (as yet) unfulfilled ambition and what are you doing in order to achieve it?

I have always believed in being passionate about what I do and have followed this rule right from the beginning of my career. This is exactly what keeps me motivated and helps me enjoy what I do.

Besides Procurement which always has something new and challenging, I am genuinely interested in the topic of Diversity & Inclusion.  While I have started contributing to this agenda, I hope that at some point in time this topic does not remain a concern for any organisation. Though this may sound ambitious, at this point, I do hope this becomes a reality.

Q: Apart from heading the sourcing department at Societe Generale Global Solution Centre, you have also served the Indian Army for 6 long years. Please share your experience as a Captain in Indian Army and what’s the one thing Indian Army has taught you in order to make your life meaningful both personally and professionally. How has it helped you professionally in this profession?

It will be extremely difficult to point out any one thing! The Army is an organisation that I believe teaches one so many life lessons that help you both professionally and personally. Some of the crucial ones include resiliency, crisis management, accepting and learning to enjoy change, believing that one can face any challenge and most importantly building relationships.  All these have definitely helped me in different stages of my career both professionally and personally. 

The training that one goes through is a test of both physical and mental endurance. This is the beginning of a journey that taught me that mental strength is the most important aspect of winning any of life’s battle.

Q: What can women who are into sourcing and procurement do to support each other and how can these industries attract more women to the field?

Women in Sourcing and procurement need to create more awareness about our field. Women should showcase their talent, generously share experiences and learnings and be brand ambassadors so that younger women are made aware about our lesser known field. It is important that women in procurement network and help in grooming the younger generation.

Women help bring diversity in the field and a good balance would always help any organisation in meeting the sourcing and procurement objectives.

Q: How can companies provide sufficient inspiration for leaders to start-up initiatives aimed at getting the principle of equal opportunities for women in the procurement sector?

There are a couple of initiatives that organizations can take, not only for women in procurement but generally to improve the gender diversity ratio. Some of them could be:

  1. Ensuring that at least one woman candidate is interviewed as part of the hiring process.
  2. Having women as part of the hiring team.
  3. Promoting and encouraging women who want to return to the workforce after a career break
  4. Having specific programs for women on maternity leave.
  5. Sensitizing men and making them aware of the importance of Gender diversity so that they can be promoters of this agenda within the organisation.

Q: What piece of advice do you want to give to young women, especially to women in India, starting their careers in the field of Sourcing and Procurement?

If one is looking for a career that is challenging, exciting and has an opportunity for continuous learning, I would encourage women to seriously consider a career in Sourcing and Procurement. 

It is a career which gives you great exposure in terms of understanding different business lines within the organisation, enhances your negotiation skills, gives you a good understanding of legal and commercial terms of third party engagements and provides an opportunity to interact with various stakeholders within and outside the organisation. 

And as they say, women are born negotiators, so definitely a career to consider. 😊 

Q: Finally, what according to you should be an ideal approach by current women leaders in the country to enhance and expand opportunities to make way for aspiring future women leaders?

I believe in the “Power of a pack” and women who support other women are always more successful. I think sharing one’s experiences, mentoring younger women and being approachable is extremely important.  

Women alone may have the power but collectively they can create impact. Raising each other up and channelizing the power of collaboration would expand opportunities for future women leaders.   

Women leaders who are looking for significant opportunities should see the world through a lens of opportunity.  They need question the status quo and motivate themselves to express more freely. 

Last but not the least, women most often have multiple commitments with the various roles they play and hence it is important to make time to network.