5 Career Questions That Have Driven Me Crazy

Have you ever had the feeling that something asked of you, or said to you, wasn’t quite right? 

You know,  the type of interaction that irks you later, leaves you feeling uneasy, or downright offends you, but you don’t know what to do? 

From an equality perspective, fortunately, times have changed and they will continue to change – but are they doing so at a rate that is fast enough that we’ll all be able to avoid uncomfortable, offensive, or downright illegal questions being asked of us? 

I’m not so sure. 

A recent Procurious blog put it so well, “We can all agree that a career in procurement is interesting. It can also be fulfilling, demanding, and at times, overwhelming. But one thing it is not is easy.

If we think about one cohort who often has conflicting responsibilities outside of work (and within it), it’s women. 

Throughout the cycle of womanhood, women in procurement experience many challenges, from the feeling of needing to hide their children at work, to questions around whether to return from maternity leave, to the pressure of managing work during menopause, where one out of four women consider leaving their jobs.

Here are five questions that I’ve been asked that have driven me crazy during the course of my professional career in procurement and supply chain. 

1. Aren’t You Too Young for This Role?

After my fifth interview applying to join a Global 500 company, my best friend gave me some great advice, 

“Just ask them for the job.  Ask, why not hire me?” 

So I did.  

My hiring manager’s answer (almost verbatim, I can still hear the words!).

 “You’ve done so well in all the testing and the interviews…it’s just that we’ve never hired anyone like you before.  

We don’t know what to do.”  

I got the job and had a great career with the company, but it wasn’t until I was well entrenched in the business that I learnt the company’s hiring policy was to hire first-born males, because they allegedly had all the leadership traits required for success.  

After learning this, I now understood my hiring manager’s challenge – not only was I the youngest General Manager they had hired, I was also female.  Luckily I was first born!  So,at least I ticked one box.  

That was thirty years ago now and I know the world has changed for the good.  Young women today are being appointed to roles they deserve at whatever age, but that’s not to say that we still aren’t facing some stereotypical challenges, some of which are very obvious, yet others that are deeply concealed.  Whether it was said explicitly, or just inferred, at work, at home or at play, and maybe I was just immature or suffering from imposter syndrome, but I always felt at that time in my career like someone was saying, 

“You’re very young and very lucky to have this job”.  

The data now shows us that I wasn’t alone in my experience, many early career professional females report being taken less seriously than their male counterparts. As a result, they feel as if they need to work harder and do more to prove themselves. And that was certainly my experience.

2. What Do You Do with Your Money?

I’ll never forget sitting down with a boss to put my case forward for a salary increase.  I had kicked some major goals in the prior year and was conscious that a few of my peers were on the next salary band, which included stock options. 

I put forward my case.  I was shocked when he said, 

“But you’re already on good money. What do you do with it all?  You’re single, it must just be gym memberships, some clothes….I have kids and a family, a mortgage.  Do you really need more money?” 

That comment was twenty years ago, and discrimination laws would (at least you would think) prevent someone from saying that and thinking it was ok. However, I’m fairly convinced that many people still think it, and this thinking is still part of the unconscious bias that holds some women in procurement and supply chain back from getting paid equal to their male peers today.

3. Won’t You Be Having a Family Soon?

Sometimes, when you’re a woman, there always seems to be some excuse why the time isn’t quite right for you to get a promotion. 

In my case, I decided to leave the corporate world to start my own business at around the same time as I got married.  It may have been coincidental, or maybe it wasn’t.  At the time, someone said to me, 

“But won’t you be having a family soon?”

Don’t get me wrong, one of my favourite female clients asked me this same question a few years later, and I was actually glad she did. The reason for that was because having children was the last thing on my mind at that time.  I thought I had all the time in the world to make that decision, but as we know now, there is a finite time limit to fertility.  This wasn’t talked about much fifteen years ago, but I am so glad it is now front and centre for women today and that I listened to my client and started getting serious about starting a family.

I distinctly remember pushing my gorgeous six week old baby around our neighbourhood in a pram thinking…. “is this what this is all about?  I think I am going to get very bored”.  Just then my favourite client called and said, “I know you’ll be bored by now, can you help me with onboarding the procurement team from this new acquisition”.  Yes, thank you!  He was a true believer and I was back at work within the week.

Of course, many women in procurement crave the intellectual stimulation of work and want to return ASAP,  yet many others want to savour the first precious year or years with their children. Regardless of what you want (or have) to do, the reality is that it is now (thankfully) illegal for someone to ask you about your family intentions. 

But unfortunately, that doesn’t stop the discrimination. Research from as recently as last year shows that assumptions about working mothers – including that their career aspirations die when they have children – continue to hold women back. Thankfully, I had my true believer, but I’m well aware that not all women have that privilege.

4. This Is Just a Hobby for You, Isn’t It?

Building a global company during the last decade, with two school-age children, a husband flying around the world, a terminally ill parent, COVID and more than twenty people and our suppliers relying on us for success has been a big personal challenge.  I don’t have many advisors, or mentors, but when I do get a chance to sit down with someone who has valuable experience to share, I grab it.  

Once I flew in from London to meet with a gentleman who had built a successful media buying business to pick his brains on the growth of Procurious.  Deep into my questioning, he paused and said “but this is just a hobby for you, right?”  Wow.  What part of me working 70 hour weeks was a hobby?  Don’t get me wrong, building this global community is definitely a PASSION of mine…but not a hobby.  It made me reflect on how I was presenting myself…what part of my behaviour indicated that this was a hobby? What impression had I left?  So rather than leaving with more knowledge and feeling inspired, I left feeling totally deflated and self-conscious.

It’s not just men that do this either. After a pitch to a global association, I had a classic put down of my over-ambitions from a senior woman executive.  I guess that’s just business.  But when the statistics show that women entrepreneurs are accessing less than 1% of the total venture capital available, you know that there is a systematic reason why women are not feeling supported and buoyed in their efforts to break through the glass ceiling, or into the big money that can support start-ups.

5. When Are You Retiring?

After what can sometimes feel like decades of challenges, when you’re in your late 40s and early 50s, most of us do finally get to a stage in our careers where we feel very confident in our skills and capabilities. But then menopause hits, and it can really de-rail you physically and shatter your confidence.  Menopause can, for many women, coincide with the peak of their career, which also inconveniently coincides with people randomly starting to ask, “When are you going to retire?.”  

To this I say: What???  I’m only in my early fifties!  I have another twenty years to go!    There’s no way people ask men in their early fifites when they’re going to retire.  It’s when men start to grey and wrinkle that they seem to become more powerful, whereas women seem to have the reverse: the older we get the more we are ignored.  It’s frustrating, to say the least.

These questions diminish our accomplishments and put a cap on the view of our future potential and achievements.  They are very demotivating.  I remember coming out of many of these encounters feeling deflated and having to spend several days turning the comments into stoking the fire of my ambition.  But each interaction leaves you feeling that little “less” than when you came into it.

Like any career in procurement, succeeding through the cycles of womanhood (which are pinpointed by these less than encouraging questions) can be a challenge: but not an insurmountable one. 

And through all of my trials and tribulations, the one thing that has seen me through it all is the sisterhood. That is, surrounding myself with intelligent, inspiring and supportive women in procurement who have not only been there for me when things have been tough, but have become my sponsors, my biggest supporters, and who have helped me to become more fulfilled and successful than I ever would have been without them. 

So, it’s for this reason that  I’m delighted that we offer BRAVO – a leadership program designed specifically for women in procurement & supply chain.  If 2024 is shaping up to be a challenging year for you – make sure you sign up for BRAVO to pick up the latest hot skills (think sustainable procurement) and to get the support of your peers.  Women in our program will help to foster a sense of community, allowing you to share experiences, advice, and support with others who are navigating similar career journeys while learning.

Find out more about the 2024 BRAVO program here.

This article was written by Tania Seary, Founder, Procurious, The Faculty & The Source. 
Tania will be joining BRAVO for a Q&A discussion onHow to Lead Like a Woman”. If you’re a BRAVO member, you can find the Community Discussion details for your region below:

APAC: 9th April
EMEA: 16th April
The Americas: 22nd April