Lene Hylling Axelsson, corporate VP of strategic sourcing at Novo Nordisk, talks to Procurement Leaders about her experiences as a woman in procurement and how the function can better support diversity.
Procurement Leaders (PL) : Tell me about your experiences of working in procurement?
Lene Hylling Axelsson (LHA): I’m fairly new to the procurement function, but I have been in the pharmaceutical industry for around 20 years. During my career I have worked across a number of different supply chain roles ranging from marketing to IT to production, and now in procurement.
Within this I have been able to gain experience of both the upstream and downstream operations of a business, so I completely understand the needs of suppliers and end customers.
Having this cross-functional experience is very important in procurement because the function needs to speak the language that the rest of the business is talking and their goals. When the organisation is launching new products, procurement needs to understand the full supply chain so we know who to reach out to and which obstacles we may face. Having a sense of the broader business operations is also very helpful when I travel across the world and talk to suppliers because I can clearly lay out our goals and explain the challenges we face as a business.
PL: What challenges have you experienced working in what has traditionally been a very male-dominated industry?
LHA: I don’t think there are any particular difficulties or challenges specifically for women in procurement when they first come into the function. For me, the problems tend to arise when they try to rise through the ranks. Here, I believe there is a clear distinction between the opportunities open to women and those open to men, and this distinction is even more significant when women take a career break to have children and then return to the role.
I hear a lot from my female peers about how difficult they find it to advance into senior management positions, which is a real shame because the function needs those broad range of backgrounds in it.
PL: What particular skills do you think women have that can make them an asset to a procurement team?
LHA : Women have a number of skills that can be very useful in a procurement role. They tend to have empathy as well as the ability to be direct when they need to be. They also know when to bring other points of view in. All of these are very important in ensuring people have a clear understanding of the goals of the function and are able to open themselves up to different perspectives.
PL: What do you think the industry needs to do to encourage more women into the function?
LHA: I think we need to encourage women early on to be ambitious and confident enough to pursue a career as a leader.
We need to help women gain a better understanding of their own skills. Very often women are reluctant to talk about their own skills, abilities and successes, whereas men are more confident and willing to do so. This is why women can sometimes be overrun by men as, in a situation where an employer is selecting candidates, the candidate who sells themselves best will get the role. To me, it is all about women getting better at representing themselves.
I think we need to do more to mentor young talent and coach young women as they start their careers or as they enter their first management position. And, for women coming back to work after having children, we need to find ways to better integrate them back into the workplace.
PL: What do you do at Novo Nordisk to nurture talent and encourage diversity in procurement?
LHA: At Novo Nordisk, I try to have a good in-flow of young talent from both inside and outside the business coming into the procurement team. For example, we bring employees from other parts of the organisation into the team to share their insights.
We also create opportunities for university graduates to work in the team on a temporary basis where they are able to learn about the function.
This also gives us the opportunity to find the best talent.
Our recruitment process is also heavily focused on diversity. This isn’t just a case of finding more women or more ethnic minorities, but it is about selecting a larger number of candidates and broadening our search when we feel we are lacking a diverse mix of people.
PL: What would be your advice for women starting off their careers in procurement?
LHA: We are all our own best salespeople. So I would advise women to speak up about their achievements more.
To do this you need to achieve results that you can put your own name to. Being able to say “I achieved this as an individual and these are the results to prove it” can go a long way to getting noticed and working your way up the ladder.
This article is a piece of independent writing by a member of Procurement Leaders’ content team.
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