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CPO Daniel Cameron talks about his experience of working with women in procurement

CPO Daniel Cameron talks about his experience of working with women in procurement and how the women in his personal life influence his understanding of the female perspective and the need for diversity in the workplace.


What has been your biggest challenge in your current role?

The biggest challenge has been getting the right level of engagement across the business as, historically, they were independently dealing with procurement needs. Retaining and attracting the right talent was also a challenge - we wanted to introduce more people with a “challenger” profile, people who can take their stakeholders on a journey instead of just building relationships. 


What is your view on diversity in the procurement space?

It is essential to have balance. To achieve this, we have changed the hiring profile and the way we look for talent. We cast the net much by wider not just looking for procurement people but by looking in other disciplines such as HR and Marketing to bring expertise into those category domains. This broadens our resource pool and therefore, the diversity of the talent we have. 


At last count, my team was over 50% female, this was not a conscious decision - I’ve hired entirely on merit and on how the individual fits the role and team. It sounds obvious to hire based on talent and avoid bias; sometimes it’s easier said than done. Also, it’s important to ensure we have the right blend of talent in the team.


Tell us about your background. 

I am a Chartered Accountant by trade and my first taste of procurement was at Cable and Wireless where I kept track of the finances of the procurement transformation. I was also the person who translated the value of procurement and spoke the language of finance. This was a great starting point and part of the reason I’ve stayed in procurement; I saw the coming together of commercial, finance and the supply chain. I then moved to Royal Mail to be part of the procurement leadership team to support a large transformation. 


After this I joined Goldman Sachs as Head of Procurement for EMEA and subsequently became the Global Co-CPO. I am currently the CPO at Pearson, the largest education company in the world. 


My remit has been to bring together a disparate set of procurement teams around the world and solidify them into something with scale and critical mass. The business is going through huge changes as we move towards a digital future; a ‘Netflix’ Education. 


This large digital transformation programme and the importance the supply chain could play is what attracted me to the role. 


What is the strategy around hiring women at Pearson?

I am part of the Women Empowerment Engagement programme that was designed specifically to address diversity across the organisation. As we are a company involved in education we are pretty good across most of the business, but there are more challenges at the senior level. I am tasked with how we foster that in our supply chain. At Pearson, there are only two senior women out of nine on the board. 


What effect do women have in procurement?

The inclusion of men and women in any function means there is a bigger talent pool, breadth of skills and expertise; limiting any team to a certain demographic is poor leadership. There are some areas / categories which still need to address this balance; my wife is in procurement - she attended a telco event and was the only woman in the room of 300. Many business areas can be very gender biased, the great thing about procurement is that we support the whole business and therefore need a whole range of talent and expertise. In relation to procurement, I believe the skills women bring versus men are not entirely different; the ability to utilise them and influence is important.


People tend to have different styles, so to have that diversity of approach is useful. Having diversity in the team gives us diversity of approach and allows us to connect with more people and ‘win more business’, to get more across the line and so on. Being a strong leader is also about identifying the right people and their skill set.


How do men and women differ in negotiations?

I don’t want to generalise, however, I can say that the females I have worked with over the years are often meticulously well prepared making them very effective in negotiations. Whilst one might often characterise my fellow males as being more direct and aggressive in a negotiation scenario, I have also seen my female colleagues (and friends) negotiate with the same intensity.  Ultimately different negotiation scenarios call for different approaches and therefore having options (a.k.a. diversity) makes a more effective negotiation team.


Were there obvious gender differences in the finance industry?

In finance, I felt you were less able to demonstrate the breadth of your skill set, or your personality. In procurement, because of the nature of what we do, the influencing and negotiation, there are a whole range of emotions and capabilities. The spectrum of opportunity is bigger in procurement for people to really flourish – you can encourage innovation and challenge the status quo.


What women have influenced you over your career?

My mother has played a key role. She was also my Head of Year at school, which created an interesting dynamic. She was a very good public speaker and a very confident individual. One of the things she taught me was to remember peoples’ names; it’s so powerful to be able to greet everyone by name. My mother has had a huge influence on me and my perception of women.


You and your wife are both in procurement, how do you compare your career progression?

It’s an interesting one. At Royal Mail, I was really lucky in some of the transformation work we did that we propelled ourselves as a group and it gave me a bump up in my career. Fay’s progression has been different –more loyal and has sought out specific roles that are right for her often within the same organisation. I am more comfortable using my network to help my career than she is - all my roles since Cable and Wireless were based on some sort of recommendation. I like to think this is due to both my capability and the relationships I have built. I’m not sure if men are generally better at networking, but men seem to be much more comfortable using their network to their advantage.


What’s your view on flexibility for women with children?  

I have five so, as a Dad, I understand the challenges of working, doing the school run and getting to sports day; therefore, I’m very supportive. I’d like to think that everyone in the team would see it as a flexible environment, we are not watching the clock we are looking for outcomes and results.  I think the team have embraced flexi-time, home working etc; men and women, parents or not. The key to being successful in a flexible working world is communication and trust. Once you have this, you need to ensure people take time out for themselves and their families when they can; don’t be here just for the sake of it. 


How we can address the lack of women in procurement? 

It is a combination of making sure there is enough ambition, enough steps to keep people interested and allow them to create a breadth of experience so that they can progress. My role is varied; it doesn’t have a huge amount of details around a category, so individuals need to widen their experience to be capable for leadership. Within Pearson we have this great programme called the Jedi programme - where we’ve taken the top 28 performers out of 1800 employees across all of Operations - roughly half of which are women. 


There are 43 people in Procurement of which five are within the top 28 and 60% of those five are women too. These are the type of opportunities we need to present to both men and women to ensure strong succession planning across the industry. We’ve hired and cultivated some fantastic women. They put their hand up and push for progression, and I’m proud of that. My one gap is in my leadership team -  I inherited three men and I have so far brought in one woman.


Can you provide an example of nurturing talent?

I have a woman on my team - she is 26, a graduate and a total rock star! It doesn’t matter that she hasn’t got 20 years’ experience, she has the right attitude. The challenge we have with less experienced people is not to swamp them. I have seen the Millennials impatience to progress or to be promoted.  The real gem we have in someone like Laura is her eagerness to gain experience. She had two years in procurement, so we encouraged her to go and work in HR, to spend time with a woman who we thought would be a fantastic mentor. The experience she had within HR has benefited her with a different perspective and accelerated her growth.


With up and coming talent, would you move people to different categories?

I am a big believer in mixing things up, technology and people underpin all the categories now and I think it’s important for everyone to get exposure to these areas. If you’re looking for the leadership of tomorrow it is good for up and coming talent to experience a breadth of categories, skills, people etc. To be a successful leader in procurement you need to be able to tell the story – to your team; to the customer and the supplier. The narrative is the key and so the more context you can gain the better.


Was your plan always to become a CPO?

It did become my ambition once I moved into procurement from being an accountant. I am not your traditional procurement person: I’m not CIPS qualified, I haven’t schooled myself in deal making, my position has more been in the management transformation and the articulation of value.


Is your finance background useful to get buy in from the stakeholder community?

It is important to gage the financial mood of the company and then articulate that to your team setting the rhythm for what we are going to be doing. It’s not always easy to measure value as the leader of a procurement function and I believe my finance background gives me an advantage. Credibility is important for me, it’s what will ensure the buy in from the stakeholder community.


If you would like to get in touch with Daniel, please visit his LinkedIn profile at: