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Procurement’s Conscious "Degree"​ Bias LavenirAI

Procurement’s Conscious "Degree"​ Bias

Written by Iain Campbell McKenna, Senior Global VP, LavenirAI

Bias is everywhere. It permeates our work and personal lives, influencing our decisions and the people we associate with. Sometimes, it’s so subtle that we don’t even realise we’re doing it. The positive news is that businesses are waking up to the damage biased decision-making can cause in hiring, and many are taking steps to address the problem. However, one insidious form of bias is commonly “overlooked,” and it’s time we talked about it: Procurement’s conscious “Degree” Bias and why this is hampering the procurement market.

Think about it, how many times have you been at a party where someone asks you what you do for a living, and when you say procurement, they give you a glassy-eyed smile and politely say, “that’s interesting.”

I am willing to admit that procurement doesn’t have the spotlight glow of Hollywood fame nor project the excitement and creativity of marketing. By the way, Although I missed my casting call from Hollywood, grateful that fate led me to audition for procurement. It turns out I found my true calling.”

My point is that while it may not carry the swagger of the previously referred to “jobs” like a youngster growing out of their original career aspirations, procurement is starting to gain some “real” -boardroom cred.

The Diminishing Value of Higher Education

Despite the widespread perception that having a degree is necessary for career success, recent research challenges this assumption. While studies show that someone with an MBA can earn between 22% and 40% more than someone with only a bachelor’s degree, having a degree has now become a perfunctory check box in a job posting; trust me, I know this first-hand as I’ve been in the Executive Search world for over a decade.

In parallel, a survey by Harvard Business Review, only 35% of the top executives at Fortune 500 companies have Ivy League degrees, and nearly 8% of those executives still need to graduate from college. These percentages show that formal education may only sometimes be the determining factor in success.

Even when you have a degree and are not fortunate to be a CEO, it can take up to 80 job applications to receive a single job offer. It is also worth noting the average corporate job opening receives around 250 applications. The procurement field is no exception to this reality.

The Procurement Credentials

The August 2022 report from CIPS identified the top skills in demand by recruiters, and it turns out that rocket science is not one of them. Instead, the report highlighted the importance of communication, stakeholder management, influencing, supplier relationship management, and negotiation skills. Who knew that being a rocket scientist wouldn’t cut it in the procurement world?

How much rocket science does it take to realise that a university or college degree may not be the only launchpad to developing critical procurement skills? Can a degree equip procurement professionals with the ability to negotiate better or manage supplier relationships more effectively? We may need to explore some alternate galaxies to find the answer.

Cracking the degree Enigma Code

Inflation has depreciated the value of a degree, but if you decide to pursue it (about 22% of all graduates will work in a field related to their degree relevant to our area of specialisation (Engineering, Software Development, Rocket Scientist). However, if someone decides to pursue a career in a different field, is it fair to question if this degree should retain relevance and value? Also, Executives must recognise that a degree does not necessarily indicate a particular mindset or skill set, especially in the procurement industry. 

Recent research in psychology suggests that adaptability and mindset are more critical than intelligence or academic credentials. In fact, a study published in the Journal of Organisational Behaviour found that job candidates’ adaptability was a more accurate predictor of job performance than their intelligence or conscientiousness. Therefore, it’s essential to consider candidates’ adaptability and mindset when assessing their potential for success in a particular role rather than solely relying on their degree or academic credentials.

In the quest for top procurement talent, CPOs and HR must shift their mindset away from assuming a university degree is the “Golden Ticket” to success. Instead, they should recognise how we communicate and influence and why emotional intelligence is essential for effective procurement professionals. Companies can build a diverse and talented procurement workforce that drives success by expanding their list of critical skills to include those identified by CIPS and utilising trained business psychologists to help businesses evaluate these necessary soft skills.

So, here’s the question – does a university or college degree enable procurement professionals to become better communicators or manage internal stakeholder relationships more effectively? What about supplier relationships and negotiation? 

So, before asking HR to draft another job posting looking for that “Rocket Scientist”, maybe it’s time to rethink and challenge the conventional method and realise there is more than one road leading to Rome: Remove that “degree” keyword on your job spec, unlocking an untapped pool of diverse and skilled procurement professionals.

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