Women in Sustainability series: Meet Kim Hurst

Kim Hurst works in Vodafone’s global procurement business. Based in Luxembourg, leads Vodafone’s Global Supply Chain Purpose Programme, with focus on cascading Vodafone’s Purpose into our global supplier base.

Vodafone Group evaluates suppliers on their commitments to diversity, inclusion and the environment when they tender for work, ensuring that Vodafone’s supply chain contributes towards Vodafone’s purpose to improve the lives of 1 billion people, while halving its environmental impact by 2025.

A supplier’s purpose criteria accounts for 20% of the evaluation for a ‘Request For Quotation’ (RFQ) to provide Vodafone with products or services.  Suppliers are assessed on their commitment and performance to diversity and inclusion, the environment and, where relevant, health and safety.

Here, Kim shares what she’s learned about sustainability from working on the Programme.

Sustainability isn’t just about reducing emissions

I have been working with my colleagues to develop a strategy that cascades Vodafone’s values down through our supply chain. We focus on the Planet and Inclusion for All Purpose Pillars, because that's where we have the biggest responsibility and scope for impact.

Almost 30% of Vodafone’s total carbon footprint comes from the goods and services we purchase through our supply chain. But we also need to think about the people involved. Our suppliers’ employees may not be on Vodafone’s payroll, but we still have a responsibility for making sure they work in an inclusive environment.

When you work in procurement, you sit in a privileged position, at the top of the supply chain. But we believe working closely with our partners is key, particularly at this stage, when a lot of sustainability initiatives are embryonic in scope.

This isn't just about Vodafone meeting its targets. It's about protecting our children’s future. If we don't act now, there will be serious damage. And for me, it's become a personal ambition, as much as a professional one.

We focus on rewarding progress, not penalising weaknesses

We’ve developed and implemented a transformational scoring matrix for all suppliers that tender for business with us. Traditionally, we would look at their commercial, technical and strategic performance. But we decided to build in a corporate social responsibility assessment, with a 20% weighting. We benchmark suppliers against each other, so we can identify room for improvement and work together with them to drive progress.

We have one-on-one sessions with some of our larger suppliers to discuss how we can collaborate on the net zero journey, measuring the impact of their products and services and creating efficiencies in their products. We ask all suppliers to set Science Based Targets to reduce their carbon footprint and to commit to using renewable energy.

We've focused on building capability by rewarding the progress that's being made, as opposed to enforcing certain behaviours through punitive measures, such as contract termination or financial penalties. We're not trying to penalise those who are not so far ahead; we’re trying to drive positive change.

Promoting female-led businesses matters

In the diversity and inclusion space, suppliers have a wide range of initiatives that they can commit to; from having a gender-balanced team for the Vodafone account to introducing support networks for disadvantaged groups. We ask suppliers to support diversity in the workplace, with gender, ethnicity, LGBTQ+, age and disability related criteria. This includes policies on equal pay, and whether suppliers have publicly reported targets in relation to the proportion of women in their workforce and in senior positions.

Change is happening, but it’s sometimes frustrating how slowly these things progress – particularly as Vodafone is such a fast-moving environment, where we like things to happen quickly.

We are also determined to increase the number of diversely-owned businesses that we have in the supply chain. We have partnered with WeConnect, an organisation that supports female-owned businesses and facilitates introductions to multinational corporations like ours. We will use this relationship to incorporate relevant and exciting new businesses into the Vodafone ecosystem.

Returning to work after having children was the biggest challenge of my career

When I moved to Luxembourg over a decade ago, I decided to start a family. But my job had been based in the UK, so I had no option to return. I decided to take some time out to look after my children. I missed my job, but I loved the time I had with them.

Returning to work was incredibly difficult, because the world had moved on. There were new laptops, software, tools and processes - all of which were unfamiliar to me. I remember coming back to the office and seeing myself on camera and thinking, “Oh my goodness, that's terrible!” I had lost my confidence and self-belief.

I overcame it by putting myself outside of my comfort zone.  I threw myself head-first into a role that was completely different to anything I knew before. I asked for support from people around me, listened to feedback and built upon it. Gradually, I built myself up by continually learning.

I now realise that having a varied career path can be an advantage. It gives you a broad perspective, a wide range of experiences to draw upon, and a fresh way of thinking about well-established processes.

Have passion – but be prepared to fight for progress

You have to be passionate to be successful in a sustainability career. You also need to be ready for pushback, because although it's a popular topic, it’s very complex - and it also falls outside of most people's daily role and performance objectives. Getting others aligned and taking accountability is key.  You have to be prepared to fight your corner and influence people without necessarily having authority, and keep chipping away until you get the support you need to drive the agenda forward. Sustainability can’t be managed in isolation from the rest of the business. It's important to draw on expertise that already exists, because we won’t achieve real change unless we work together. It’s time to change our mindset on sustainability – because everybody is accountable for our planet’s future.

Kim Hurst about women in sustainability.