In this week’s Wednesdays for Women, we interview Beth Morgan, the founder of boom!, which launched in September 2019 with a vision to empower women in supply chain for the benefit of all. Members represent all supply chain and procurement functions and span multiple industries across 30 different countries, bringing a rich diversity of experience, thinking and ambition. Before founding boom! Beth was Research Vice President for SCM World, a Gartner community for Chief Supply Chain Officers and their teams. Passionate about helping supply chain professionals to thrive in their careers, she is also a qualified Performance Coach and member of the International Coach Federation.

Welcome to Wednesdays for Women! Tell us a little about yourself.

I’m from the UK and have lived here most of my life apart from about a year in Germany and Austria when I was an undergraduate (I studied languages and management). I love the vibrancy of cities and lived in London for many years in my early career, but I now enjoy living in the countryside about an hour south of London with my husband and our dog. We enjoy spending time outdoors, eating out, and going to the movies, live comedy and opera. My personal passion is my horse. He’s my exercise, relaxation and a source of constant learning.

Tell us about boom! and how you got inspired to start it?

boom! is an online community that brings together female supply chain professionals from around the world. We launched in September 2019 and have members from 32 different countries. We’re on a mission to help women flourish in their careers by sharing experiences, inspiration, learning together and making connections. The bigger goal is to help increase the level of female representation in supply chain, particularly at senior leadership levels. That’s a much longer-term play, of course, but the needle is definitely moving in the right direction.

The inspiration for boom! was sparked by two things. The first was my background as a supply chain analyst at SCM World and Gartner, where I focused on best practices in supply chain “talent,” i.e., the people side of supply chain. Not surprisingly, the topic of diversity and inclusion was (and remains) very much on the agenda for many companies. In 2018, I trained as a performance coach and began working with individual clients, many of whom were women in supply chain. What I quickly realized was that while they were all unique, they all shared similar challenges. My idea was to bring these women together to combine their experiences and learn from each other to help raise the tide for everyone. At the same time, the group is learning from each other what’s working from a company perspective and then taking that back out to their own organisations to help drive further change.

Mentorship is a huge part of developing leaders – and leadership – what have you learned from being a mentor, and conversely, as a mentee?

Perhaps the biggest thing I’ve learned is that it’s okay to ask for help and support. Earlier in my career I’d say that mentoring definitely happened in a more informal and vicarious way – I was a keen observer of how other people behaved and learned a lot that way. The older I’ve become, the more I have explicitly sought out specific mentors and coaches and asked more directly for support. This was a reflection of my personal confidence to ask for support and feel worthy of it.

The best example I can give of this right now is the amazing group of people who I dared to invite to become members of the boom! Executive Advisory Board. And I really do mean dared. Even just a few years ago I wouldn’t have dreamed of asking them. People can always say no, of course, but my approach is definitely now more “if you don’t ask, you’ll never know”— and they might just say yes!

Similarly, I’ve always tried to be an informal mentor for other people, but last year I was invited by my alma mater to be a formal mentor as part of their alumni leadership program. I leapt at the chance and am really enjoying the conversations I’m having with my mentee. It’s been great to share some of the things I’ve learned along the way, as well as learn about life as an undergraduate preparing for the workplace in 2020. 

How did you get into a career in supply chain and technology?

At the University of Leeds in the UK, I studied Manufacturing Resource Planning and Organisational Psychology. That’s when I first got hooked into learning about the people side of business, and problem-solving and leadership. I went on to get a master’s degree in Information Systems at the London School of Economics. I began working as an IT industry analyst with Ovum, a UK-based analyst firm. It was the mid 1990s and I was evaluating software and writing research about salesforce automation, B2C e-commerce, and more. After a few years and a brief flirtation with a dotcom company – it was the dotcom boom after all – I joined AMR Research, which was the preeminent research and advisory firm for supply chain (later acquired by Gartner), and the rest is history.

Have you ever found yourself stuck in a career rut? How did you fix that?

Looking back, there were times when I could probably have moved forward with a bit more speed and purpose, but I’ve never felt in a rut – at least not for long. If I wasn’t learning something new or growing, then I did something about it. The idea of stagnating is my worst nightmare. I’ve always taken on a new role, learned a new skill, or made big changes with either a change of employer or a fundamental reinvention. When I left AMR Research, I had a great conversation with then-CEO Tony Friscia who totally supported my decision. He said that sometimes it’s absolutely the right thing to do to take a leap and reinvent yourself, even when it’s not always 100% clear exactly where that leap of faith will take you. What’s the worst that can happen, right? If you don’t try, you’ll never know. I’ve thought back to that conversation often over the years.

What’s one piece of advice you would have given your younger self?

Don’t be afraid to step forward and speak up. Working hard to prove yourself and waiting to be tapped on the shoulder is a slow way to move forward with no guarantees. I did that for a long time and it took me a while to realize that I could step forward more obviously to make people aware of how I could contribute. Not everyone’s a mind reader and, ultimately, I’m responsible for my own progress and success.

How do you define success?

For me it’s about being fulfilled, which means having a meaningful purpose and making a positive contribution. Not to mention finding great people to work with and have fun along the way. Money is useful, but I’ve taken significant pay cuts a few times in life in order to find more meaning. It wasn’t always the most financially prudent thing to do, but ultimately very rewarding.

What is the best risk you’ve taken and why?

I’ve taken quite a few risks over the course of my career that have pushed me out of my comfort zone. The best was when I left Gartner to train as a Performance Coach – a move that was completely out of left field. I wasn’t 100% sure where it would take me. What I didn’t know was how the process of learning to help others through performance coaching would have a profound impact on how I viewed my own future. That triggered some pretty transformational thinking that has led me to where I am today. It still feels like a risk, but it’s exhilarating. I’m learning every day; I get to work with some amazing people who challenge me to be better. And most importantly, I hope that what we’re doing at boom! has a positive impact for our members and the companies they work for.

What about your career surprises you?

I’m constantly surprised by what life has to offer. I’ve had incredible opportunities to be part of some fantastic initiatives, to meet and work with some outstanding people, and travel to places I wouldn’t have otherwise been to. I’ve never taken this for granted and, while I wouldn’t go so far as to blame “imposter syndrome,” I’ve often wondered whether someone might tap me on the shoulder one day and ask me what I was doing there! Life is what you make it and I’m a firm believer that we need to step forward to meet opportunity. At the same time, I feel incredibly blessed to have had people throughout my career who’ve opened my mind to opportunities I might otherwise not have seen for myself and have given me the courage to try.  

What female leaders do you admire and why?

The characteristics I admire include clarity of purpose, consistency, compassion, confidence, humility, and good communication. A great sense of humor goes a long way too! Great leaders have a special ability to bring out the very best in other people, without the need to boost their own egos.

I’ve done several interviews for boom! over the last few months with some inspirational female leaders in supply chain with these attributes. Although they are as vulnerable and human as the rest of us, these women had the courage to step out of their comfort zones and make relatively big career moves when it might have been easier not to. We each have different levels of adversity to risk – we’re not all going to move our lives and families around the world, for example – but I think we can all take from that in our own way and make our own leaps out of our comfort zones in order to move forward and grow.

What do you think is the most significant barrier to women in leadership?

When it comes to hard numbers one of the biggest challenges is that the higher up the leadership structure you go, the fewer women there are to promote up. This can and will change, but it will take time and much more focus earlier on to ensure that increasing numbers of women are promoted up through the pipeline. There’s some great research out there that shows what’s working from a company initiative perspective (I’m thinking of the annual Gartner/AWESOME Women in Supply Chain research and McKinsey’s Women in the Workplace report in particular).  

Earlier this year we ran an informal poll in which we asked members of the boom! community what they thought would be the most impactful initiative to help them thrive and progress in their supply chain careers. There were two clear frontrunners with ‘flexible working’ top for 30% of respondents, followed by ‘mentoring and coaching’ at 26%. Company-wide unconscious bias training came in third at 16%. All these things – and more – will help, but it must be in combination. There’s no one silver bullet.

What advice to you have for young women seeking a career in technology?

Be curious and never stop learning. Curiosity leads to confidence – and who knows what exciting places that will take you!