Bridging the Gap: Gender Disparity in Supply Chain Leadership
Resilient, agile, able to manage risk and ambiguity – all descriptors of successful supply chains. Is it a mere coincidence that these are also common traits of female CEOs?[i] Korn Ferry Institute research validated this and found that women in these leadership roles were also more likely to understand and engage the power of teams, a skill particularly important to efficient supply chain management. Another study from MIT determined that the most effective leadership teams were those best at reading people, which in this particular study, were the teams with the most women. Another coincidence?
The topic of gender parity in business leadership has been long debated. As research continues to develop, it seems that having more gender diversity both in the boardroom and within top management is not just the right decision to appease social standards, but the best decision for the business.
A Glimpse into the Data
McKinsey reports that companies with more gender diversity on executive teams were likely to be 21% more profitable and have 27 % better value creation. They also reported that the highest performing companies on profitability also had more women in line positions than in staff positions on their executive teams.
Research also shows that companies grow more quickly when more women are promoted into leadership roles.[ii] In DDI’s Global Leadership Forecast report integrating data from over 2,400 global companies, those with more women in leadership roles are 1.4 times more likely to have sustained, profitable growth and 1.5 times more likely to have a stronger growth culture by working collaboratively across organizational boundaries. Aside from higher profits and accelerated growth, gender diversity across the C-suite has also been linked to improved employee satisfaction and customer orientation.[iii]
Amidst signs of progress over the past five years, parity remains out of reach. This is especially true in supply chain where the representation of women in the total workforce has remained stagnant at 39% over the past few years, with women only 17% of chief supply chain officers.[iv]
Why are women underrepresented in supply chain leadership roles?
As we start to think about strategies to progress these goals, several questions need to be asked.
- Is there enough female talent available?
- More men than women opt to pursue STEM degrees, which are preferred for certain sectors of the supply chain industry, like industrial organizations. A recent Gartner study showed that the representation of women at vice president level for consumer goods and retail supply chain organizations (25%) is almost double that of industrial organizations (13%).[v] If women are less likely to enter the supply chain field, then they are less likely to be hired for senior supply chain roles.
- Do women lack the confidence to pursue supply chain roles?
- According to a KPMG Women’s Leadership Study of both professional working women and college women, 67% said they need more support building confidence to become leaders.[vi] The lack of female representation overall in supply chain naturally equates to fewer opportunities for mentoring and role modeling for both women considering entering and women advancing within the industry.
- What misconceptions about the roles exist in the field?
- Historically in supply chain, men were hired for hands-on work, while women pursued administrative and marketing roles. Over time, men would gain responsibility and visibility and advance up the company ladder. This old narrative has changed due to cutting edge technologies, like AI and robotics, automating many of the “hands-on” roles, and the skill sets needed for roles in the industry have changed to focus on technology rather than labor.
- What is the best way to bring more women into the supply chain leadership pipeline?
- With full-time student enrollment in the top 25 supply chain programs continuously rising year over year[vii], it’s never been a better time to build programs to encourage women to consider a career path in this field.
Bridging the Gap
Although steps have been made in the right direction, without changes made early in the pipeline, advancement in women’s representation in leadership roles will cease to improve.
The supply chain industry has the responsibility to be more inclusive to women and lead the way to attract and retain more diverse talent at every level. Here are a few ways supply chain managers can work towards change that brings in talented women to help drive success.
Communicate opportunities early
Programs like Women Mean Business at the University of Minnesota are doing a great job of exposing their high school participants to more technical business majors, such as Supply Chain Operations and Management. However, to see a real change anytime soon, there needs to be more education and information about careers in supply chain that reach women much earlier.
Having more female representation at career fairs and career days as early as middle and elementary school could help. Providing more information at an earlier age around the skill sets needed for a career in supply chain, such as problem-solving, collaboration, networking, relationship management and change leadership, would help clear misconceptions about roles before they’re formed.
More strong female role models and mentorship
Younger generations entering the workforce need strong role models. They need to know that they will be joining a workforce where their skills will be equally recognized and rewarded as their male counterparts and that they have an equal change at advancing into leadership roles. Partnering with organizations, like Big Brothers and Big Sisters, to mentor young women and show them how tech is applied in supply chain is one way to start fostering guidance at an early age.
Launched in 2019, initiatives like Boom! brings together a global community of women working in supply chain and procurement functions across multiple industries. Their ultimate goal is a level playing field and to advance equity for all. As more mentorship opportunities become available, we can expect to see more women gaining confidence in pursuing leadership roles.
Improved pipeline planning
While gender equality employee resource groups and development programs are still beneficial, improved pipeline planning and management will remain vital for attracting and retaining diverse talent. Gartner’s 2020 Women in Supply Chain Survey showed that almost a quarter of respondents agreed that integrated pipeline planning is the best approach for progressing women to senior leadership roles in supply chain.[viii]
Pipeline planning can be improved by taking a more proactive approach to seeking the next generation of female talent. Assessing talent and building long-term relationships with potential candidates at networking events and conferences for women in tech, like Grace Hopper, is one effective way to boost the talent pool, both now and in the future.
More than an Initiative
The same survey showed that 63% of supply chain organizations have stated objectives, but for real change to occur gender equality needs to be more than just an HR or corporate initiative.
“It’s really got to be embedded in the organization and in the leadership of the organization in order to make a difference.”– Nancy Nix, AWESOME Executive Director Emeritus
More than just an initiative, the importance of gender diversity needs to be fully embraced by supply chain leaders. Not just as a matter of political correctness or social responsibility, but as an added lever to growth and profitability.
Join us next week as we explore diversity and inclusion on a broader scale, discuss the importance of diverse thought in supply chain leadership, and provide best practices for building an environment where multiple voices can be heard and leveraged.
To learn more about D&I at Blue Yonder, visit our new DIVE IN blog series.
[ii] Marcel Schwantes, “Research Says Companies Grow Faster When More Women Are Promoted Into Leadership Roles”, inc.com, August 2018.
[vi] Hilary Rundle, “Five key questions on gender diversity in the supply chain”, onrec.com, July 2019.
[vii] “The Gartner Supply Chain Graduate University Top 25”, gartner.com, 2020.