Very often, we think about getting more women involved in the supply chain as a change that will benefit the female gender. Truly, though, smart supply chain organizations understand that they are well served in bringing more talented women into the organization simply because it will be good for the business.
Brian Schwartz, CEO Ernst & Young, Australia articulated it this way: “Women are 50% of the equation. Choosing not to work with women is like trying to progress with one hand tied behind your back.”
Today, though, the industry is far from balanced. According to a recent poll conducted by SCM World with top supply chain executives in Fortune 500 companies, an alarming low number of only 22 women from a total of 320 businesses have a true supply chain function.
In 2013, Calvert Investments published a report titled “Examining The Cracks in the Ceiling: A Survey of Corporate Diversity Practices of the S&P 100,” where its analysis finds that the lack of women and/or minorities in the highest-paid executive positions has remained stagnant between 2010 and 2012. The report says that 56 companies, which account to more than half of the largest corporations in the United States, do not have any women, or minorities in their five highest-paid positions. You can see the full report here.
Breadth equals strength
The female perspective can bring insight to the supply chain and strengthened management. According to an SCM World poll, men and women develop different skillsets. This means that in the best-case scenario a balanced combination of both skillsets would create the best path to successful supply chain performance.
SCM World conducted research in June 2013 on essential skills required to achieve success in supply chain. From 147 supply chain executives across industries the majority in both genders agreed that women's different skillsets are advantageous for supply chain management as shown in the following figure:
The research continued by asking the most obvious: How are women's skillsets different? The answer lies in neuroscience. According to findings by the University of Pennsylvania neural pathways are different in men and women, and this affects the way they process information. Men seem to process information front to back of the brain resulting in a generally better predisposition to learn and execute single tasks. On the other hand, women's neural flows cross back and forth from one hemisphere to another allowing them to excel at multi-tasking. This characteristic aids women at excelling in forming, motivating, and leveraging teams to get work done making women great leaders in supply chain.
Closing the opportunity gap
Unfortunately, organizations tend to offer fewer opportunities to contribute in supply chain functions. In June 2013, SCM World published the results of a poll where poll takers expressed their opinion based on their perception of career opportunities for women in supply chain compared to men:
At the same time, the number of jobs will, by all accounts, increase. According to The Canadian Supply Chain Sector Council Human Resources Update Study:
- From 2012 to 2017 it is anticipated that there will be an additional 65,979 new and vacant supply chain positions/year for the next five years equaling a total of 356,747 positions.
- From 2012 to 2017 it is expect that the number of supply chain employees will increase from a rate of 8.4% for tactical occupations to 14.9% for managerial occupations.
In addition, we may be on the cusp of a change. Supply chain-related degree programs are seeing an increase in women enrolment. This will reflect in more women available to take supply chain positions in the future. Yet, very few will reach board-level positions, which are male dominant.
Attract and keep female talent
Senior leadership and management can play an important role inspiring women to keep their positions within the supply chain and even aspire to reach higher positions in the career ladder. Supply chains need to look into the following:
- Identify role models to provide rising stars with a template for success.
- Identify and promote lessons learned by both genders about what barriers women must overcome.
- Identify and put into play the unique female perspective that brings diversity and balance to supply chain and career planning.
Looking globally for solutions
To address the growing labor shortage in supply chain management, Canada has planned to attract and retain more women as a solution:
Meanwhile, in Bangalore, India, General Electric has won several awards for its RESTART program, which focuses exclusively in hiring women scientists, engineers, and technologists who wish to return to work after a career break.
If more companies support similar initiatives, hiring and keeping female talent in the supply chain has a chance of succeeding, and the organizations themselves will be ripe for capturing the benefits of that talent.