Leverage Female Talent for 21st Century Supply Chain Success

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.

17 comments on “Leverage Female Talent for 21st Century Supply Chain Success

    March 27, 2014

    I agree more should be done to address the shortage of women in the supply chain workplace.  We could learn a lot from the Scandinavian countries and how they deal with the work life balance and more specifically how they treat women in the workplace.

  2. Hailey Lynne McKeefry
    March 27, 2014

    @Flyingscot, I agree…and it's clear that it would be a win/win for everyone. Until organizations realize that there's real benefit for them, it will be a hard sell.

  3. ITempire
    March 27, 2014

    Hiring of females in an organization in different departments will benefit alot because women have the ability to mingle with people and to perform multiple tasks at a time. The combination of male and female talent will bring positive change in company's overall performance and it's really appreciative that companies are taking measures to promote women to higher positions which in turn motivate females to work hard.

  4. Houngbo_Hospice
    March 27, 2014

    Female talents should indeed be treated equally and not discriminated against in the company, but I don't think they should be promoted to higher positions if they don't have the required qualifications.

  5. Houngbo_Hospice
    March 27, 2014

    @FLINGSCOT: It is difficult for many women to be able to balance profession and family. But this can be mitigated with the government support for childcare and other incentives.

  6. ahdand
    March 28, 2014

    @Hospice: Its possible for 1st World countries. Most of the 2nd World and the 3rd World are the ones who struggle. I do not see any possibility of the governments of these countries will be able to support partially even in the near future.    

  7. ahdand
    March 28, 2014

    @Hailey: I think its time for organizations to look deep into this. If they are not supportive then things will not be easy at all. 

  8. Houngbo_Hospice
    March 28, 2014

    @nimantha.d: I understand your point, but in most developing countries, raising kids is not as demanding as in the developed countries.

  9. Hailey Lynne McKeefry
    March 28, 2014

    @Nimantha, this is a complex issue. I think most organizations are nominally supportive but the reality may not bear that support out. What does the organization think about job sharing? Working from home? Flex time? These are all really important to anyone, male or female, in search of good work/life balance. Good workers will pay back this sort of flexibility with a lot of hard work, dedication and loyalty. At least that's been my experience. Very often the fears of the organization around diminished produtivity are highly over blown.

  10. _hm
    March 29, 2014

    I prefer policy of no-intereference. This is healthy for business and its survival. In long term bias with good intention boomerangs with unpredictable results.

    I am strong supporter for female talent and is good for one and all. Any prejudice against them is totally unacceptable. But why do they need special favour?

    My wife and daughter are with indomitable spirit. As I have seen them, they never asked or needed this type of bias.



  11. Taimoor Zubar
    March 29, 2014

    “I am strong supporter for female talent and is good for one and all. Any prejudice against them is totally unacceptable. But why do they need special favour?”

    @_hm: I agree with your point that a free market is what's best and no interventions are needed as such. However, at this point we do need intervention to “correct” the market which is suffering from a lack of female involvement given the policies in the past. Once the preferential treatment corrects the injustice of the past, then I don't think any further support will be needed. A free market can then prevail.

  12. Houngbo_Hospice
    March 29, 2014

    @_hm: “But why do they need special favour?” Good question, but the answer is simple – women still suffer discrimination and are treated as second class citizens in many countries.

  13. Himanshugupta
    March 30, 2014

    To start with, i am all in favor of female colleagues. My concern is why supply chain and do we really have to worry. The neuroscience study quoted in the article is clear that Men and Women are different in the way they think and companies or job domain in general look for a good fit so that there is some degree of interest and innovative thinking while on job. So, not every industry or job is for everyone and we should leave it to respective gender to decide what field they are interested in rather than pushing for arrange marriage.

  14. _hm
    March 30, 2014

    I believe women has strong will power and indomitable spirit. As a parent, one should further harness these virtues. And as a co-worker, you should adore them.

    But, special favour or bias for them, is perhaps a big unwanted and forced disgrace to them. Do not do it.


  15. Hailey Lynne McKeefry
    March 30, 2014

    Certainly promoting women who aren't trained properly or who dont have the right skills will niether help the organization, the individual or the overall cause. In fact, it just gives the nay sayers something to point to.

  16. ahdand
    March 31, 2014

    @Hailey: I think you should not promote anyone unless they have the capability to perform. Regardless whether what the gender is you should focus on the capabilities. 

  17. Hailey Lynne McKeefry
    April 29, 2014

    @Rich, LOL. Let's not go there then!

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