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Fostering Diversity in the Supply Chain Workforce

by | IntelliTrans | Aug 11, 2022 | Blog News

How women are making their mark in supply chain and why it’s important.

Last year, IntelliTrans’ Amazing Women in Supply Chain series garnered a lot of attention for putting the spotlight on the many talented, experienced women who help run our customers’ supply chains. That momentum hasn’t let up and in fact, there’s more attention than ever being paid to the important role that women—and diversity as a whole—play in the successful management of today’s complex, interconnected supply chains. 

According to Gartner, women currently account for 19% of C-level positions in the average supply chain organization, up from 15% in 2021. However, women comprise 21% of VP-level roles, a decrease from 23% last year, and 39% of the total supply chain workforce are women, down from 41% in 2021. 

“Chief supply chain officers (CSCOs) remain committed to gender diversity, but this survey suggests that they will need to double-down on goal setting, leadership inclusion and career-pathing for women,” said Gartner’s Caroline Chumakov. “Compared to the last year, representation of women in supply chain has improved at the first-line manager/supervisor, senior manager and director levels of the supply chain organization, as well as at the senior-most level: the C-suite.” 

Greater Gender Diversity

According to McKinsey & Co., companies with greater gender diversity have higher likelihoods of positive financial performance. The diverse perspectives of women can also help to challenge legacy-focused mindsets, to embrace innovative automation technologies, and to adapt to shifting regulatory mandates and industry trends faster. This holds true in the male-dominated logistics field, where a renewed focus on agility and reliance is forcing organizations to rethink their diversity initiatives. 

“Women are uniquely positioned to build the supply chain organizations of the future,” Committee of 200’s Hannah Kain writes in Forbes. “Female supply chain executives at the helm of significant organizations such as UPS, Stericycle and Johnson & Johnson’s supply chain organization have cultivated a more balanced perspective by leading with empathy, cooperation, and collaboration.” 

Specific to collaboration, Kain points out that many of the delays and disruptions companies are navigating right now can be traced back to an absence of collaboration. And when partners don’t work together and their systems don’t align, it results in what she calls a “profound lack of visibility and efficiency.” 

“This has led to underutilization of the already under-dimensioned physical port infrastructure,” Kain writes. “Freight simply gets stuck because the next link in the supply chain has no information that the freight is about to arrive, or that it has already arrived.” 

Steps to Take Now

While supply chain management as a discipline adapts well to situational circumstances, Johnson & Johnson Worldwide VP Meri Stevens says it has been slow to adapt to demographic ones. For example, fewer than 41% of the supply chain workforce is female and only 17% of supply chain officers are female. 

“This gap – and more broadly, the lack of female supply chain leaders – puts global supply chains at a disadvantage in the war for talent,” Stevens writes in Diversifying for the Future: Women in Supply Chain. “Given the volatile world we face, understanding how to attract, develop, and retain female talent is critical to future supply chain success.” 

One way to do this is by creating what Stevens calls “growth pathways” for women who want to break into and make their way up through the supply chain management ranks. Commit to gender diversity and use it as a competitive advantage, knowing that it offers benefits like more creativity, better team dynamics, and more problem-solving viewpoints. 

In Logistics needs more women, Accenture’s Sarah Banks outlines these first steps for companies that want to diversify their workforces to include more women in supply chain: 

  • Set clear targets. These gender equality targets should be published publicly so leaders can hold themselves accountable and include key performance indicators (KPIs) that govern compensation.   
  • Open pathways for entry. One of the best places for change is at the entry level. “With new technologies like robotics and automation,” Banks writes, “some of those perceived barriers for women in logistics can be removed by eliminating manual and potentially unsafe tasks typically tied to logistics employment.” 
  • Target women with a purpose. Currently, the logistics industry doesn’t always project an image that may be inviting to women. For example, they see images of warehouse environments that are often gritty and noisy. 
  • Create a culture for growth. This effort can’t stop when companies get women in the door. “They need to create visible avenues for women to advance their careers and rise in the leadership ranks,” Banks points out. “This requires a culture that encourages and enables women to pursue leadership roles.”
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