Men and women bring different strengths to any industry, and gender diversity leads to better outcomes. A recent Australian report on workplace gender equality cited four benefits of gender inclusiveness in the workplace:
- Better organizational performance
- Improved company reputation
- Ability to better attract talent and retain employees
- Greater productivity and economic growth on a national scale
Many leaders in supply chain recognize these possible outcomes and work to attract, promote and retain top female talent, but the industry is not as diverse as it could be.
Supply chain employers often favor science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) educational backgrounds — fields with more men than women, mostly. However, traits typically attributed to women are extraordinarily beneficial, including “soft” leadership skills like collaboration, negotiation and encouraging collective success even at the expense of personal recognition. Indeed, 63% of men and 75% of women believe the skill sets of women differ from those of men and are advantageous for supply chain management.
Given the supply chain industry’s role in the pandemic, and because lives are at stake, “this is a pivotal time for many women in mid-level and senior management positions,” says Dana Stiffler, vice president analyst with Gartner Supply Chain Practice.
According to the Gartner 2020 Women in Supply Chain Survey of 177 supply chain professionals, women made up 39% of the supply chain workforce in 2020, a figure unchanged from 2019. Of the chief supply chain officers (CSCOs), 17% are women — a 6% increase from 2019 and the highest rate since the first edition of the survey in 2016. However, in 2020, the number of women at the vice president and director levels was less than it was in 2019.
The survey also found that in 2020, 63% of hiring managers and recruiters with supply chain firms have objectives, goals or initiatives to recruit women and build pipelines, but it takes years for such programs to gain traction. Consumer goods and retail supply chain organizations’ representation of women at the vice president level (25%) is nearly twice that of industrial organizations (13%).
Despite the growing presence of women in the supply chain industry, the pay gap still presents a major problem. Women in the industry still make only 75% of the compensation of their male counterparts on average.
There’s no getting around it: gender diversity will not happen through grassroots STEM improvements alone. Concurrent bottom-up and top-down approaches are necessary — the latter involve greater commitment from corporate leaders to develop gender-diverse talent pipelines. Leaders must seek high-potential women who strive to lead, providing them with education assistance and on-the-job coaching. They must reimagine workplace roles, develop training programs that create career tracks with women in mind and explore ways to enhance the visibility of leadership-track women within their organizations.
Several leading companies are pioneering these advancements, such as Mars with Women Leading Powerfully, Lenovo with WILL (Women in Lenovo Leadership) and Cisco with WISE (Women in Science and Engineering).
Employers must also avail education assistance programs so that women can enroll in accelerated master’s programs that provide training in transportation, logistics and distribution management. These programs should be flexible and designed for working professionals — especially since women often bear more family responsibilities than men and may need variable hours that enable them to navigate dual obligations.
The conversations around gender equality in the supply chain have never been so focused. Women should expect to find increasing pathways to opportunity. Many top leaders in the supply chain are intent on creating a model of gender balance for others to follow. You can be a part of it, and a great way to start is with a specialized supply chain MBA.