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Women In Supply Chain

What can companies do to stop supply chain management being just another boys’ club

8Aug

There have been a number of moves by governments to ensure that companies are practicing policies that promote equality in the supply chain, with large companies encouraged to partner with minority-owned and woman-owned businesses wherever possible. However, while these attempts are admirable, there remains a dearth of women in supply chain management (SCM).

In March 2016, in collaboration with research partners AWESOME and Supply Chain Media, Gartner conducted their first ever Women in Supply Chain Survey. Their study found that as the corporate ladder advances, the proportion of women leaders in the supply chain declines. While women make up 35% of the total supply chain workforce, but this falls to 13% by the time you get to VP/senior director level, and just 5% when you get to CSCO and EVP level.

This is a situation that companies are attempting to rectify, though you would be forgiven for thinking that their attempts thus far have been lackluster. The Gartner survey found that 47% are aiming to increase the number of women leaders in the supply chain, but just 16% have formal targets and specific goals.

In fairness, the problem is complex and not one that is easy for one company alone to solve. There is still a perception of SCM and logistics as a ‘masculine’ career, based primarily in warehouses with high physical demands and a more male focussed culture, while this stereotype is reinforced at the source in the educational curriculum. It is all very well calling on companies to do more and set targets, but if the pipeline is not there, it is difficult to achieve them. What they can do though, is partner with schools and universities, and ensure that it is made clear that such perceptions are actually no longer true. Supply chain leaders are now enabled to take an important strategic role in new technologies, and the focus is more on establishing and maintaining partnerships with their suppliers - something that fits far better with what you would traditionally consider ‘female’ strengths.

Another thing that companies can do better is create an environment that better suits women’s needs. The responsibilities of supply chain managers often mean that they are forced to spend a lot of time out on the road and in the field. For an employee either with a family or looking to build one, such conditions are unappealing and impractical. Companies need to better cater for this, being flexible in their expectations and maybe putting in place facilities such as an in-office creche.

For companies to correct such deep rooted issues requires significant resources, and they need to work together and alongside industry groups and governments to rectify the situation. There is also a clear benefit to initiatives like leadership programs for women, and mentoring schemes, that not enough companies are implementing but should. Ultimately, there are clear benefits to having women in the supply chain, and surveys have shown that companies already understand these. SCM World, for one, surveyed 147 supply chain executives across industries in mid-2013. It found that the diversity of skills a better gender balance afforded in companies’ supply chain functions was a positive for business. Whatever investment is required to get more women into the field are likely to be paid back many times over. But realizing this is just a tiny part of finding solution, it is now down to companies to take action.

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