It is no secret that supply chain management has been historically a male-driven career path. Within the profession, women face obstacles to be recognized and receive promotions at the same rate of their male colleagues. But as organizational investment in gender equity becomes more widespread, we’re seeing a welcome shift — in 2016, women made up 35% of the total supply chain workforce; in 2021, that number rose to 41%, according to Gartner research
. Organizations can continue to close the gap by focusing on retaining and elevating women within the supply chain industry through constant and positive leadership, valuable learning and networking opportunities, and influential mentorship.
The 2022 International Women’s Day’s theme, #BreaktheBias
, calls for championing workplace diversity and inclusion, breaking biases that create barriers to career success and satisfaction, developing individualized and creative ways of working, and fostering a community environment. As the supply chain industry continues to gain traction at the center of business, it’s becoming a key organizational focus.
“It used to be that supply chain was ‘last to know, first to go,’” said Ben YoKell, National Sourcing & Supply Chain leader at Grant Thornton. “It was at the receiving end of business requirements, often with minimal integration with the commercial strategy, with last-minute logistics moves, frequent manufacturing schedule changes within the ‘frozen’ period, and spot market procurements as the rule rather than the exception.
“However, supply chain has gone through a major transformation in the last two decades — particularly in the last two years. Not only does supply chain (now more broadly understood to include forecasting, planning, sourcing, contracting, vendor management, manufacturing, inventory management, warehousing, distribution, logistics and returns) have a seat at the table; in many cases it now is the table. The ability to efficiently and effectively orchestrate the flow of goods, services and information between external commercial partners and internal areas of an enterprise is at the very heart of modern business strategy enablement and resulting financial performance.”
By taking the following actions to attract, retain and elevate women within the supply chain industry, your organization can make progress in breaking the bias.
Address gender-related obstacles
Three of the major obstacles are:
- The salary gap
- Unconscious bias
- Limited opportunity to grow
In the supply chain profession, it’s essential to identify obstacles that women face every day, understand the impacts of each hindrance, and continue to make changes for equity. Because of heightened awareness of supply chain issues — given much-noticed impacts on everyday life and on every industry — the importance of the supply chain function and its professionals has been elevated. Many high-performing teams and individuals prioritize diversity on both the individual and organizational levels, and they want to work in an environment that champions women in supply chain alongside other diversity, equity and inclusion strategic initiatives. Organizations can achieve remarkable results from investing in women early in their careers by providing access to training and development, mentors and growth opportunities.
“Focus on two things,” said YoKell. “Retain early and midcareer women supply chain professionals, and be hyperactive in local advocacy and advancement of trailblazing, change-making individuals.”
Encourage women to pursue a supply chain career
Carly Fiorina, former chair and CEO of Hewlett-Packard, in a discussion with Grant Thornton National Managing Principal of Industry Lisa Walkush, stated: “We have to stop thinking about the ‘package’ that brainpower comes in and start thinking about how to tap the maximum amount of brainpower possible.” Listen to Making the future: How manufacturers can adapt for diversity.
Recent social movements have generated widespread interest in equity, with gender equity as one of the spotlights. There is also a greater awareness of the proven value a diverse workforce provides to clients, organizations and employees.
The recruitment outreach to women should include not only experienced hires but also campus hires, with an emphasis on candidates with an interest in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). In the same vein, increasing the effort to recruit and promote supply chain careers among diverse experienced professionals has the potential to pave an influential path for women. The path widens when STEM, business professionals and creative minds come together to create various opportunities in the field. According to Grant Thornton Sourcing & Supply Chain Managing Director Kirk Waldrop, “Some may think the only path is with distribution or manufacturing, but there’s also planning, procurement, technology, etc., within a myriad of industries and sectors. There are so many paths, but I think a lot of folks aren’t aware of what all you can do in supply chain.”
Develop individualized and creative ways of working to boost retention
Recognition at all levels helps retain top-performing employees and boost engagement. Be organization-wide in statements such as this — “Gender has no boundaries for being smart.”
The top reason women leave the supply chain profession is lack of career opportunities, per Gartner research. When experienced employees leave, the loss can be staggering. (See “Assessing the state of American workers
.”) It is extremely valuable to all employees to improve your standing by offering women equitable compensation, flexible work policies and effective mentors; and a well-defined path to advancement through training, networking and exposure to different parts of the business. Because only 23% of VP-level positions in the average supply chain organization are held by women, according to the Gartner research, when women observe achievement in the C-suite and in other leadership, as well as among peers, they see a promising future in the organization. Sarah Balabanov, manager in Sourcing & Supply Chain Transformation at Grant Thornton, said: “It starts at the entry level but continues up to the top. An essential step is coaching; if there’s a mismatch, we can’t be afraid to speak up. And we should also be helping women focus on creating a broad board of advisors — peers, leaders and team members. This provides diversity of viewpoints and can build stronger leaders.”
By following through with these valuable initiatives, bias can be broken at your organization
For more on the global outlook for women leaders in business, see the Grant Thornton International Ltd report, Women in Business 2022: Opening the door to talent.
Senior Associate, Sourcing & Supply Chain
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Associate, Sourcing & Supply Chain
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Manager, Sourcing & Supply Chain Transformation
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National Sourcing & Supply Chain Leader
+1 303 813 3486