Being male, I never paid much attention to gender diversity in my field of work. The issue never really came up.
That was before my daughter was born.
Now, as I watch her grow and think about her future, gender diversity becomes much more important. I want her to have every opportunity that I’ve had – hopefully even more. Most of all, she should be able to become anything she wants, especially a supply chain cowgirl.
Why Aren’t More Women in Supply Chain
Supply chain emerged from a company’s production functions. Assembly lines and factories were traditionally dominated by blue collar, male workers because many of the jobs required significant physical strength. Over time, though, companies’ operations have evolved, and machines either have taken most of the strenuous physical labor out of these jobs or replaced humans completely. For many companies, the focus has gone from sweat and overtime to long-term relationships and inter-company cooperation. As these changes happened, however, the involvement of women in supply chain hasn’t kept pace with other fields. Women hold only 10% of supply chain leadership roles, while the average for other departments is 24%. More details on these numbers is available at SupplyManagement.com.
Part of the problem for this imbalance is the number of women studying for supply chain degrees. Only 37% of students in supply chain classes are female. With an average of 60% of college students being women, it’s clear that this subject isn’t yet in vogue with female students. I’d infer that part of the challenge is awareness. Women often aren’t as aware of supply chain as a career choice, and don’t have an accurate vision of what that path would entail. It could also be a cultural draw of men to logistics because traditionally ‘trains, planes, and trucks are boys’ toys.’
What are Supply Chains Missing because Few Women are Involved?
Roy Adler of Pepperdine University found that companies with more diverse leadership teams tend to outperform their more gender-biased competitors . More women in a company’s supply chain team could find creative cost savings opportunities that their male colleagues may not pursue. Read more about Adler’s study in Logistics Quarterly.
If you feel your team isn’t achieving its potential, it might be a gender diversity problem. Too many of the same gender on a team can lead to biased views or groupthink. Improving team chemistry might be as easy recruiting a few extra team members of the opposite gender – be they men or women.
Most women have a talent for remembering birthdays, managing households, and tracking children’s activities. Those expertise easily apply to important supply chain related skills such as remembering deadlines, managing purchasing teams, and tracking international shipments. Ann Drake, founder of AWESOME, an organization promoting women in supply chain, says that,”Today, the supply chain is about orchestration and leadership and change management. Enter the orchestrators – the women who embrace change and who are ready to lead.”
Collaboration and Creativity
A key trait that I’ve often seen my female coworkers surpass men in is emotional intelligence. This ability to correctly gauge the motivations of others is critical to building strategic alliances with both suppliers and customers. They often change adversarial, arms-lengths relationships with customers into life-long connections that strengthen the entire supply chain.
How Can I Help Get More Women in Supply Chain?
Focus on Making a Positive Influence
Women naturally want to make a positive difference in the world – through family, work, and community. That’s what supply chain is all about – making a value added difference to your community and the world. This might include worker’s rights, working conditions, safety compliance, and other noble missions that strengthen both people and supply chains.
Promote the Different Areas of Supply Chain
To me, part of the allure of supply chain is the vast variety of jobs it encompasses. If someone doesn’t think an assembly line is right for them – that’s no problem. Logistics, purchasing, compliance, contract management, or sales analytics are just a few of the growing opportunities that may present a different side of supply chain that’s more attractive.
Encourage Girls to Become Leaders
Take the mission of the Girl Scouts of America as inspiration to “Find the leader in each girl.” Encouraging them to volunteer for leading roles in school clubs and extracurricular activities fosters a habit of leadership. When opportunities to lead in college and the business world arise, stepping forward will be second-nature to these talented women.
Ellen Voie, President/CEO of Women in Trucking Association, Inc., gives this parenting advice:
“Buy trucks as toys for young girls, teach your teenager how to drive a stick shift and cultivate the ambition that shows up on the soccer field, in the classroom and when making a decision to pursue a degree in a nontraditional program. Let’s find the leader in the girls around us and make them into the next generation of…logistics professionals.”
Help Create a Culture that Promotes Balance
Supply Chain is a 24/7 profession that could easily consume all of an employee’s waking hours. To avoid burnout, companies need to work hard at supporting employees’ balance between work and personal time. Technology has allowed more flexibility in how people work, and this can help women find a better work-life balance. There’s a lot of great women that could add value to your organization because they can’t work a normal 9-5 schedule.
Become a Mentor
If you’re a woman in supply chain already, then you could be the key to bringing in more female colleagues. More positive female role models in the field will help break down negative stereotypes. Support others and coach them in the field. Consider helping out with local chapters that support female professionals and encourage them to investigate the opportunities in supply chain.
Women (and men) can use their relationship building, communication, and collaborative skills to build strong, supportive networks that will sustain further growth in the field.
Encourage Problem Solving and Puzzles
“Supply chain is all about puzzles and is ever changing, so if you enjoy puzzles and want a career/job where there will be new and different challenges every day then Supply Chain is the place to be.”
– Ryvyn Young, Home Depot (quoted by WomenInSupplyChain.org)
As girls realize that the games they play on their phone and with their friends relate directly to the skills needed to succeed in supply chain, they become more interested. Share that information with them and let them see how it relates.
Future Supply Chain Cowgirl?
No matter what my daughter wants to play with – dolls, trucks, or legos – I’ll be right there playing with her. You better believe, though, that she’ll hear from me in detail how her Barbie was manufactured, shipped to America, processed in a distribution center, stocked in a local store, and brought into our home. If I tell the story with enough enthusiasm, maybe one day she just might consider becoming a supply chain cowgirl herself.
Special thanks to Jenny Lambson and Audrey Fuller for their excellent advice and feedback for this article. Also, thank you to my daughter Rachel for cooperating in the photo-shoot.
I welcome your thoughts and advice on this important subject. If you’re currently a supply chain cowgirl, how has your experience been? What advice would you give to others, both male and female?