According to a Gartner survey from 2021, women only account for 41% of the workforce in the supply chain industry. That’s in comparison to the 56% of women who participated in the overall labor force that same year. The gender gap grows in leadership positions. The survey also found that women hold only 15% of executive roles in the supply chain sector.
Why does the industry have such a wide gender gap, and how can we overcome it?
Understanding the Gender Gap in the Supply Chain Industry
For a long time, supply chain management was viewed as an outgrowth of blue-collar professions. As such, the majority of people in leadership roles were promoted from the shop floor. Men typically held most of the transportation and front-line warehouse positions and therefore were most likely to become leaders in the field. What’s more, educational opportunities were limited, making it even more challenging for women to climb the ranks of the supply chain industry — and even enter the field itself.
It’s unsurprising, then, that another 2020 study by Gartner found that women held a mere 17% of chief supply chain officer positions. Although that’s a 6% increase compared to 2019 and the highest rate since the first edition of the survey in 2016, it doesn’t entirely offset the gender gap in the supply chain field. Case in point: The number of women in vice president and director-level positions decreased from 28% to 21% between 2019 and 2020.
Companies in the consumer goods and retail supply chain spaces had nearly 25% of VP roles filled by women, whereas the number of women VPs in industrial organizations remained at only 13%. Gartner identified two major factors that caused this discrepancy between industries. First, industrial firms were more likely to require STEM degrees for leadership roles that they filled, and women statistically hold fewer STEM degrees than men. Second, consumer goods and retail supply chain companies were more likely to have organizational targets and goals around gender diversity.
Overcoming these significant gender gaps in the supply chain industry will be critical for business success and more agile supply chains.
The Benefits of Including Women in the Supply Chain Industry
In recent years, we have seen supply chain organizations make major changes to become more flexible and resilient to combat the numerous delays, shortages, and bottlenecks the industry has faced. The changes being implemented are bringing more diverse perspectives to the table. In turn, this has enabled companies to challenge legacy-focused mindsets, adapt to the shifting regulatory mandates in the industry, adjust to trends quicker, and embrace innovative automation technologies.
As a woman in the field, I know women have skills that position them to make viable changes in the supply chain. Women supply chain managers and leaders at major organizations, such as Stericycle, UPS, and Johnson & Johnson, are likely to implement more balanced solutions by leading with cooperation, collaboration, and empathy.
Women think about complex, dynamic supply chain ecosystems intuitively, determining the best ways to align them successfully. It has also been said that women have persevered and performed far better than their male counterparts during the Great Resignation. Part of the reason for this is women’s inclusive nature.
Over the past few years, after all, leadership and organizational success have been nearly impossible without empathy. McKinsey & Company’s 2020 report, “Diversity wins: How inclusion matters,” found that gender diversity predicted financial performance — companies with more than 30% of executives who were women outperformed those that had fewer.
Furthermore, it is increasingly difficult to attract talented staff without a strong diversity commitment — which usually is led by women executives who have personally experienced barriers to equality in the field. It’s imperative to build a culture that supports diverse talent when the labor market is so tight.
There are several ways to increase the number of women in the supply chain industry, including:
Although supply chains traditionally focused on cost efficiency over agility, we are seeing a significant shift. As these trends continue to evolve, companies must continue to bring on skilled women who can provide new and diverse perspectives and push the industry forward.
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