The supply chain industry has historically been a male-dominated field, with women under-represented at all levels of leadership. However, there is a growing recognition of the valuable contribution that women bring to the table, regardless of the industry. I personally am hopeful for the efforts being made to increase representation and strengthen the talent pipeline for women in supply chain and operations.
When we look at overall industry data, the numbers show both encouraging progress and the need to do more. For example, according to Gartner, the good news is women account for 19% of C-level positions, up from 15% in 2021.1 However, 39% of the total supply chain workforce are women, which is trending downwards from 2021, according to Gartner.
There is a significant gap that needs to be addressed if the industry is to thrive and meet the challenges of a rapidly changing business environment. Increasing the representation of women in leadership is not just the right thing to do; it also makes good business sense. Companies with diverse leadership are more innovative, more profitable, and better able to attract and retain top talent.
As a leader in end-to-end delivery and transportation with a career spanning over 15 years as an omni-channel supply chain and operations leader, I have often been the only woman in the room. Throughout my experience building teams, there are five key areas where I hold myself accountable, and these need to be prioritized across the industry to help develop women in the talent pipeline.
Mentorship and Sponsorship: Mentors are essential because they can provide valuable advice, feedback and perspective. They can help build networks and make connections with other industry professionals.
I have been fortunate to have had several mentors throughout my career who have provided me with valuable guidance and support, including my colleague Latriece Watkins, EVP of Consumables at Walmart U.S. Her knowledge of the company is invaluable. She challenges me, asks me questions and exemplifies an authentic leader who lives Walmart’s values.
Sponsors are also important because they can help advance careers by creating opportunities including advocating on our behalf when we are not present. They recommend stretch projects, leadership opportunities and promotions – making space and ensuring our voices are heard.
My first week at Walmart I walked into a meeting, and as the newbie, I sat in the back row. Chris Nicholas, COO, whom I consider one of my sponsors, said, “I’ll move over. Come sit at this table.” It was a great reminder that we all should be intentionally making space for others. There is enough room at the table for all of us.
When we ensure everyone not only has a seat at the table, but feels connected and supported, we can create an environment where everyone feels like they belong. At Walmart, women represent 53% of our global workforce of over two million, so creating a culture of belonging is critical.
Get involved: I strive to foster internal and external professional organization involvement for both women and allies on my team, making sure they have time to actively participate and encouraging them to do so. A good starting point is the employee resource groups that most companies have established. Walmart has many amazing internal Associate Resource Groups (ARGs) open to anyone who want to participate including Women in Supply Chain, Women’s Resource Community and Women in Tech.
Another opportunity is to champion internal programs focused on the retention and development of diverse associates. At Walmart we have the Supply Chain Operations Practical Education (SCOPE). It’s a 13-week supply chain MicroMasters program, in partnership with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The intent of the program is to provide an internal pipeline of diverse leaders who can step up from middle manager into senior leader roles within Walmart’s supply chain.
External professional organizations help leaders to share information and develop connections. I’m a member of AWESOME, a professional organization for female supply chain, operations and manufacturing leaders, and it has been the most influential women’s group I’ve had the opportunity to be a part of. With external organizations, there may be opportunities to invite connections to events or into the organization, allowing the leader to directly provide a growth opportunity to someone in their network.
Hiring, Promotions and Exit Interviews: It is imperative to be objective when looking at resumes to ensure that the candidate pool is diverse. Leaders should not dismiss candidates who don’t meet 100% of the job qualifications. A Harvard Business Review study found that women will only apply for a new job if their professional experience meets 100% of its description. Men will apply if they meet 60%, resulting in women applying for 20% fewer jobs than men, according to LinkedIn. To combat this, hold recruiters accountable to bring forth a diverse pool of applicants. Also, re-evaluate job descriptions, noting what qualifications are must-haves, rather than nice-to-haves.
Just as important is holding exit interviews when females leave an organization. Women face different pressures and through an exit interview, you can assess if you’ve identified all possible opportunities to keep her engaged. For example, a colleague recently shared an associate gave her notice because her limited childcare options prevented her from travelling. While this position did require travel, the associate was in good standing, so their leader asked them to identify more flexible opportunities for the associate.
Share What’s Possible: Do not underestimate how important it is to tell stories, both internally and externally, of women in the workplace to demonstrate what is possible. As a leader, find opportunities to share experiences of women within the organization. For example, Allyson Hay is a Walmart Private Fleet driver. She is a natural mentor and active with Women in Trucking, a nonprofit organization that wants to bring gender diversity to the transportation field. Her story has inspired other female truck drivers. We must create a culture where women feel safe and supported in storytelling. Ensuring that environment is a responsibility not just in supply chain, but in workforces everywhere. Publicly sharing stories of employees drives emotional connection, and storytelling is an amazing recruitment marketing tool.
Pay Policies and Negotiation: Women earn roughly 84 cents for every dollar men earn, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Leaders must evaluate pay and make sure it is equitable across job codes. Pay policies provide a framework to apply fair and consistent principles and guardrails against bias. This should be done in partnership with HR, considering things like experience, skills, competency, pay band penetration and similar work being completed. Quarterly reviews and open and honest conversations on career planning and progression are necessary, as well. Annual analysis of pay is not always enough. I’ve challenged my teams to be proactive and use data consistently to review all areas of the business.
The gender pay gap could also be exacerbated by salary negotiations. Women negotiate at a lower rate than men, and that has nothing to do with skills, but the backlash women are subject to when they go against deeply engrained norms of being accepting and passive by negotiating. If an employee asks for a higher salary, and they have a compelling case for why they deserve it, thank them for bringing forth the conversation and take the time to look into their request. Given the risk they are taking by having this conversation, chances are they took the necessary time to build their case. It is worth the pause to genuinely inquire about their request.
As we work together to build more equitable environments and greater representation in leadership positions, let us celebrate authentic leaders who are trailblazing and inspiring the next generation of leaders. Together, we can create more equitable opportunities for all.
Jennifer McKeehan is SVP end-to-end delivery at Walmart U.S.
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