November 26th, 2019
The Gender Gap in Supply Chain
Successful and well-balanced companies know that women business leaders—and their exceptional leadership skills—provide major benefits. Employers demand skills—so called “soft skills”—such as collaboration, creativity, problem solving, and multitasking in the fast-paced supply chain work environment. Which many strong females happen to possess. It’s shown time and again that these skills can improve employee engagement and make for smooth-running operations. But why is recruiting more women in supply chain and logistics still an issue?
How to search for talent implies having a broad and open mind to look past the obvious. To go beyond conventional methods. To accept that a better gender balance in supply chain results in a more successful business. But we’re struggling to make that happen in our industry.
A tradition of a male-dominated supply chain sector has made it difficult for women to be well represented, or at least considered as an equal in the competition for supply chain jobs. In the past few years, there have been subtle signs of change, but not enough.
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Why Does the Gender Gap Exist in Supply Chain?
We cannot deny it. There is a misrepresentation of women in executive business roles, especially within the field of supply chain management. And the number of women in manufacturing is the lowest it has been since 1971. Men hold 75-80% of jobs in the supply chain – and we must ask ourselves: Why?
Is the lack of women representation due to companies simply not hiring enough female talent? Or is there not enough female talent available? Are university programs attractive enough for female students? Are women intimidated by the logistics industry, allowing the challenges they may encounter to prevent them from jumping in? When there are females with exceptional leadership skills that fit the industry, where are they found?
Is part of the problem the stereotypes about “manufacturing jobs” – but without the true knowledge of today’s supply chain? And if fewer women are getting into supply chain based on these stereotypes, and we’re still seeing females make only 75% of their male counterparts – how can we encourage more women to jump into the industry?
To answer some of these more specific questions, we interviewed an expert in the industry who clearly sees the absence of female executives in supply chain and logistics in the many international industry events he chairs on a regular basis. That experience, of course, gives him a unique perspective and the ability to provide insight.
Hugh Williams, Managing Director of Hughenden Consulting, an international, specialist consultancy focused on the processes of supply chain planning, doesn’t believe that there must be more women per se, however, he thinks there should be more. “The gender gap is due to the fact that, traditionally, Supply Chain roles are filled from the “coalface,” and consequently, men have traditionally taken these jobs,” says Williams.
Why Do We Need Women in Supply Chain?
Williams says that it is clear that Supply Chain needs more advanced skills such as people skills and communication, what it is still called “soft skills,” rather than just subject expertise.
“Women are generally better equipped naturally than men in this respect,” he says, “so, industry really should be working out how to attract more women into a role that still looks very traditional.”
Considering that 63% of men, and 75% of women, believe the skillsets of women are advantageous for supply chain management, barriers to entry need to be eliminated and equal pay for women in the industry should be championed.
How Can We Close the Gender Gap in Supply Chain?
A quick look at Hughenden Consulting data shows a ratio of 15/20 men to 1 woman at the Supply Chain and Logistics conferences that they chair and attend every year. As expected, the difference is significant.
According to Williams, the industry is suffering from the old problem of Supply Chain not being “sexy enough” nor it is promoted sufficiently through universities and other entities. “On a recent visit to Coventry University,” says Williams, “they said that a huge percentage, approximately 80%, of their cohort wants to go into Marketing roles, so I think this is where the image building needs to start.”
Indeed, the key may lay in attracting more female talent within the younger generations through university programs. Another way of closing the gender gap could be through informative visits to schools from Supply Chain and Logistics organizations. Female leadership experience and success stories in supply chain and logistics could be inspirational, motivational, and encouraging.
Younger generations need strong role models. They need certainty that they will be joining a workforce where not only their skills will be recognized and remunerated equally than those of their male counterparts, but they will also have the chance to ascend on the career ladder to positions of leadership.
How Can Women Succeed in the Supply Chain and Logistics Industry?
According to a recent KPMG Women’s Leadership Study: Moving Women Forward into Leadership Roles, to empower more women to reach the higher ranks, there is a need to focus on three key main areas: Socializing leadership early in life, modeling leadership, and building confidence through role models and networking, and providing or enhancing corporate development programs in order to move successful women forward.
The paper goes on identifying the specific areas corporations should be looking at:
- Identify and develop those high-performing women who aspire to lead
- Provide the kind of individual feedback that reinforces and builds confidence and high-performance
- Build empowered and effective networks with the express role of generating opportunities for women’s leadership growth
- Actively give qualified women leadership opportunities
- Put in place challenging and aspirational career paths for women at work
The most effective leaders count with attributes such as the ability to generate collaboration, effective communication, and respect. The path to leadership should follow and be characterized by the same qualities. It is important to keep in mind that diverse perspectives and experiences offer a strategic advantage at the leadership level.