The next time you have a meeting with the operations and supply chain leadership team at your company, look around the room. How many women are at the table? For most companies, the number is zero.
To be sure, there are many talented women already in supply chain roles, and the numbers are increasing. Recent research puts the percentage of women in senior roles in North American companies at under 20%. However, our observations suggest that number is much lower—especially when you look from a global perspective.
The role of the supply chain has dramatically changed in the last five years, and even more so during the COVID-19 pandemic. Successful companies are flipping their supply chains from an internal focus on cost and efficiency to look outward at customer needs. We see this as the moment for organizations to unlock the strategic advantages of diverse and inclusive teams by bringing more women and their insights into supply chain leadership roles.
Here are the reasons why more women in supply chain leadership roles can lead to better results:
- Research shows that diversity leads to innovation and productivity. For example, a study done by Management, Policy & Practice revealed that women are more likely to introduce new innovations into their company. Another study by Harvard Business School that surveyed 1,069 leading firms across 35 countries found that gender diversity correlates to increased productivity.
- A diverse team can better anticipate what the market wants and how it wants it because there is a closer match to the buyers of what you sell and deliver. For example, we work with a major apparel maker that sells through retail stores owned by other companies. They were very surprised to find out that the majority of buying and delivery decisions are made by female customers, even though the user is frequently male.
- As supply chain leaders increasingly shift their organizations to digital supply chains, they have been complaining of a limited talent pool. Well, the talent pool roughly doubles when you start to make the supply chain a compelling career opportunity for women.
In the next five years, the evolution to a digital supply chain will require an even higher level of collaboration. This change means that the way we work with customers, suppliers, and our organizations must be more aligned. Some studies suggest that women often have better skills in integration and collaboration than men. Women are needed to make the right things happen!
Let’s not be naïve; there are cultural obstacles that organizations must address. Some of that is historical. There is an “old boys club” in many industries. Men decide how companies work together and can have blinders on when it comes to women in operational roles. Then there’s the pipeline issue. There’s not a large, experienced talent pool. Companies have to do more to encourage women to take this career path. Moreover, organizations need to make it clear to business schools that they need more female MBAs with the supply chain skills they need.
At DSCI, we believe it is critical that we identify the obstacles and find ways to diversify the global supply chain leadership pool. That is why DSCI’s Sugathri Kolluru, Manager, Emerging Technologies, is leading an important new initiative, Women Leading Digital Supply Chain Transformations (WLDST). We have ambitious goals:
DSCI will help build a valuable community by sharing experiences and knowledge. We will organize collaboratories, panels, seminars, and events featuring women leaders from global supply chains to share their experiences. We conducted our first panel in September with leaders from four global companies, and we are having our second event in December.
We have a lot of work ahead to provide career opportunities for women. To start, DSCI will establish the 21 for 21 Mentor Program, a collection of 21 senior women and men in leadership roles who will mentor, coach, and help encourage 21 women through a one-year mentorship.
We will introduce action-oriented recommendations to help companies build inclusive, high-performing digital supply chains through research and white papers. In addition, we will develop our research to help the organization make sure their recruiting methods attract female supply chain leaders.
We believe this is an important initiative. We welcome both men and women to join us in this endeavor and these activities; stay tuned at dscinstitute.org for more updates and activities.