So, Why Aren’t There More Women in Supply Chain Leadership Roles?

April 15, 2014

One thing we’ve been meaning to talk about for a while on the blog is the topic of Women in Supply Chain leadership positions.

Why are there so few women leading in Supply Chain?

This issue was broached in a recent article in Industry Week magazine, and it’s been going around the wider Supply Chain community for a while, particularly in this great post from a while back written by SCM Executive Patricia Moser for Canada’s Supply Chain Management Association.

While it’s certainly true that women are sadly still underrepresented in leadership positions across many industries and functions, there seems to be even fewer women in leadership roles in Supply Chain. The industry week article used original industry research to assess how women fit into the Supply Chain talent landscape. The most interesting statistic was that there are only 22 female Supply Chain executives out of 320 Fortune 500 companies with a dedicated Supply Chain function. Despite this rather low number, a huge margin of the Supply Chain professionals they interviewed (of both genders) agreed that women have different skill sets that are particularly advantageous for Supply Chain Management, particularly their stronger multi-tasking skills that are especially useful in today’s multifaceted Supply Chain roles.

This is an interesting dimension of the wider Supply Chain talent crunch. There is going to be huge demand for Supply Chain leadership in the next 8-12 years as the baby boomer generation begins to retire, and making the field more attractive to high-potential female professionals is a crucial way to close that talent gap.

So if many industry leaders agree that women should have more representation in Supply Chain Leadership, what factors are at play that’s preventing them from getting their rightful seat at the boardroom table? It’s common sense that women are inherently every bit as capable as men at Supply Chain functions, but the articles provide some explanations as to why women aren’t as well represented:

1. Supply Chain has an Image Problem, and it means that some women don’t necessarily see the immense potential in the field:

Ms. Moser points out that Supply Chain “is often misunderstood by others as working in warehouses and in trucks (not exactly a traditional career path for women), so it doesn’t spring to mind as a place of opportunity for women.”  It’s certainly true that Supply Chain has an image problem in general. Images of trucks and warehouses show the nuts and bolts of Supply Chain in action, but they present a “transactional” image, and don’t accurately convey the true strategic value that today’s Supply Chain offers to organizations.

There’s a great new organization that’s seeking to change Supply Chain’s image and attract females to the field. Women in Supply Chain is an Alberta-based Canadian organization that deploys female Supply Chain leaders to offer advice and information to young women, helping to educate them about the field’s tremendous growth and career potential.

2. Women are less likely to apply for leadership roles if they don’t see themselves as having every qualification listed on a job description.

Ms. Moser’s article particularly discusses how women sometimes self-select out of leadership roles. She cites a statistic that women tend to only apply for a role if they have 100% of the qualifications listed in a job description, whereas men are more likely to roll the dice on a role where they don’t meet every listed criteria. In her specific words, “women are self-selecting out because, while they may have more and better qualifications than men, they hold an inherent belief that every qualification on that job posting needs to be satisfied.”

We’ve posted quite a bit about the inherent limitations of job descriptions, and how hiring managers need to be flexible so that top candidates don’t get scared away from applying. This is something that’s true for both men and women, whether women self-select out more than men or not. So we couldn’t agree more that hiring managers and recruiters need to tailor job descriptions so that they accurately convey essential experience instead of the nice-to-have skills.

3. Men are traditionally promoted based on potential, while women are promoted on results.

And this means that women don’t get the benefit of the doubt that allows them to quickly move up the career ladder in Supply Chain. The Industry Week article in particular makes this case rather strongly, and we very much agree that this needs to change. Industry Week deploys some interesting neurological research to show how women actually have a huge built-in potential for success in the modern Supply Chain field. According to the research, “men tend to process information front to back, while women’s neural flows cross back and forth from one hemisphere to the other. The cognitive implications of this are that men are generally equipped to learn and execute single tasks, while women tend to excel at multi-tasking.”

The author makes the point that the “female” mode of information processing is more suited to today’s integrated Supply Chains with diverse responsibilities: “today, we see far more ambiguity in analytical decision-making around business tradeoffs…is it possible that this new environment favors women? Yes.” The Supply Chain professionals they interviewed also indicated that women were particularly strong at forming teams and motivating them to deliver results. So the potential of women is clear for Supply Chain, and hiring managers need to be more proactive in recognizing it.

These are some possible explanations, but they’re by no means exhaustive. And there are lots of factors at play here.

One thing we can say is that the lack of women in leadership roles in Supply Chain is a trend that’s going to be on its way out sooner rather than later. Many Supply Chain schools are seeing stronger female enrolment. Women are advancing into leadership roles in many previously male-dominated careers, for example in the STEM fields (Science Technology Engineering and Math), and Supply Chain is surely to follow thanks to organizations like Women in Supply Chain Canada.

For our part, we have a large and diverse network of female candidates in Supply Chain, Strategic Sourcing, Procurement, Planning, etc. They often represent some of the stronger candidates in our candidate base, and we’re thrilled to put them forward for senior leadership positions when opportunities arise. The issue is that there are not always enough of them but we hope to see that change. And, closer to home at Argentus where we specialise in Supply Chain Recruitment as a very narrow vertical, we’re a proudly female-owned company – so we walk the walk and talk the talk.  We hope to do whatever part we can to ensure that females are well-represented in today’s generation of Supply Chain leadership, and tomorrow’s.

So let’s pose this to our network: Do you agree that these factors are what are preventing women from getting the leadership roles they deserve? Are there any other things at play? And what else needs to be done to change this?

It’s a very interesting topic

Over and out

Bronwen and Sam

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