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Women in supply chain: Knocking down barriers

3 min read

Restaurant and Foodservice

The heritage of supply chain is all about factories, warehouses and trucks, and although it may be an unfair prejudice, many veterans of the discipline would not expect a lot of women filling senior positions. While the data in fact supports this expectation, it’s been found that the skill sets of women are advantageous to supply chain management.

SCM World did a manual count of top supply chain executives in Fortune 500 companies and found only 22 women among 320 businesses had a true supply chain function. The percentage of female supply chain leaders represented in this sample, 6.9%, is well below the share of women entering the field from university, which is approximately 35%. It seems clear that barriers exist for women in supply chain.

To test this premise, we surveyed 147 supply chain professionals last summer. Our respondent pool was predominantly female, but nearly a third of the total was men.  The answers, when split by gender, show an interesting divergence. Women feel that they are at least somewhat disadvantaged with just over 50% choosing this answer, while just over 40% say they see no difference by gender. Men in contrast are substantially more likely to perceive an open playing field with 53% seeing no difference in opportunity against only 33% who agree that women are disadvantaged.

How do you perceive career opportunities for women in supply chain compared to men?

These different perspectives may be explained by a phenomenon described by Beth Ford, executive vice president and chief supply chain and operations officer at Land O’Lakes that applies to peoples’ attitudes to promotion. The phenomenon is in fact gender-based since women, looking at a new job will see five requirements, and possessing only four, will opt out. Men, in contrast, will see the same five requirements, and possessing only one, will take the job, expecting to succeed despite the shortfall.

Ford calls for an attitude adjustment by women in supply chain, saying “own your career…be fearless about your decisions. Just because you don’t have five of five, change your thought process and attack your career.”  This phenomenon certainly aligns with the data suggesting that barriers are probably less structural or even cultural and more about how each gender approaches career progression.

The interesting finding in this survey however, is that all seem to agree women should be taking this bolder stance.  Both men and women agreed with the statement that “the natural skill sets of women differ from men.” More importantly, and by an overwhelming majority, both genders also agreed that “women’s different skill sets [are] advantageous for supply chain management.” The near consensus seems to be that having more women in supply chain will lead to better results. It’s not just about fairness, but better performing supply chains as well. The time to start knocking down these barriers is now.

Figure 2: Do you believe the natural skill sets of women differ from men?

Figure 3: Do you consider women’s different skill sets advantageous for supply chain management?

Source: SCM World survey, June 2013

Watch Beth Ford speak about women in supply chain management:


Kevin O’Marah is the chief content officer of SCM World.