Women remain underrepresented in the higher ranks of operations management and supply chain. Rather than bemoaning this fact, here are three steps that can be taken to help change the story. -- DEBRA JENKINS
Men have long outnumbered women in leadership roles in supply chain and operations management organizations. The recent pandemic exacerbated the imbalance, as women disproportionately left the workplace to manage family care and schooling issues. Now, as the world enters the post-pandemic era and supply chains are a trending topic of international discussion, it’s time to make serious strides in boosting the number of women entering the field, advancing through the ranks, and taking on leadership responsibilities.
This is particularly important as firms everywhere are taking a second look at their supply chain partners for environmental and equity commitments. What was tolerated in the past is no longer acceptable, and there are more options than ever for being an ally and helping drive change. In the paragraphs ahead, three of the top steps that can be taken will be discussed.
CAPTURE HEARTS AND MINDS AT THE CAREER CHOICE STAGE
Boosting the number of women in leadership roles requires a pool of talented women in the industry to choose from when hiring. To seed those pools, there must be a steady inflow of new women to the industry. However, in recent years, women have been opting for other career options. According to Hughenden Consulting data, as many as 80 percent of women in a recent university cohort chose other opportunities over supply chain roles.
Thus, a first step needs to be working to attract more women to the field in the first place, with a special emphasis on outreach during the career choice years. This may mean that instead of recruiting out of established groups of women already training for supply chain roles, firms will need to market opportunities to women who have not yet chosen their training path, such as middle school and high school students.
By creating clear visions of the opportunities and need for women in supply chain and operations management roles for younger students, firms may be able to increase the overall number of enrolled women in higher level courses. This can start a positive cycle. As more women enroll in supply chain industry training, it normalizes having more women in study for these roles and expands the potential pool of candidates. With a more diverse candidate pool, it is possible to create more diverse hiring cohorts, developmental groups, and long-term talent pipelines.
TEST ALTERNATIVE WORK ARRANGEMENTS TO PREVENT WOMEN FROM EXITING AT CRITICAL LIFE JUNCTURES
A second step that can be taken is to lean on all the alternative work arrangements technology makes possible to keep more women in the workplace during critical life stages. Faced with inflexible scheduling and competing life priorities, many women exit the supply chain industry for other more flexible fields. This drains talent pools of experienced performers and makes it difficult to build pipelines to executive positions for talented women.
The way that the last two years have pushed employees out of traditional models in a response to lockdowns provides an opening for the continued testing of alternative work arrangements. Flexible start times, four day work weeks, job sharing, and part time arrangements can all make it easier for women to managing competing life priorities and to stay in role through years of child-rearing or elder care when they might otherwise exit. Though a departure from traditional structures, these options have not been shown to lead to a drop in performance from either gender, and represent a type of optionality that is particularly popular with younger generations of workers (male and female alike).
Being flexible around work structure can also help with recruiting. According to LinkedIn’s 2022 Global Talent Trends survey, employees who are happy with their firm’s flexibility on schedule are 2.1x more likely to recommend working for that firm and to stay in role. Positions that include mentions of flexibility receive more applicants, and women are more likely to engage with them.
TREAT ADVANCEMENT OF WOMEN NOT AS AN EQUITY ISSUE BUT AS A BUSINESS IMPERATIVE
A final step for businesses to help boost the number of women at higher ranks within operations management and supply chain is to treat the advancement of women as a business imperative. By treating it as “just” an issue of equity, it leaves the business case for diversity on the sidelines. However, with what research has shown about mixed gender teams and performance should be a part of the discussion.
In supply chain and operations companies, according to Procurement Leader, some 63 percent of men and 75 percent of women believe that the natural skill sets of women differ from those of men and that those differences are advantageous for supply chain management. Further, companies who are in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15 percent more likely to have financial returns above the industry median. Thus, it’s not “just” an equity posturing move to hire and advance more women – it’s a smart business move that more companies should be making whenever possible.
Women have, historically, been dramatically outnumbered by men at the senior levels of supply chain and operations management. However, there is a chance now to change things. By working to capture hearts and minds at a younger age, more women can be attracted to the field. By testing flexible work arrangements, attrition and early exits for women (and men) can be avoided. Finally, by treating the advancement of women as a business imperative rather than a siloed issue of equity, firms can enjoy better results while expanding the diversity of their senior leadership. Altogether, it’s a chance to make doing the right thing with talented women in the organization into the opportunity to develop the potential for a valuable and durable long-term competitive advantage.