Profiles of notable supply chain executives
Each year, the Supply Chain Management Research Group publishes a survey called “Career Patterns in Logistics.” According to the results in 2006, only 11 percent of the logistics industry was comprised of women. Similarly, a 2012 report by Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute called “Untapped resource: How manufacturers can attract, retain, and advance talented women” surveyed 600 women across all levels of manufacturing. The document states that women “only comprise a quarter (24.8 percent) of the durable goods manufacturing workforce.”
The deficit of women in supply chain roles across all sectors is indisputable—and it is particularly true of women in executive positions. Historically, gender bias has excluded women from core managerial roles such as production supervisors and operations managers. And it is these positions that are key to preparing employees for top leadership roles within the industry. Clearly, if there is a rung missing from the ladder, that ladder is much harder to climb.
In 2012, APICS published its annual “APICS Operations Management Employment Outlook,” which included an in-depth analysis of salary across gender and job category. The report states, “Gender bias may exist for supply chain and operations management professionals. This is most striking in the Southeast, Midwest, and Southwest, where females earn 28 percent, 23 percent, and 20 percent less than their male counterparts on average.” The study continues: “For all job areas, compensation for males is approximately 22 percent higher than that of females in equivalent job categories.”
Across the board, women in the supply chain profession are not getting equal roles or salary. Yet, things are looking up. Profiled here are three supply chain executives who have created long-term and successful careers for themselves. They have served in operations, in managerial roles, as directors, and more. Each has worked her way up in various corporations to achieve the role of vice president.
Ann Ackerson, CPIM
Vice President Supply Chain
Ann Ackerson, CPIM, is responsible for Dresser-Rand’s global supply chain function. Supply chain within Dresser-Rand predominantly deals with procurement, and Ackerson’s position involves strategic sourcing, purchasing, and—most recently—transportation and logistics.
Ackerson has spent her entire career in supply chain management. Her first managerial role was at Amana Refrigeration in 1994, where she was responsible for managing product and supplies, finished goods inventory planning, distribution, and forecasting functions. While there, she also assisted the company with creating its first sales and operations plan.
Ackerson took a more operations-based position at Amana, where she was able to fill in gaps in her on-the-job skills. “I had read an article [in the 1990s] about how one of the challenges for women—especially women at the executive rank—was not getting enough operational experience,” she says. “I thought [Amana] would be good experience for me; I would be working as part of an operation.”
In the ensuing years, Ackerson took positions at Case Corporation, Hughes Space and Communications, and Boeing Satellite Systems before arriving at Dresser-Rand. Notably, every role she’s transitioned into during her career was attained through networking with former colleagues and friends.
When Ackerson was in college, very few women were in her transportation and logistics major. “However, my sister was a transportation and logistics major. That was what intrigued me initially,” she says. “I remember hearing how there were so many jobs. It was such a great feeling that the placement level was very high. That was very motivating to me.”
Ackerson remembers being at a training session while working at Hughes, and of the 100-or-so people in the room, she was only one of two women. “It was not at all uncommon,” she says. “There were not a lot of women in leadership roles then, but I have always chosen not to dwell on the gender aspect of it. In fact, I try in the workplace to de-emphasize it.”
While Ackerson acknowledges the lack of women in the supply chain field, she does feel hopeful. “There are very few women in leadership roles, period, [but the climate] is definitely changing. You see more and more women in supply chain.”
Vice President of Product Management
At Elemica, a technology company, Hane is responsible for understanding market requirements and communicating to the development organizations what products should do and by when they should do it. In her position, Hane gathers, prioritizes, and explains requirements to an audience of technologically advanced people who otherwise might not have a business understanding of what a solution needs to achieve and how the end user is going to apply the technology to solve problems. “I work with a variety of different customers, a variety of different needs,” Hane says. “It’s very dynamic, and I like that.”
Like Ackerson, the vast majority of Hane’s career has had a supply chain component. Hane has a master’s degree in industrial engineering and first started in a manufacturing plant working for Hallmark Cards as an industrial engineer. She worked at a logistics and supply chain technology company for eight years, holding a variety of roles including consulting and implementing the company’s supply chain solutions. From there, Hane spent six years in third-party logistics in numerous roles before taking on her current position at Elemica.
Hane says she hasn’t felt that being a woman has hindered her career at all. She explains that the specialized skill set needed for certain positions in the supply chain has been the biggest roadblock. At the technology company Hane worked for, the majority of people in the leadership positions were women. “It was certainly not uncommon [to see women in these roles], and it gave me a sense of security that this is really a nonissue. I didn’t see any roadblocks there at all, nor do I now.”
However, she also hasn’t seen many women consistently filling leadership positions. “I didn’t see much change in the five or six years I was in third-party logistics. It was a low percentage to begin with; it was a low percentage when I left.”
Hane believes getting more talent and more women involved in the supply chain might be most helpful at entry level. “If we’re really serious about creating a stronger pipeline of female candidates for some supply chain roles, then we need to evaluate and maybe address getting women and younger women fresh from school into operations positions,” she says. “We could help our younger colleagues create more opportunities by guiding them into these kinds of operations roles.”
Janet Poeschl, CPIM, CIRM, CSCP
Vice President Supply Chain
Pacific Natural Foods
Janet Poeschl, CPIM, CIRM, CSCP, manages a team responsible for planning, purchasing, warehousing, inbound-and-outbound logistics activities, outsourcing, product management, and demand management. She has been working at Pacific Natural Foods for three-and-a-half years, and it is her first vice president role.
When Poeschl started at Pacific Natural Foods, she was the first person to serve as director of supply chain. The individuals on the supply chain team previously reported to the vice president of operations. “At no point in the company’s history has anyone on the operations side had any supply chain-specific experience,” Poeschl says. They tended to come out of operations or out of engineering. “They had a really good idea of our plants and equipment, but they were not subject matter experts on planning or purchasing,” she says. When Poeschl started, it was the first time Pacific Foods had created a separate department specifically to manage supply chain activity.
The majority of Poeschl’s career in supply chain was spent at Honeywell, going back to 1996, when she graduated from business school. She spent about a decade at Honeywell in various supply chain roles. After Honeywell, Poeschl relocated to Oregon and soon began her position at Pacific Natural Foods.
While completing her undergraduate degree at Northwestern University, Poeschl recalls that close to half the students in the industrial engineering program were female. “I was in school with a pretty large female contingency, and then it declined,” she says. “When I actually went into the workforce and was working as an engineer, there were fewer women, [but] the women who were there were the best of the best.”
Poeschl also remembers the small number of women in her operations program during her time at Carnegie Mellon’s business school. “There was not a large percentage of women, and it was much smaller particularly in my concentration of operations,” she says. “It was probably more male-dominated, but again, the women in the program were brilliant.”
During her time at Honeywell, she says her hiring manager in the management development program made a concerted effort to hire women. “There was a good percentage of women [employees],” Poeschl says. “We had the same opportunities as the men, and women performed very well.”
However, Poeschl says that females were very competitive with each other at Honeywell, in part because there were fewer women at the manager and executive levels. “As you looked up in the organization, [women] may have made up 30, 40 percent at the planner-buyer level. But when you looked at the management level, it was maybe 20 percent,” she says. “When you got to the vice president level, there were no women.”
Poeschl is intent on success—gender disparity aside. “When I come to work, I want to be known as the person who does the best job,” she says. “What has developed me into the person I am … is learning from the best. If the best leaders were women, I learned from them. If the best leaders were men, I learned from them.”
She feels strongly that qualifications matter most—regardless of gender. “We’re going to hire the best.”
According to the “APICS Operations Management Employment Outlook,” the supply chain industry is working to reduce gender bias in salary compensation. The survey has found that, in doing so, pay scales for younger employees have been more consistent and equal.
Likewise, a Daily Beast article from January entitled “Investing in Women Emerges as a Business Strategy” notes that there have been drastic measures taken by companies to introduce more women into the corporate structure of their supply chains. The article cites Coca-Cola, whose executives recently developed a program to incorporate 5 million more women across every sector of its business operations by the year 2020.
There also have been other initiatives, conferences, and panels to foster growth and gender equality in supply chain industries. The Manufacturing Institute, Deloitte, the University of Phoenix, and the Society of Manufacturing Engineers recently began an initiative called the STEP Ahead program, which targets women in science, technology, engineering, and production (STEP) careers. The curriculum aims to analyze and promote roles for women in manufacturing using recognition, research, education, and leadership.
This past January, the Van Horne Institute in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, held its first-annual Engage! Women in Supply Chain Conference. Both men and women were encouraged to attend to hear presentations from supply chain professionals about trends and to discuss the advancement of women in all areas of supply chain. And, in recent years, Logistics Quarterly has published the “Women in Supply Chain Management Panel,” with executive interviews and networking resources.
The number of growing resources shows an optimistic view of the future of supply chain and operations management. As industry leaders continue to employ and create opportunities for qualified candidates, gender aside, these success stories will multiply.
Ingrid Ostby is a freelance writer based in Brooklyn, New York. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.