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The Supply Chain Gender Gap

By APICS CEO Abe Eshkenazi, CSCP, CPA, CAE | 0 | 0 | August 29, 2014



Last December, when General Motors named Mary Barra its new chief executive, we at APICS celebrated the decision not only as a victory for women in C-level roles, but also for supply chain, as Barra headed this area in her former position. We encouraged the trend of companies recognizing supply chain as a competitive advantage and incorporating supply chain knowledge into key leadership positions.

However, the discussion of gender lines in supply chain is not as clear-cut. An article in Fortune caught my attention as well as several people’s on the Supply Chain Management Now team: “Want More Women in the C-Suite? Start with the Supply Chain.” Author Caroline Fairchild relays a sobering statistic from SCM World research—while 37 percent of students enrolled in supply chain courses are women, women only account for about 5 percent of top supply chain positions at Fortune 500 companies. Comparing this to the 15 percent of executive officer roles held by women at Fortune 500 companies reveals quite a bit of disparity.

The representation of women in top supply chain positions is nowhere near where it should be, says Beth Ford, executive vice president and chief supply chain and operations officer at Land O’Lakes. “At the same time, it could be viewed as tremendously exciting. The opportunities are there for women.”

Ford believes the demands of supply chain are partially responsible for the lack of women in leadership roles. She says taking responsibility for planning and production, traveling to sites, and spending time in the field can make it hard for those who also want to start a family. However, the importance of supply chain to businesses means more and more women are starting their educations with the field in mind.

Ford credits her career success to taking charge of her own professional development. She wants to move the conversation away from women being passive about accomplishments and instead about pushing for the right experiences. “Be mindful and own your decisions,” Ford says. “Be an active steward of your career and make decisions accordingly.”

Tackling the tough questions

At APICS, our mission is to advance the field of supply chain and operations management and ensure it is accessible to people of all genders and backgrounds. However, we also are well aware of the problems women face when taking on a supply chain career. According to the data generated in the APICS Operations Management Employment Outlook, women in supply chain still lag behind men in terms of salary by about 30 percent, though that figure varies based on factors such as education, demographics, and experience.

If you plan to attend APICS 2014 this year in New Orleans, consider visiting the panel, “Industry-Leading Women,” which follows on the success of last year’s panel in Orlando. Here, moderator Deb Hansford, CFPIM, CIRM, CSCP, will touch on areas of progress, recent discoveries, strategies for furthering women’s careers, and other questions raised by today’s article.

You can also join the discussion on one of our social media channels, where the article set off some interesting conversations last week. Access our LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and all of our social media pages here. And be one of the many people working to overcome the challenges to advancing the supply chain profession at APICS 2014, October 19–21, in New Orleans, Louisiana. Learn more at apicsconference.org

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