Women have been climbing the leadership ranks of supply chain for several years, but more work needs to be done. In a survey released this summer by Gartner, women now make up 41% of the total supply chain workforce. At the frontline level, though, women make up only 31% of senior manager positions and 34% of managers/supervisors, up just one percentage point year-over-year in each category.
Significant gains were made in the C-Suite (CSCO, SVP, EVP, CPO), where 26% of roles are now filled by women, up from 19% in 2022. The 26% is an all-time high in the 8th Annual Women in Supply Chain Survey, and up significantly from 2019 when the number was in the single digits.
“It’s particularly encouraging to see women make gains at the senior executive level, as we know that when a woman holds the top supply chain position this has a positive correlation with more women in leadership and in all roles through that organization,” said Caroline Chumakov, director analyst in the Gartner Supply Chain Practice.
At SAP, elevating women into leadership roles is a primary mission, and it is headed up by Darcy MacClaren, chief revenue officer of SAP Digital Supply Chain. In an interview with Supply Chain Management Review at the CSCMP Edge 2023 conference in Orlando, MacClaren explained the goals behind SAP’s Empowering Women in Supply Chain group.
“We clearly have a diversity issue with women, both in the U.S. and globally,” she said. “We are missing out on a [great workforce].”
As a leader in SAP’s supply chain business, MacClaren was feeling the impact that lack of diversity was having, but it was when she spoke with other supply chain leaders that she realized “they all had the same issues.”
Identifying the root cause
The root causes are varied: lack of mentors, work-life balance, a lack of confidence, and organizations that don’t seek out participation from women, to name just a few. For MacClaren, though, she felt it came back to one concerning area: what companies looked for in employees.
“We had to change the way we recruited,” she said. That meant looking at different sources for the workforce, but also looking for candidates that matched the traits of the job more than having the requisite skills.
Traditionally, hiring is based on skills, but that goes back to the question that vexes many potential employees: How do I get experience if I can’t get a job to get the experience?
“We started looking for traits,” MacClaren said, adding that COVID has helped as it elevated the view of supply chain, and that has meant more women have become interested in supply chain careers.
“All of a sudden it was known and now we are finding talent,” she said. “Now people are getting into the field, into universities. It’s now about keeping them [engaged].”
SAP’s Empowering Women in Supply Chain group is about doing that. The group meets quarterly to discuss issues. A typical meeting, usually done virtually, features a guest speaker and then a panel discussion of women supply chain leaders. Olympic gold medalist Lindsay Vonn is an example of the type of outside leader the group brings in. The panelists often feature top women from SAP’s supply chain customers. The group, though, does not discuss SAP business and is open to anyone from inside or outside the SAP ecosystem.
“The only commitment is you have to have an interest in recruiting and promoting women in the supply chain,” MacClaren said. “It’s been very fulfilling for me and for the women in the supply chain.”
Areas of focus
While the group has been successful in promoting women in supply chain – MacClaren said SAP has seen an increase in women from 22% to 35% at the individual contributor level and up to 40% in leadership – there is still work to be done, specifically around retention.
“What we have to figure out is … what they are not getting [at the middle management level],” she said, noting that retention starts to drop off at that point. “It’s a huge, huge problem.”
MacClaren said that some concerns are the women don’t seek out or stay in these roles because they don’t believe they have the necessary skills, or they lack the confidence that they can do the job.
“I think a lot of it is confidence,” she said. “What I’ve found very effective is getting them to do something outside their comfort zone. [Let them know] that it’s okay to be uncomfortable.”
She advised companies to make sure mentors and sponsors are in place through programs such as the Women in Supply Chain group and others that can help build that confidence level. It’s also important to make sure women know it is okay to fail.
“People fail; the important thing is what did you learn from it,” MacClaren said.
She also suggested that when in meeting situations, women shouldn’t be afraid to speak up. For managers, if they see someone that looks like they want to contribute but is hesitant, they should seek out that person’s participation, either by calling on them during the meeting and giving them a platform to contribute or seeking their advice after the fact in a one-on-one setting.
Executive coaching can also help build up the confidence of women to feel empowered enough to contribute in such settings, MacClaren said.
“It’s a journey, not a destination,” she added. “It’s constantly building up.”
About the Author
Brian Straight is the Editor in Chief of Supply Chain Management Review. He has covered trucking, logistics and the broader supply chain for more than 15 years. He lives in Connecticut with his wife and two children. He can be reached at [email protected], @TruckingTalk, on LinkedIn, or by phone at 774-440-3870.
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