Should supply chains, and organisations as a whole, be working harder to bring more women into senior roles?
Recent headlines, research and reports have firmly placed the spotlight on the subject of gender equality. The hack of Sony communications earlier this year very publicly lifted the lid on the lack of equality in salaries for world-famous actors and actresses.
It led to Jennifer Lawrence writing a passionate article on her feelings upon finding out how much less she was being paid than her male co-stars.
Procurement and supply chain are just a couple amongst a multitude of professions in which women are fighting for equality, not just in wages, but also promotion opportunities and organisational responsibilities.
The Business Landscape
Women constitute more than half of the total global workforce, but the figures are much lower when it comes to their presence in the boardrooms of the large organisations. Although recent reports in the UK showed that 26.1 per cent of boardroom positions on the FTSE 100 are held by women, overall there are just 10 per cent of top supply chain executive positions in Fortune Global 500 companies held by women.
Why is this?
There is some evidence that it can be down to perceptions of the roles. Research conducted by SCM World found that the majority of men (63%) and women (75%) believe that the natural skillsets of women differ from those of men, and that these differences are advantageous for supply chain management.
However, other research suggests that women are actually better equipped than their male counterparts for roles within the supply chain. Leaving aside the idea that women think less of themselves, what could be other reasons.
Held to Higher Account?
In many cases, female executives are both better qualified and better educated than male peers. A report from the American Management Association showed that:
- Women are 33 per cent more likely to earn a college degree than men
- 36 per cent of women (versus 28 per cent of men) in leadership positions hold STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) degrees
- Female executives attended colleges and graduate schools that were ranked higher on average than the schools attended by men
In spite of this, it has been suggested that female CEOs may actually be held to a higher standard than male leaders, which causes them to be passed over and left behind when advancement opportunities arise.
Just 4.8 per cent of Fortune 500 CEOs are women and only 1.1 per cent earn $150,000 or more per year, compared with 4 per cent of men.
Women in Supply Chain
And this is where organisations are missing a trick. Attracting and retaining women within the supply chain sector is a realistic, common sense solution to many countries’ human resources challenges.
Add to this the fact that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15 per cent more likely to have financial returns above their industry median, and you are looking at a recipe for success.
The benefits are further extolled in this webinar from Kinaxis and supported by Women In Supply Chain (WISC).
In the Real World
The imbalance is borne out when considered against industries and sectors in the UK, but, according to some members of the Procurious community, there may be a change occurring, however slowly.
Helen Mackenzie, Head of Exchequer Services at Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, argued that procurement and supply chain aren’t that different from other professions. Traditionally, and still in some areas, women still have to appear to be 20 times better than their male counterparts in order to progress.
However, the balance is shifting in Scottish Local Government, where 17 of 32 Heads of Procurement are female. Helen also went on to say that expectations of procurement are shifting, which could play into the hands of women, as the profession focuses more on trust, relationship building and communication, something that women often have the edge over their male counterparts.
Juliet Frost, a freelance procurement expert, also hasn’t experienced any discrimination where she has worked, although pointed out that only once has she worked in an organisation where there was a female above her in the hierarchy.
From Juliet’s point of view, it’s important to work for an organisation that values diversity across the board, not just gender related. This will permeate into the procurement team and allow for a greater balance.
Procurious GM, Lisa Malone, believes that the issue for many women is not just balancing motherhood with work, but returning to work full-time after a long period away from the workforce.
Women are joining the supply chain profession in almost equal numbers now, Lisa says, but the numbers drop off in the early-30s demographic, usually associated with family raising. It’s important for organisations to help these women return to the workforce and get back on a career trajectory.
Some organisations are now actively helping women (and men in some cases too) return to the workforce after an extended, voluntary career break. These ‘returnship’ programmes (a term trademarked by Goldman Sachs) are higher-level paid internships, offering flexible working over a 10-12 week period, often alongside free childcare and mentoring for returnees.
Organisations including Deloitte, JP Morgan and RBS all offer similar programmes – you can find a good list here. The programmes have been credited with helping to bring women back into work, with a good percentage of women offered full-time roles once their ‘returnships’ have concluded.
We’ll leave the last word to Women in Supply Chain, with this infographic on how they suggest addressing the growing labour shortage in supply chain management in Canada.
It just makes sense, doesn’t it?