The Glass Ceiling For Women In Procurement and Supply Chain – Myth or reality?

If the glass ceiling is a figment of our imaginations, why do so few women make it to the top? 

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This article was originally published on Jennifer Swain’s LinkedIn profile

There’s a lot of talk about the glass ceiling for women. Do they really exist and what can be done about it? I decided to really give this situation some thought to try to understand WHY there are so few females in Head Of or Director level roles within supply chain, procurement and logistics.

Traditional Logistics

Up until fairly recently there were certain industries / vocations that were considered either man’s work or women’s work. The stereotype twenty years ago that girls want to grow up to be Nurses and boys to work as Engineers is now very outdated to most.  But it’s legacy does still live on in some businesses.

Logistics definitely comes under the former stereotype of being a “man’s job” and still to this day this view point can be found in the culture of some warehouse operations.  Granted, the page 3 girls plastered on the walls may have disappeared for the main.

But, I have witnessed on occasion women with more talent being overlooked for opportunities, with an extreme case where I was asked by one company owner how old the woman was as he was concerned she was going to go and have children in the next 12 months and he would have to pay maternity!

Numbers game

Possible due to the lingering perception of point one, it is a fact that far fewer women than men enter into a profession in Logistics and Supply Chain in the first place. Obviously then, it stands to reason that if the ratio of men to women in entry level positions is heavily-weighted to the male of the species, that as you move up the career ladder this ratio will still apply.

Biology

 I preface this by saying that I am possibly the biggest feminist I know (to the chagrin of my other half sometimes) but I am also pragmatic and, having had 2 kids myself, do believe that, for most women, having kids brings with it a reassessment of what is important and the need to have a work / life balance.

I have a number of male counterparts who I worked with earlier in my career who reached Director level before me – not because they were better than me, but because they hadn’t taken 2 years out to have a family. Of course, there are  stay at home dads too but it is less common. Crucially, it should be a woman’s choice how they manage family and working life and society needs to make this easier.

Lack of Applications

When I advertise on ANY platform, the ratio of male to female applicants can be as much as 40:1.  Now I appreciate that part of this is down to point 2 above, however I also feel there is much more inertia on the part of women to push their careers forward.

I feel that some women believe it is not worth applying for certain roles as they think it would be a pointless exercise and their application would be overlooked if there is someone with very similar experience and skills also applying and who also happens to be male.

It has also become apparent to me that men and women view a job description in very different ways.  A man will look at a job specification and highlight all the things he CAN do, and apply for the role on the basis that he may tick 70 per cent of the boxes.  A woman will look at the same job description and look at all the things they CANNOT do and NOT apply because they don’t tick 30 per cent of the boxes.

Now this I know comes across as a sweeping generalisation – something I am always very wary of, but I personally cannot come up with any other explanation as to the lack of applications I get from women and I know you are out there as we are connected on LinkedIn!

So, these are the main reasons why I feel there may be restrictions in place to women achieving the upper echelons in business.  More importantly, what can we do about it?

Improve the Talent Pipeline

We need to get more women into procurement and logistics.  We need to raise awareness to young talent at college or university as to what an amazing career in procurement and supply chain can be.  If more females take entry level roles, it stands to reason that there will be more females climbing the career ladder.  Secondly, equalling out the gender ratios can only help eradicate any sexism still lingering in the industry, which again will assist in creating equality in promotion.

Help to Stamp Out Sexism and the Glass Ceiling

I do appreciate that sexism in the workplace is a rare occurrence these days. Most professionals of both sexes are accepting, progressive individuals who judge people on their skills and experience, not their gender. However sexism DOES still exist.  I have experienced first-hand and I know my experiences are not unique.

It can feel like a scary thing to do to stand up to those who display sexist behaviour but there are procedures in place and help available to assist anyone experiencing this type of discrimination.  At the risk of sounding like a self-help guru, if you don’t bring it to the attention of those who can do something about it, the glass ceiling situation will never get better, not just for you but for your successors.

Positive Mental Attitude

Cheesy maybe, but true!  This probably applies more to us ladies who are in male-dominant environment because we have to feel confident in our ability to push ourselves to move forward in what can sometimes feel like a hostile environment because of our minority status.

I welcome any application from people of any colour, race, religion or gender and if there are question marks around your suitability for an opportunity, this is something I will be happy to discuss with you and either put to bed any fears.

Procurious would love to hear your thoughts and comments on Jennifer’s article.  Is your procurement career being haltered by a glass ceiling?  Join the Bravo group  here to take part in the discussion.