Shattering Glass Ceilings: Insights from Top Women in Supply Chain
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Women have been making their mark in supply chain, logistics, and eCommerce, breaking down barriers and paving the way for future generations of female professionals. Despite their significant contributions, women are still underrepresented in the industry.
According to the annual Women in Supply Chain Survey conducted by Gartner, women make up only 39% of the total supply chain workforce. The number declines further for minority women. And when we peel back the layers and look at the number of women in executive vice president and C-suite roles, the number stands at a mere 15%.
The reason for the huge gap in numbers?
Women in supply chain face a number of challenges – pay disparity, lack of support, difficulty in building a network of guides and mentors to lean on, self-esteem issues, problems achieving work-life balance, and more. For example, women in supply chain earn 87 cents for every dollar earned by men.
Additonally, the pandemic has exacerbated some of the issues women face. 43% of survey respondents reported that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a negative impact on the retention and advancement of women, with many mid-career women leaving their positions due to a lack of career advancement opportunities.
As we celebrate International Women’s Day, it’s important to recognize the achievements of women in supply chain and the progress made toward gender equality in the industry. However, it’s equally important to acknowledge the work that still needs to be done to achieve true equality.
We spoke to several trailblazing women in the space who have navigated tough waters and achieved remarkable success in their careers. Their responses provide insights into the challenges women encounter and the progress we have collectively made in overcoming them. They offer actionable advice on how we can restructure our organizations and teams to nurture women’s participation. Most importantly, they address the biggest challenge – how can we get over our own insecurities and low self-esteem to rise to our full potential
- 1 Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
- 2 Embracing Self Confidence
- 3 Never Stop Learning
- 4 Lean Into Your Community
- 5 Final Thoughts
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
A McKinsey report revealed that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 25 percent more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile. Although correlation is not causation, the findings of the report support the fact that increasing female representation positively impacts financial performance; making a strong case for growing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) initiatives.
Supriya Iyer, Director, Global Networking Supply Chain & Commercial Operations, Google
“The obstacles facing women in the supply chain arena are not dissimilar to the challenges faced by women in other industries and functions. Supply Chain and Operations functions in many organizations often do not get the same credit, respect and recognition for solving complex challenges and adding business value when compared to other functions.“
So this brings forth the question – how can companies successfully implement DE&I initiatives to increase the representation of women in supply chain?
In many organizations, DE&I initiatives have become complex projects where success is reliant on achieving equally complex metrics. While tracking metrics and implementing established processes is commendable, we need to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. At the end of the day, we are trying to achieve a straightforward goal – to increase diversity and create an inclusive environment.
Rather than overcomplicate the goal, we need to follow three simple rules:
1. Be more accepting of diverse thoughts and perspectives
2. Intentionally seek to add more diverse perspectives to the team
3. Hold leaders accountable for delivering diversity
Sandra MacQuillan, Chief Supply Chain Officer, Mondelez International
“We completely over-complicate diversity and spend more time measuring the metrics rather than holding senior management accountable for delivering diversity in its many shapes and forms including gender, ethnicity, and style. We just need to make it happen and take risks.”
Actively increasing female representation in leadership roles
The lack of female representation in leadership roles can lead to a lack of role models and mentors for women, making it difficult for them to see themselves in key leadership positions.
Maia Benson, Managing Director, Forum Ventures
“Women currently in supply chain look around the room and don’t see many people like them. They see even fewer in leadership positions. These facts can seem like obstacles, but I hope women choose to see the opportunity.”
To ensure that more women join the workforce, organizations need to actively recruit women in key leadership positions. This will encourage young women to view supply chain and logistics as a growing, welcoming field. As a result, they would be keen to look for opportunities and openings in the industry.
Megan Evert, SVP Operations, Flexe
“Supply chain remains a male-dominated industry, and this lack of representation makes it hard for women to see themselves in key leadership roles. This reinforces the concept of ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’ and is why it’s incredibly important for women to feel welcomed and that they belong in this industry. We must work to support, promote and champion women at every level.”
Fostering a culture of inclusivity
Creating an inclusive work culture is vital, but it isn’t as easy as it sounds. The first step to creating an inclusive environment is understanding and addressing the different challenges women face at varying levels of the organization. Some of the most common challenges include:
1. Lack of flexibility at work
2. Increasing domestic responsibilities
3. Shortage of career advancement and development opportunities
4. Difficulty in finding the right mentors and support group
5. Pay disparity
Women often have to work harder than men to achieve equal success, and flexible working environments that allow women to thrive both professionally and personally are still heavily overlooked.
Ilham Smaali, VP Global Manufacturing, The Estée Lauder Companies Inc.
“Creating an inclusive work environment requires integrating flexibility at work, career paths that allow women in their early career stage to explore different fields in the supply chain, and pragmatic enablers such as nurseries in the factories, technical trainings to shift path, and clear understanding on how women can be supported in their ambition without it becoming a compromise in their work-life balance.
The second step to weaving inclusion into the very fabric of the organization is coming to terms with the fact that it has to become a part of the company’s culture. It’s the responsibility of the leadership to define and uphold the company’s shared core values and principles. And upholding the company culture is everyone’s responsibility – whether you are a member of the board of directors or a warehouse associate.
Marina Mayer, Content Director, AC Business Media
“Inclusion starts at the top and trickles down, but it also starts at the bottom and works its way up. It’s a company-wide effort; all hands-on deck. Continued company culture education is key.”
Creating an inclusive environment doesn’t stop at company culture. To ensure that the core values of inclusion are put to practice, organizations should formulate policies to support inclusivity. Simple addition to existing policies, such as family leaves and flexible working times go a long way.
Christiane Ohin-Traoré, Founder-President, Women in Logistics – Africa (WILA)
“Inclusiveness is a necessity for sustainable development. To foster inclusion, one of the actions is to put in place policies that will not only allow women to work safely but also provide more opportunities for leadership roles in the sector.
Enhance engagement of women leaders in events and conferences
To work towards better representation and greater inclusivity, it’s essential to purposefully increase the participation of women at events. Seeing a large number of women attend and speak at these events and conferences will encourage budding female professionals to participate as well. Moreover, it will ensure that diverse voices and perspectives are heard and amplified.
Jennifer Kobus, VP Transportation & Logistics at Ulta Beauty
Today’s leaders need to further engage with tomorrow’s innovators and CSCOs – inspire the next generation by taking time to participate in collegiate opportunities such as panels, guest lectures, and more. Show future leaders more leaders who look like them in action – and be accessible to them. Secondly, we need to diversify attendees, panelists and speakers at all industry conferences and events – across many demographics.
Embracing Self Confidence
Sometimes, women are their own worst enemies. After hearing countless stories from women in the industry and from my own experiences, I have come to realize one important thing – women suffer from serious self-esteem and confidence issues. They are afraid to raise their hand, they are afraid to speak up in meetings, they are afraid to ask for promotions that they deserve… The list goes on.
Lisa Costello, Platform Manager, Prologis Ventures
“The biggest obstacle faced by women in this environment is finding our voice once we earn a seat at the table where we are often outnumbered. That’s why I find mentors, especially for women early in their career, to be critically important.”
Learning to communicate better
Women are the epitome of self-sacrifice. They often put the needs of others, whether it’s family or colleagues, before themselves leading to burnout.
The first step to embracing self-confidence is to learn to communicate effectively. This includes being open and honest about one’s needs and priorities. In addition to advocating for oneself in the workplace, it’s also important for women to communicate openly about their passions and goals with their loved ones. It is important to involve partners and children in organizing family life while respecting everyone’s need for a fulfilling life. This could include sharing one’s love for their job and discussing how work and family life can be balanced in a way that benefits everyone.
By communicating openly with loved ones about one’s needs and priorities, women can create more supportive and fulfilling personal environments. This, in turn, can help support and sustain their professional endeavors.
Françoise Chombar, Chairwoman, MELEXIS
“Communicate openly about how you love what you do as a job, with your partner, kids, parents and in-laws! Involve your partner and kids in organizing family life respecting every family member’s need for a fulfilling life.”
Women in the supply chain industry need to understand the importance of open communication and advocating for their needs. They should not be afraid to ask for what they need, and they should do so as early as possible. Waiting until there are no other options may result in missed opportunities.
And as the Gartner survey pointed out, one of the reasons mid-career women often leave the industry is the rise in domestic and childcare responsibilities. In such instances, one of the things women can do is take advantage of the inclusive environment being created. The onus lies on us to advocate and ask for the support we need
Shub Faujdar, Global Head Training and Development at Alcott Global
“Ask for what you need while still progressing in your career. We are also in a time when organizations are more aware of creating a more inclusive environment and we need to make the most of it.”
Embracing a growth mindset
The supply chain industry is a dynamic and ever-evolving sector, and having a growth mindset is an essential trait for women who want to thrive in this industry. A growth mindset means embracing challenges, being open to learning, and continuously seeking ways to improve oneself. Women should not shy away from taking on new roles, as this can help them develop new skills, broaden their perspective, and unlock new opportunities.
Alicemarie Geoffrion, President, Packaging, DHL Supply Chain North America
“Always be willing to take on new roles to expand your skillset. Never be afraid to raise your hand for the most challenging assignments.”
Take ownership of your career
Taking ownership will offer women the opportunity to carve the direction of their career. It starts with a deep understanding of one’s own goals, values, and strengths. Women should take the time to assess their current skills and experience, identify areas for growth and improvement, and set clear and achievable goals for themselves. This may involve pursuing additional education or training, seeking out new challenges and experiences, or taking on leadership roles within their organization.
Jennifer Kobus, VP Transportation & Logistics, Ulta Beauty
“Women should take control and set their own plan, surround themselves with confidants, mentors, and advocates who will help support them along their journey.”
Kristi Montgomery, VP Innovation, Research & Development, Kenco Group
“There are so many female senior leaders in our industry today and more opportunities than ever, so it is time to take ownership of your own career, learn what is needed, build a network of supporters, find a mentor, assess your strengths and find those career options that capitalize on them.”
It’s crucial for women to take charge of their own careers and set their own goals and plans. Instead of waiting for opportunities to come to them, they should actively seek out opportunities and take control of their own destiny. This means taking ownership of their career development, identifying areas of growth and improvement, and setting goals that align with their values and aspirations.
Tara Conway, Supply Chain Executive
“Don’t wait for someone to ask you to step up, don’t wait for anyone else to define roadmap, and when you ask yourself the question “Can I?” immediately re-order those words and tell yourself “I can!” and then do it.”
Promoting oneself for opportunities can be a game-changer for women in their professional lives. While some may worry that this is self-serving or egotistical, the reality is that self-promotion is a necessary step in building a successful career. By nominating themselves for opportunities and demonstrating their abilities, women can make a powerful impact in their field and inspire others to do the same.
Sharing stories and celebrating wins
Sarah Barnes-Humphrey, Founder, Let’s Talk Supply Chain
“Women need to celebrate themselves and their wins.”
Celebrating successes is one important way for women to build confidence and inspire others. Whether it’s a big promotion or a small victory, taking the time to acknowledge and celebrate accomplishments can be a powerful source of motivation and encouragement. And in the supply chain industry, where women may face unique challenges, celebrating wins can be especially important for building a supportive and inclusive community.
And it all starts with sharing our stories. Women need to cultivate the art of story-telling in their skillset. By translating challenges and successes into stories, women can rally not only other women to support their cause, but also other members of the organization.
Christiane Ohin-Traoré, Founder-President, Women in Logistics – Africa (WILA)
“We need to share our stories and celebrate our successes because it helps to inspire and encourage the next generation of women in the supply chain industry. We need to be visible and vocal about our achievements and the challenges we have overcome.”
Imposter syndrome is a common feeling among women and can prevent them from reaching their full potential. It is the feeling of being inadequate, despite evidence of success and competence. Women tend to experience imposter syndrome more frequently than men, which can hinder their progress in the workplace and in life. To combat these feelings of inadequacy, women should remind themselves of their past successes and accomplishments. This can help build confidence and remind them that they can achieve great things. It is essential to reprimand the inner voice that tells them they are imposters and to focus on the evidence of their success.
Maria Pia de Caro, EVP Global Operations at Pernod Ricard
“The one challenge women have is a very loud inner voice that reminds us we are impostors, no matter how hard we studied and practiced being where we are. I would want to encourage my sisters in the allyship to reprimand this voice, reminding her that we made it in the past and that we are going to make it again and again.”
Embrace your natural leadership
Embracing your natural leadership style is an important aspect of success in any industry, including the supply chain industry. Women should focus on carving out their area of expertise and using their unique strengths to their advantage. This includes transparent communication and emotional intelligence (EQ), which are essential skills for effective leadership.
Elizabeth Walsh, Chief Marketing Officer, Logiwa
“Know who you are authentically as a leader. Trying to lead like someone else never felt true to me. Having that North Star has helped me build high-performing teams, develop valuable relationships, and make important decisions I could stand behind.”
It’s important for women to recognize that their natural leadership style may differ from that of their male counterparts. However, this does not mean that it is any less effective. Women bring a unique perspective to the table and can use this to their advantage in the workplace. Play to your strengths – whether it’s communication, empathy or higher emotional intelligence.
Lisa Morales-Hellebo, Founder & Co-Managing General Partner at ReFashionD Ventures
“For women to succeed in this industry, they should follow the same advice to be successful in any industry – carve out your area of expertise and embrace your natural leadership through transparent communication and EQ.”
Courtney Muller, Chief Corporate Development Officer, Connectiv
“Women are more capable than they think. Embrace challenges outside of your comfort zone and strive for success. Help other women by mentoring and sponsoring them, and push for their potential.“
Never Stop Learning
Women leaders have carved their niche in the industry by building strong networks, receiving guidance from mentors, and prioritizing learning, personal growth, and development.
Having a growth mindset means accepting failures and learning from them. Women should view failures as opportunities to learn and grow, rather than as reasons to quit. They should be open to feedback, embrace challenges, and take calculated risks to improve their skills and advance their careers.
Michaela Wallin, Competence Lead Customer Fulfillment Americas – H&M
“Be curious, ask questions and most importantly make mistakes! It’s ok to fail! It’s how you learn from them that will make you stronger.”
Dr. Joan Cullinane, VP Supply Chain, Manufacturing & Operations, Oracle
“Continuous learning is key in the ever-evolving supply chain industry. Don’t stand still as disruptions won’t either. Understanding the complexity of global supply chains is essential, as there is no one-size-fits-all approach. And most importantly, have fun!”
Adapt new technology
In the supply chain industry, emerging technologies are becoming increasingly crucial, and it’s essential to stay up-to-date with them. Women should immerse themselves in learning about these technologies and explore how they can be applied within their area of focus. Understanding these technologies will not only keep them ahead of the curve but will also enable them to deliver innovative solutions that meet the ever-changing needs of customers.
Jennifer Polli, Managing Director and Senior Operating Partner at ITE Management
“As the supply chain industry has evolved and become more digital, extraordinary opportunities for women to enter and flourish in roles such as operations, finance, engineering, and technology have exploded. Curiosity and hard work remain the keys to success in any career.”
Make data your friend
To excel in the supply chain industry, women need to equip themselves with a powerful tool – data. The importance of data cannot be overstated in this field, where informed decision-making is critical to success. Women who arm themselves with relevant and up-to-date data can make well-informed decisions that set them apart from their peers.
When presenting their ideas or proposals, having concrete data to back them up can give women the confidence they need to make their voices heard. It also enables them to make a stronger case for their proposals and increases the likelihood of their ideas being implemented.
Parisa Sadrzadeh, SVP of SMB Product & Technology, Flexport
“When I brought the data, people of all levels listened, and that slowly gave me the confidence to speak up amongst the loud voices and be heard.”
Lean Into Your Community
Community forms a strong network of support for women in the industry. From mentors and inspiring leaders to like-minded peers undergoing the same challenges, community fosters a sense of solidarity and belonging. That’s why it is so crucial for women to build, be a part of, and lean into a community of their own.
Build a personal board of directors & grow your network
Building a personal board of directors and growing one’s network is essential for women in the supply chain industry. It’s all about finding mentors, sponsors, champions, and accountability partners who genuinely want to see you succeed, investing in these relationships, and building a supportive network.
One of the best ways to build a personal board of directors is by seeking out respected leaders in the industry and asking for their mentorship. Learning from experienced leaders can provide valuable insights into the industry and help one develop their skills.
This network can also serve as a source of encouragement and motivation during difficult times. Finding a mentor who can offer guidance and support is especially important for women who may lack role models or have limited access to senior leaders in their field. A mentor can provide valuable advice, offer a different perspective, and help women navigate the challenges and obstacles they may face in their careers.
Claire Macintyre, Senior Vice President Human Resources Global Value Chain and Global Corporate Functions, The Estée Lauder Companies Inc.
I am a strong believer that we need to create the conditions for women to be successful. I also believe women in supply chain need to use each other as sounding boards and lean on each other for “real talk.” You need to care enough to deliver honest feedback to women at all stages of their careers.
Amy Morgan, VP, Head of Trade Compliance, Altana Technologies
While more women are entering our industry, they represent less than a quarter of VP-level positions in the average supply chain organization. Make a concerted effort to connect with, support, and promote other women.
Give back through mentorship
Women need to lean on each other to move forward. Those in leadership positions can help other women by mentoring them and guiding them in the right direction. Connect them with the right set of resources and training to help them advance their careers.
Sandra MacQuillan, Chief Supply Chain Officer, Mondelez International
“Keep the door open and the ladder down for all those who follow, which basically means we need to share our success and support each other NOT compete with each other as women or even as humans.“
Kristi Montgomery, VP Innovation, Research & Development at Kenco Group
“Women who are in leadership have a responsibility to give back – to find up-and-coming female leaders and help coach and mentor them as they move along their career paths. Open doors for them and provide visibility to senior leadership for them,”
How Can We Support Women In Supply Chain?
Women play a vital role in developing their future in the industry. But for true, long-lasting change to take place, initiatives must be taken up at a much broader scale. In addition to investing in DE&I, companies need to undertake efforts focusing on increasing the representation, training, upskilling and development of women.
Beth Morgan, Founder & CEO, boom!
“Women play can play an important role in role modelling what future careers can look like, especially for women just starting out. But to be truly successful, the help to drive this change must come from everyone, not just women.”
Promote career opportunities
To promote inclusivity in the supply chain industry, it is important to break down stigmas around the industry and highlight the wide range of new skill sets that the industry needs. This can be done by educating young women about supply chain careers through outreach programs and partnerships.
Industry leaders suggest that offering educational workshops for high school students around advancements and new technologies in the supply chain sector can create interest in learning and innovating in the industry. This can create a pipeline of young talent seeking opportunities and internships while in college, leading to more applicants applying for jobs.
Lise Birikundavyi, Managing Partner, BKR Capital
“The supply chain industry is one that is rapidly growing and evolving. It needs a wide range of new skill sets. From logistics to procurement/sourcing, technology systems, QA, packaging, and much more, there are plenty of opportunities for talented women leaders to break into that traditionally male-dominated space, contribute effectively and have a strong positive impact.”
Providing access to training and skill-building programs
Supply chain professionals require a range of skills and knowledge to manage the complex global supply chains of today. Providing industry-recognized certifications and developing in-depth experience in key aspects of supply chain management can help women stand out in the industry.
Encouraging women to pursue technical studies, particularly in STEM fields, and creating opportunities for them to learn and develop their skills is also essential. For example, companies can offer scholarships or internships to women pursuing technical degrees.
Priscilla Sauceda, Director of Talent Management & Employee Experience, Cart.com
“Training and development opportunities support the career development of women in the industry. Companies should identify leadership, technical skills, and industry trends training. Training benefits all employees, male and female alike.”
A method of how women can help increase representation is to develop in-house apprenticeships within their company. These apprenticeships will serve as a way to recruit and train from within.
Nova Lorraine, Advisory Board Member at Metaverse Fashion Council
“Developing in-house apprenticeships within companies can also serve as a way to recruit and train women from within the organization, further increasing representation in leadership positions.”
Giving women a seat at the table
We first need to recognize and acknowledge the contributions women are making at work. Recognition boosts their self-esteem, motivating them to take on more challenging roles and act as a beacon for others.
Lindsay Lorusso, CEO at Nundik
“Let’s recognize those innovative women who are revolutionizing these fields with their ideas, as well as provide flexible working environments for them to thrive both professionally and personally – something that is still heavily overlooked today.”
The lack of female representation in leadership positions can deter young women from entering the space. It also has a negative impact on the existing workforce. By offering women a seat at the table, companies can actively work on improving representation throughout. Moreover, women leaders would be the amplifiers of other female voices in the organization, making sure different perspectives are heard.
Julie Arington, Director, Organizational Transformation, Barret Distribution Centres, Inc
“Most women are natural collaborators and problem solvers so get them into the right rooms, practice inclusive leadership and make sure your employees aren’t scared to fail or try new things.”
Let’s take a moment to reflect on the inspiring women we’ve learned from and the progress that has been made towards gender equality in the supply chain, logistics, and e-commerce industries. It’s amazing to see women breaking down barriers and paving the way for future generations of female professionals.
But it’s important to remember that the work is not done. Women still face challenges in the industry, including underrepresentation in senior leadership roles and pay disparities. As a woman myself, it’s inspiring to see these trailblazing women leading the charge and pushing for change. Their stories and insights have not only shed light on the path towards gender equality in these industries but also inspired me to continue pushing for progress and change in my own career.
So, let’s continue to support and lift each other up as women and as humans, recognize the inequalities and work to address them, and strive towards creating a more diverse and inclusive industry for all. Together, we can break through the remaining barriers and create a future where gender equality is the norm.
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