At the Jump Start 2020 supply chain conference, a diverse array of speakers will discuss current supply chain challenges and emerging trends. For women in the industry, one of the perennial issues is workplace advancement.
Heather Sheehan, executive director of AWESOME, knows a thing or two about advocating for female supply chain leaders. “Women have made progress in the supply chain field, but progress is slow, incremental and inconsistent,” she said. But during her time as the head of an organization that supports women transportation leaders, she’s seen the trend line inch up. In 2018, she explained, the number of women in C-suite positions increased, and while this year saw a decline in those percentages, the number of women employed at the director and vice-president level ticked up.
At AWESOME, Sheehan tries to address a single, overarching question in all of her work: “How can we make steady and significant progress across the spectrum of supply chain roles?” she asked. “As with many other traditionally male fields, women are typically outnumbered on their teams, access to female role models, mentors and sponsors is limited, and instances of gender bias – conscious or subconscious – still take place.”
During Jump Start 2020, Sheehan will discuss the increasing role of women in the supply chain industry, dissecting the current trends and discussing the work ahead.
She recently took the time to talk about these and other issues, providing a preview of her conference insights on the “Creating Exceptional Customer Experiences” panel, which will be held on the second day of the conference.
How has the perception of women in the supply chain changed in the past 5 years?
One of AWESOME’s priorities is to connect women leaders in supply chain to each other. Back in 2013, we scoured the industry and found approximately 200 women in senior leader positions. We now have a community of more than 1,400 senior women leaders. Not only are there more women leaders in supply chain, but they are more visible and more active as industry experts. These women serve as role models and sources of inspiration and encouragement, not only for young women coming up through supply chain ranks, but also to men throughout the field who are getting to work with and for women leaders.
The issues for many individual women are still the same: being recognized for their potential; getting sponsorship and mentorship to help them advance; overcoming unconscious bias and stereotypes; creating workplace environments that allow for success without regard to gender; and helping young women see supply chain as a field where they can thrive.
What are the main steps that supply chain organizations can take to be more inclusive?
An AWESOME/Gartner 2019 survey on women in the supply chain reached these conclusions about what works best for the organizations that responded:
- Supply chain organizations with goals and formalized initiatives report progress. Those without, don’t.
- Recruiting and integrated pipeline planning programs produce results for the largest number of supply chain organizations.
- Male leaders play an important role as mentors and sponsors.
In addition, AWESOME has held brainstorming sessions with top supply chain leaders and compiled “Seven Smart Moves to Make Bigger Waves for Women’s Leadership” with actions specifically recommended to help organizations become more inclusive. These actions include evaluating recruiting and promoting practices for possible gender bias and removing it; evaluating the environment and culture; and consciously developing women with high potential by giving them assignments where they can develop and prove their abilities.
We firmly believe that change won’t happen unless individual leaders take responsibility to start things in motion.
Have the wider discussions about workplace culture happening right now impacted the supply chain world?
Issues of how men and women interact in the workplace become less of an issue when top management is enlightened, observant and diligent. At our symposiums, we always have a panel of male leaders. Their involvement and their perspectives give us good reason to believe more men understand the imperative of recognizing women as capable colleagues and equal team members.
How do you work to get the word out about gender inclusivity in the supply chain industry?
Through our symposium, our regional events and our involvement with CSCMP and other groups, we’re able to reach a large audience. We have a dynamic website (www.awesomeleaders.org) and a weekly email program that provides news and insights to an even larger audience.