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Are Women an Untapped Source of Supply Chain Talent?

Feb. 12, 2015
The key attributes needed to be a supply chain professional are no different for men than for women. So why are so few women involved in the industry?

The numbers are distressing.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs in logistics are estimated to grow by 26% between 2010 and 2020, an average growth rate that is nearly twice as fast as 14% of all occupations.

And in Canada they are ringing alarm bells. By 2017 there will be approximately 360,000 supply chain job vacancies nationally, according to the Canadian Supply Sector Council.

While the shortage is caused by a number of factors—including retiring Baby Boomers, mismatched skills sets and issues of compensation—there does seems to be one bright spot: As women make up a low percentage of supply chain professionals, there is untapped potential.

Ann Ackerson, vice president, supply chain management worldwide for Dresser-Rand, told APICS that while there is a lack of women in the supply chain field, she does feel hopeful. "There are very few women in leadership roles, period, but the climate is definitely changing. You see more and more women in supply chain."

But some things will have to change to attract women to the field. One of the issues is compensation. In 2012, APICS found that in the United States men were paid 22% higher than women in equivalent job categories. Interestingly there were regional differences as well. In the Southeast women earn 28% less than men, in the Midwest that figure was 23% and in the Southwest it was 20%.

Another obstacle is that of the glass ceiling.

Janet Poeschl, vice president, supply chain, Pacific for Natural Foods, worked at Honeywell prior to her current position and told APICS that competition was very strong at Honeywell among women due to the lack of women in management positions. "As you looked up in the organization, women may have made up 30%, 40% at the planner-buyer level. But when you looked at the management level, it was maybe 20%. When you got to the vice president level, there were no women."

Yet another barrier to women entering the field is that of image.

Corrie Banks, president of Triskele Logistics Ltd., which is based in Calgary, says that the industry needs to focus on the high-tech aspect of the profession, such as advanced mapping, management systems and issues of change management, to attract women who seek that type of work experience. "We need to appeal also to the importance that the millennials place on the social conscious aspect of business by pointing out the role we play in creating a green supply chain."

To address these issues and recruit women, mentoring groups are being created. One such group, based in Canada, is the Women in Supply Chain initiative. Part of the Van Horne Institute, a public policy organization for the field, it is promoting supply chain management as a profession of choice.

"The key attributes needed to be successful in this industry are fundamentally no different for men than for women: hard work, high level of professionalism and education and/or strategic work experience," says Kleo Landucci, vice president of projects & development at Ashcroft Terminal. "Certainly the opportunities are there, and women can bring perspectives that add terrific value to more male-dominated environments. Being involved in this industry is exciting, ever-changing and ripe for innovative ideas."

Corrine Banks concurs and counsels women that this is an exciting field. "If you want a fascinating, fast-paced job, that is involved in all aspects of business, that changes all of the time and requires a problem-solver mentality, than this is the field for you."

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