The supply chain management profession is evolving rapidly. The field is garnering a new place in the spotlight, and boasts one of the most lucrative and dynamic career paths for ambitious, college-educated, young professionals—a significant shift from 15 years ago when it was barely noticed by universities, job seekers or the C-suite.
Those pursuing supply chain careers need to understand not only their organization’s supply chain, but those of their customers, vendors and suppliers as well. Few organizational functions require this breadth of knowledge and employers are making significant investments in training to keep up. However, despite the best efforts of educators and employers, fast growth resulted in a talent gap in the field. Supply chain jobs are becoming increasingly critical to the manufacturing industry with the manufacturing sector alone facing an estimated 2 million worker shortfall throughout the next decade.
Many universities are now offering undergraduate and master’s programs to fill this void and, in 2012, 97 percent of MIT supply chain master’s students were offered one or more jobs by graduation with a median salary of $150,000. Not only is finding qualified individuals difficult for companies, but keeping them is also becoming increasingly tough. With this situation, it’s difficult to understand why employers are not putting more effort into recruiting and retaining qualified women. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and as noted in the recent Women in Manufacturing Study commissioned by The Manufacturing Institute, APICS and Deloitte, women account for 47 percent of the total workforce and make up a mere 27 percent of the manufacturing workforce.
Women earn more money than their male counterparts upon entering their careers, but as they cross the 30-year-old threshold, men surpass them in terms of earning and career progression even though women remain engaged as full-time employees. Despite women’s competitive starting salary, few women surveyed felt like their employers were doing enough to attract and retain women. Two-thirds of respondents indicated that their companies do not have active recruitment programs to attract potential female employees, and only one-third of those surveyed believe that their company is good at recruiting, retaining and developing talented women. The study cited poor working relationships, lack of promotion opportunities and low earnings as the primary motivators for women to leave the manufacturing sector. In contrast, options that make jobs better for everyone, such as meaningful work, promotion opportunities and flexibility, were important to the women surveyed.
This is a concern for a multitude of reasons. For one, women represent manufacturing’s largest pool of untapped talent, earning more than half of the associate, bachelor and master’s degrees across the U.S. work force. Additionally, diversity of any kind increases competitiveness and innovation for a firm. For example, Fortune 500 companies with high percentages of women officers have a 35 percent higher return on equity and a 34 percent higher total return than companies with fewer female executives.
So where do we begin? How can we diversify not only the manufacturing industry, but also the supply chain management function? To start, we can focus on recruiting from the entirety of the supply chain talent pool rather than a subset of it. Supply chain is an excellent career path, and we need to highlight its many benefits and the exciting growth opportunities it offers. Jobs in supply chain can be positioned to attract not only more women to the profession, but also more people as a whole, including the Millennial generation.
Examining a company’s policy on recruitment, retention and maintaining diversity within the organization is a good place to start. Only by taking the time to scope out the protocols can efforts be made to improve on the existing (or non-existing, for that matter) approaches to gender diversity. Is inclusion a policy that is pursued with purpose? If so, how? Once hired, do you have programs in place to foster and develop talented women?
For a company to answer these questions and implement initiatives, the C-suite needs to be on board. To realize the benefits of a diverse work culture, these values must be ingrained in a company, starting at an executive level and flowing through the organization. Management must consider the policies that appeal to women—a flexible work environment, leadership opportunities, equal pay and a company culture that understands the need for a heterogeneous pool of talent—to get them in the door. Once they’re in, professional development and company culture needs to be addressed and actively managed.
For companies to implement these practices, the industry needs to define and articulate what a career in supply chain management can provide for female students looking for a job after college. Offering the second highest salary for graduates after engineering, supply chain management should be a sought-after occupation for talented and young business professionals no matter their gender. The industry needs to explain what supply chain management is and what the career paths are.
The manufacturing sector and, specifically, the supply chain management function, is a very exciting field right now. Job opportunities are abundant in the long term for those who want a viable career in the sector. To achieve organizational diversity, values must be ingrained in the business and implemented from the C-suite down. Only then can a company reap the benefits from the most qualified talent pool regardless of gender. A strategy tackling gender disparity can improve profits and serve the business as a whole.
Abe Eshkenazi is the CEO of APICS, as well as an APICS-certified supply chain professional (CSCP), a certified healthcare executive (CHE) and a certified association executive (CAE).
 Catalyst. The Bottom Line: Connecting Corporate Performance and Gender Diversity, 2004