Supply Chain Leadership: Mirroring the World and the Population We Serve

We need to do a better job at describing what supply chain is and promote more diversity within the profession

Kathy Wengel
Kathy Wengel

Earlier this month, my company had the privilege of co-sponsoring Achieving Women’s Excellence in Supply Chain Operations, Management and Education’s (AWESOME’s) third annual symposium, an event that brings women leaders in supply chain together to network and focus on evolving the supply chain function, advancing their careers and contribution. The two-day symposium highlighted the many accomplishments and challenges for women in supply chain operations, and emerging leadership trends with speakers, moderators and panelists from The Home Depot, The Walt Disney Company, The Hershey Company, Chicos, Domino’s Pizza and many other industry-leading companies.

What these women and other attendees made very clear during the symposium is that we need to do a better job at describing what supply chain is and promote more diversity within the profession. We all know that supply chain is much more than manufacturing and distribution. It’s getting the right high-quality product to the right people at the right time. In addition, supply chain managers have a broad set of responsibilities and work across global organizations to reach decisions that maximize fulfillment, logistics, customer service and related technologies that provide value for the customer. So shouldn’t it be logical that the composition of supply chain leadership better represent the gender population of our planet?

Johnson & Johnson co-hosted this year’s AWESOME event because we believe in the importance of building and promoting talent for both men and women. We motivate our employees to think with a global, enterprise-wide mindset through the expansion of development and leadership opportunities across all sectors of the enterprise, including supply chain.

This year’s AWESOME conference underscored how far we’ve come—but also how much work remains to promote leadership skills development and opportunities for women in supply chain organizations. For those of you that weren’t able to attend AWESOME, here are some important takeaways:

  • Progress still needs to be made for women in supply chain and corporate America. Even though opportunities for women in supply chain are increasing, there’s room for improvement. Gartner research shows that 41 percent of supply chain undergraduate students are female, but only 5 percent of the Fortune Global 500 Top Supply Chain Leaders are women. These numbers are not only seen in supply chain, but in varying degrees across corporate America as well. In fact, only 21 percent of Fortune 500 chief executive officers (CEOs) are women. Also, women only hold about 14 percent of executive officer positions, 17 percent of board seats and 18 percent of elected congressional seats.
  • Gender balance is not just women’s responsibility. Throughout the conference, a common theme focused on how men need to be part of the solution. Consider for example #LeanInTogether, a new campaign from Sheryl Sandberg’s women’s career empowerment organization Sandberg’s campaign defines the importance of men continuing to recruit, promote and advocate for women in the workplace. Given the numerical disparities between men and women in the supply chain, it is important that our male colleagues are allies, and take a stand for women on their teams and across their organizations.
  • Women need sponsors, not just mentors: We also discussed the importance and value of women having sponsors, a powerfully positioned champion in the workplace. Mentorship was described as a relatively loose relationship that can include everything from acting as a sounding board for a presentation to career advice. Sponsors, on the other hand, typically work in the same company, are much more vested in the relationship, offer guidance and feedback because they believe in their proteges, and are willing to stand up and actively advocate for the individuals’ career advancement.
  • Women need to bring their whole self to work. Women cannot force themselves to be one of the guys, even in a male-dominated field. Finding ways to be authentic in the workplace, embracing vulnerabilities and leveraging different strengths should be seen as opportunities to learn—for men and women. Speaking up without fear of consequences and more direct engagement with leadership can only help grow careers if leaders have a forward-looking mindset.
  • There is value in a diverse supply chain. Diversity of skills and people, and improved gender balance in companies’ supply chain functions are essential for business growth, profitability and customer satisfaction. It’s important that talent, whether male or female, possess tremendous cultural dexterity, so they can operate with a global mindset, share their perspective and listen to others as well. Not only is diversity a good business practice, it’s good for business.

Overall, AWESOME helped us reenergize, reflect, redefine and reimagine what it means to run supply chains, both as women and as the next generation of leadership. I hope you plan to join the conversation and the fun at the event next year when Nike will co-host at their headquarters in Oregon from April 27 to 29.