Why women could be the answer to supply chain’s future

women supply chain, supply chain
© Chih Yuan Wu

Sian Hopwood, EVP, Local Business Units at BluJay Solutions, now part of E2open, discusses how women could be the answer to the future of supply chains

As the supply chain and logistics industry recovers from its most tumultuous period in recent years, it’s clear that change is needed. With figures suggesting that 75% of companies plan to make changes to build more resilient supply chains, I believe that one of the most effective for boosting innovation, creativity and flexibility could come from having more women in the supply chain.

Yet, this traditionally masculine industry maintains many unconscious biases and barriers that keep women from reaching positions of influence: everything from a lack of technical or logistical education in girls’ schools to women being overlooked for top jobs at interview. Diversity thus requires a multi-faceted approach at all stages of the career lifecycle.

The best changes will come from the industry, not from women themselves. My own story is a case in point, which I’d like to share as I discuss what can be done better to improve diversity, encourage flexibility and ultimately secure long-term growth for the logistics industry.

I’ve seen for myself the effect diversity can have

Many of my core beliefs about diversity in the logistics industry stem from my own experience over the past 15 years. They prove that changes can empower teams, but also that this is possible.

When I started in the logistics industry, there was no space for a ‘diversity and inclusion’ agenda. As a woman, I stood out, and it heavily influenced the way I was treated. More than once, I was told to “pop the kettle on, love”. The easiest way to divert attention away from my gender and onto the quality of my work was to adapt how I acted – to become like the male colleagues who surrounded me. Though this may have helped me to fit in with the existing environment, it certainly didn’t encourage its people to change.

However, I’ve found that one of the greatest ways to encourage diversity in any industry is by example. I was lucky enough to have a female manager – an extremely rare role model in the industry at the time. And she was tough. I learned both how to get on with my role, and how to get over the unnecessary comments.

Through her demonstration that women could belong in this environment, I began to carve out a place for myself, and not the version that had to act masculine to fit in. Other women like me did the same. Years later, I now lead a far more diverse team, and we continue to work hard to help ensure that everyone is free to be who they are.

Sure, I still make tea for my team – but only when I decide to.

Teams with greater diversity have distinct advantages

Far beyond simply meeting quotas, increased diversity can actively strengthen supply chain organisations. Organisations looking to bolster their supply chain offering and create greater resilience ought to seriously consider looking to female talent. Let’s explore why.

BluJay research shows that 75% of supply chain managers expect to make moderate to extreme changes to their operations due to the pandemic, enabling them to become more resilient. More women in the transport industry means improved decision-making, creativity and innovation, according to a 2018 European Commission study. Another study notes that more diverse teams have a vast impact on the organisation’s ability to attract top talent, improve employee satisfaction and decision-making, and boost customer orientation.

However, women may not apply for supply chain jobs without indication that the industry is equipped to support their talent, as well as their life choices. A deliberate commitment to female progress is important. This means making female leaders powerful and visible to build on positive figures of growth year-on-year in female logistics leadership.

The European Commission study also states that in male-dominated professions, the work to bring more female talent into candidate pools must start earlier than the application process. Organisations may want to consider reaching into educational organisations as the vanguard for more systematic curriculum change, positioning the supply chain as open and welcoming to women in order to spark consideration in young female minds.

Making a deliberate effort can produce the best results

Diversifying the supply chain workforce could be the most impactful business move executives make in a generation. But it takes effort. Here’s how one supply chain organisation has been making change happen for their teams.

BluJay Solutions has taken that critical first step: making a commitment to growing and empowering its female workforce. The BluJay Women’s Network is integral to this, placing a deliberate focus on enabling women to connect and support one another in a safe space. Open to both female and male members, it is proof of a core value at the company: to keep an open and respectful mindset. Its discussions allow women to feel truly welcome in the supply chain industry and equipped to use their talents to full capacity.

The Emerging Leaders Programme at BluJay is a mentoring scheme where more senior members share their experience and guidance with up-and-coming leaders. This support mirrors that which I received from my first manager, so naturally I am delighted to see this proven technique being officially deployed at BluJay. It’s fantastic to see the uptake by so many leaders who wish to share their expertise with diverse cohort of mentees, of which the majority chosen so far have been female.

Thoughtful programmes like these are great choices when you consider that, according to research only 17% of chief supply chain officers are women. Having a clear view of diversity within the organisation and identifying key areas to improve can help to guide meaningful changes. With those statistics, context and local knowledge are imperative to facilitate a sensitive roll-out of any diversity initiative. Top-down leadership on diversity issues is important, but these schemes work best when employees at all levels feel encouraged to promote an inclusive culture in their regions.

The most important supply chain trend of all

Improved diversity is not only likely to be beneficial for businesses seeking to diversify the pool for leadership, create stronger teams, and gain a wider range of skills. Acceptance of people’s differences can also be the key to securing the all-important wellbeing of all those in an industry under increasing pressure.

This isn’t a numbers game. Though quotas can be useful, what’s more important is proving that the input of women is driving the business forward. With a committed approach to giving women the opportunity to show their skills, dramatic changes to the make-up of leadership in the industry are more likely to take place smoothly.

As a leader who has climbed from the bottom of the ladder, I can say for certain that offering women the opportunity to shine is one of the most important steps this industry can take.

Organisations would be very wise to seize this chance to empower women and make a vital long-term change today.


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