Women at work

by Stephanie Wallcraft

The supply chain industry needs to attract more women to ensure it has access to the best talent, and it also needs more expertise in STEM-related disciplines than ever before.

However, recent statistics and observations from industry leaders suggest there’s still work to be done to bridge these gaps and bring women with education and competencies in STEM into supply chain and logistics roles.

Currently, only 13 percent of senior leaders in supply chain and logistics are women, and yet women score higher than men in six out of seven leadership qualities, according to research published by Singapore-based consulting firm Novosensus in September 2020.

Diversity equals success

But why should the industry be concerned? Do these things matter if they don’t affect the bottom line?

It turns out they do: companies with diverse leadership are demonstrably more profitable. A 2018 report by global management consulting firm McKinsey and Company reviewed 1,000 companies in 12 countries. Those companies with a degree of leadership gender diversity that fell within the top 25 percent were 21 percent likely to be more profitable than those with fewer women leaders.

Read more about strong female leaders in Canadian supply chain: Michelle Laframboise explains how her company, ClearWater Design, was able to ramp up production through the Covid-19 pandemic in Making kayaks faster

In addition, STEM-related expertise is highly transferrable between industries, and demand for it will only increase as artificial intelligence, software development, process engineering, and other STEM disciplines are needed to further technological advancement globally.

Supply chain and logistics companies will increasingly be competing against more organizations and industries for skilled candidates, many of which have established reputations as providing better policies and career outcomes for women such as flexibility of hours, work-life balance, and clear career paths.

Not yet a destination

Today, a career in supply chain and logistics is still a path that people tend to fall into rather than set out toward deliberately, said Carol Valentine Fleck, co-ordinator of the supply chain management program at Mohawk College’s McKeil School of Business. Fleck said that while enrolment in Mohawk’s post-graduate program is consistently 40 percent women, few to none of those students are coming from technology degrees.

“We even have students that join the supply chain class and really don’t understand what supply chain is,” Fleck said. “Whatever they wanted to take isn’t available.”

This is the case despite the promising career prospects that come from education in supply chain management. According to research published by the Supply Chain STEM Educational Outreach Program, university students in supply chain management programs often receive multiple job offers prior to graduation, are placed in multiple internships from as early as first year, and earn high average starting salaries of roughly $60,000.

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On the STEM side of the equation, the fact that STEM disciplines are not yet attracting high proportions of women themselves is compounding the problem. A report published by Statistics Canada in 2019 stated that representation of women among Canadian-educated STEM bachelor’s degree holders was 36 percent for 30-year olds 37 percent for 40-year-olds as of 2016, showing that there had been little increase in that 10-year period.

And while women have accounted for 30 percent of the growth in STEM employment since 2010, they still comprise less than 25 percent of employment in these occupations, according to a study published by TD in 2017.

Kicking off meaningful change in the industry requires a two-pronged approach: increasing awareness of opportunities in supply chain and logistics with students before they select their career paths, and improving the culture within the industry to increase retention and become a more appealing career destination for women.