The View with Lou: Raising the alarm

by Lou Smyrlis

Over the past two decades we’ve awakened to the reality that a profession can’t sustain itself by attracting talent from only half the working population. There has been a slow but meaningful effort to bring more women into supply chain. Yet the past 20 years of painstaking progress toward gender diversity is suddenly under threat.

The adjustments we’ve had to make to continue working under the grim spectre of Covid, particularly in an industry deemed an essential service, have turned our workplaces upside down. The boundaries between work and home, already blurred for many in transportation and supply chain’s management ranks, have been almost completely torn asunder.

That’s a challenge borne by all but not a challenge equally borne. A recent study tracking the progress of women in corporate America, conducted by McKinsey & Company, clearly shows women are being negatively impacted far more than men. This is because the pandemic has intensified challenges women already faced.

The study, which reflects contributions from 317 companies and more than 40,000 people surveyed about their workplace experiences, points out that working mothers always worked a “double shift” – a full day of work, followed by hours being the primary caregiver for children, aging parents and doing household work.

Popular thinking would have us believe the relationships of dual-career couples have evolved to the point where men and women share household labour almost equally, yet the stark reality, proven by research, is that working mothers are as much as three times more likely to be responsible for most of the household chores.

A particularly eye-opening takeaway from the McKinsey research examining dual-career couples is that while 72 percent of fathers thought they were splitting household labour equally with their partner during Covid, only 44 percent of mothers agreed. That almost 30 percent difference in opinion between working men and women should tell you something.

Before Covid, there were supports – school, childcare, after-school activities, etc. – that made this juggling act, although extremely challenging, at least possible for working women. Those supports have largely fallen away or became unreliable under Covid.

The intensification of working this “double shift” for more than a year now is leading to senior-level women being significantly more likely than men at the same level to feel under pressure to work more, to feel as though they have to “always be on” and, subsequently to feel burned out, the McKinsey research discovered.

Before Covid, men and women left their companies at comparable rates. But now, as a result of the pressures brought on by Covid, senior-level women are 1.5 times more likely than senior-level men to be considering what would have been considered unthinkable prior to Covid: downshifting their role or leaving their job altogether. Three in four cite burnout as the main reason.

The successes we’ve seen in bringing more women into supply chain over the last 20 years are plain to see. For example, when you attend a CITT graduation ceremony and note the increasing number of women who are part of the graduating class. Or if you take in industry conferences, which not too long ago used to primarily be the domain of men, but now are in many cases orchestrated by and frequented by female supply chain professionals.

And in the growing number of women in leadership roles, whether it’s as managers of supply chain or as executives of transportation companies. In fact, research shows that the most significant gains in recent years have been in getting more women into senior vice president and C-suite positions.

Are we willing to let all that slip away? The number of management-level women feeling burned out and considering leaving their jobs should be viewed as an emergency for corporations. We are at risk of losing women in leadership roles and turning back the clock on years of progress toward gender diversity.

We have a clear choice. We can ignore the clear warning sign or we can turn this crisis into an opportunity to take the decisions and make the investments necessary to build more flexible, more empathetic workplaces that nurture gender diversity.