When the President hosted a White House ceremony in June to mark the 50th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act, included among the invited guests was Ellen Voie, president and CEO of a non-profit group called Women in Trucking. While that day’s ceremony was called to celebrate progress of women in achieving pay equity across all industries, Voie’s presence signified the tremendous progress women have made in the traditionally male-dominated world of transportation and supply chain management. The trucking industry, for example, counts almost 170,000 women among its corps of drivers.
In fact, at a time when the supply chain industry continues to be an overwhelmingly male-dominated sector, women are increasingly breaking new ground by attaining senior management positions and setting new standards for innovative thinking. Rosemary Coates, president of Blue Silk Consulting in Los Gatos, CA suggested to Logistics Management magazine that women’s ability to problem solve is at least in part responsible for their success. “The supply chain and logistics arena is a place where there are a lot of existing problems,” she said. “Women are problem-solvers. We have traditionally had to deal with family budgets and evaluating risk and reward in our family lives, so when it comes to bringing value to employers, we can draw from that discipline and experience.”
A “Women in Supply Chain” venue launched by Canadian think tank Van Horne Institute, notes a strong uptick in the number of females enrolled in post-secondary supply chain management degree programs, and that “soft skills” such as collaboration, creativity and problem solving are in high demand throughout the industry.
These sentiments seem to be echoed by Ann Drake, chairman and CEO of DSC Logistics, who recently launched an initiative called Advancing Women’s Excellence in Supply Chain Operations, Management and Education (AWESOME). In a news release announcing the new group, Drake noted: “Now that the field of logistics and supply chain management is more about strategic thinking and collaboration, we should be seeing women as leaders in every aspect of the profession. What we’ve found is that women are rising to new levels, but there is still much untapped potential.
Through AWESOME, Drake hopes to bring together leading women from across a broad category of supply chain professions, ranging from manufacturing to retail to third party logistics to space and aviation, and has compiled a list of nearly 400 women as potential group members.
The rise of women to top supply chain professions has generated much attention from leading industry publications. Logistics Quarterly launched a Women in Supply Chain Management feature, that provides insights and analysis from women in senior management professions. One contributor, Dianne Mollenkopf, assistant professor in the Department of Marketing and Logistics at the University of Tennessee, was quite direct when asked what advice she had for young women considering a career in logistics: “Go For It!,” she advised. “Those in logistics roles get to see across multiple organizations,” she added. “Because women tend to be relationally focused, this cross-function vision and influence provides a great opportunity for women to add value….”
Similarly, in March 2013 Supply Chain Demand magazine published its “first ever” list of “Top Female Leaders of the Supply Chain,” focusing on 28 individuals at the peak of their fields.
Speaking at a Logistics Quarterly Spring 2013 “Women in Supply Chain Management” symposium, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg argued that a major obstacle in climbing the corporate ladder is the tendency by women to underestimate their capabilities. “If you ask men why they did a good job they say ‘I’m awesome,’” Sandberg told her audience. “If you ask women, what they say is that someone helped them, they got lucky, they worked really hard.” And this matters, she says, because no one will get the promotion by not believing in herself.
While no one is suggesting that women are going to overtake men among the ranks of supply chain professionals — a 2012 Career Patterns in Logistics and Supply Chain Management study found that only 27 percent of survey respondents were women – women are increasingly assuming top-level positions. As Ellen Voie and her team of 170,000 female truckers are demonstrating, the days of supply chain management being regarded as a “man’s world” are rapidly coming to an end.