Companies looking to grow need more women in supply chain

women in supply chain

Around International Women’s Day, Supply Chain Media draws attention to the position of women in supply chain. This is badly needed, figures show. The proportion of women is growing only slowly. Especially high up in the hierarchy, the percentage of ladies is remarkably low. Beth Morgan of Boom! and Anna Petrova of KraftHeinz shared their insights during Webinar Wednesday. “Figures show that companies with more women in management positions make more profit.”

By Marcel te Lindert

That female leadership is of great value in the supply chain goes without saying. “Society is made up of 50% men and 50% women. Companies should reflect society and their customer base. That is a moral duty,” argued Beth Morgan, founder and CEO of Boom!. “But apart from that: we need all the available talent to meet today’s supply chain challenges. So let’s make the pool of talent bigger.”

Boom! is a global network keen to see the proportion of women in supply chain grow. According to Morgan, this also benefits business. “There is a lot of research available showing that companies with an above-average number of women in senior management make more profit. In addition, diversity is important to be innovative. Diversity in age, culture and background, but also in gender.”

Diversity in supplier base

Anna Petrova shared Morgan’s view. “Diversity is not only important for the internal company culture. Within KraftHeinz, we have a hugely diverse customer base. How do you expect to meet the needs of those customers if you don’t have a diverse organization yourself?” the Vice President and Head of the Global Supply Chain Centre of Excellence at KraftHeinz asked. “But diversity must go hand in hand with psychological security. Successful companies provide space for diversity of thought, both in the boardroom and among employees. They discuss a lot and let the best idea win, no matter who comes up with that idea.”

Morgan concurred: “One of the themes of this year’s International Women’s Day is inclusion. That calls for an environment where everyone feels safe and can perform at their best. And as for diversity, this is not only important in terms of the internal organization and customer base. We see more and more companies consciously striving for more diversity in the supplier base to promote diversity in thinking throughout the supply chain.”

Extremely slow

Research by Gartner and Awesome, a US network of women in supply chain, shows that the number of women is growing by a few percent a year. “The trend is positive, but the growth is extremely slow,” reported Morgan. “More important is the picture that emerges when we look per management level. The higher up the hierarchy you go, the smaller the number of women becomes. The representation of women at the highest management level is still only 26%, but fortunately this is increasing.”

Petrova has worked at companies where there were as many women as men at the highest management level. “So there are organizations that are doing well in that respect,” she stressed. “But I ask myself what happens within companies. Why does the number of women drop as we go higher up the hierarchy? My conclusion is that this is where we all need to try harder to nurture talent and strengthen diversity in the talent pipeline.”

Setting targets helps

Morgan had a couple of explanations for the trend. She pointed to the tendency of managers to appoint people similar to themselves. “Sometimes it helps to make simple adjustments. Think of companies that work in shifts. It helps if they better coordinate the start and end times with school hours and care responsibilities. And sometimes psychological and cultural aspects play a role. Unlike many men, women often do not apply for a higher position until they are sure they are fully qualified for it.”

Morgan stressed that just talking about gender equality is not enough. She said it helps to set hard targets. “Some companies aim for 40% women in management positions, for example. If you say that out loud, you have to do something about it and invest in people, processes and systems. If more companies set these kinds of targets and see the benefits, a snowball effect will develop naturally.”

Men as allies

Petrova returned to Europe a year and a half ago after working in North America for many years. She is disappointed by the lack of progress in Europe when it comes to diversity and gender equality. “I had expected Europe to be further along than North America. Also because, in Europe, sustainability is high on the agenda and diversity is part of that. But the topic is not yet embraced by every leader,’ Petrova said. “Maybe it’s down to the tone of voice. We need to see men as allies in the fight for more gender equality and convince them of its necessity. That is the only way.”