A dearth of women in supply chain leadership

Today I lead a consortium of 40 companies committed to process excellence, but rewind to the earliest days of the Center for Operational Excellence and I would have looked noticeably out of place.
The center at The Ohio State University Fisher College of Business got its start in 1992 as the Center for Excellence in Manufacturing Management. Unsurprisingly, the manufacturing leaders who attended our events then were overwhelmingly male.
One name change and 24 years later, we have a much broader range of engagement along the lines of industry, culture and gender, but I still see in our ranks some of the problems mirrored in the workforce at large.
Industry shifts, a lack of diversity
One of the biggest problems? The nation’s vital supply chain workforce and the dearth of women in leadership roles.
Data from the research firm Gartner shows women hold a scant 3 percent of executive-level supply chain leadership roles in the U.S. At the director level or higher, they compose 20 percent of the ranks.
Going to the start of that pipeline, however, is both promising and disheartening: 40 percent of undergraduate supply chain-focused students are women.
The makings of a diverse supply chain workforce are in our classrooms but not our corner offices. Closing this gap is critical — and not just for laudable gender equality reasons.
Perhaps most urgently, the nation’s supply chain workforce is facing a troubling shortage as waves of baby boomer retirements crest.
In 2014, the Material Handling Institute projected 1.4 million logistics and supply chain jobs would hit the market through 2018, yet employment trends for the broader manufacturing and transportation/utilities sectors don’t bode well for women. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported women in 2015 occupied 6.2 million of the 23 million jobs in those sectors — about 27 percent — down from 6.6 million, or 28 percent, a decade ago.
The job market is only part of the picture. Improving supply chain-sector diversity means more perspectives on the challenges inherent in the trade — and increased balance sheet benefits.
McKinsey & Co., in a report last year, showed that companies with more gender and cultural diversity in leadership are between 15 and 35 percent more likely to outperform industry norms.
Changing perception
The key hurdle to realizing this kind of competitive advantage in the supply chain sector is the widespread perception of these roles as jobs for men only. To clear it, we need to start early.
Fisher has emerged as a strong benchmark for these diversity-driven efforts. A top supply chain research institution itself, the college has led formal initiatives to recruit young women mulling a supply chain career, while our center has worked to connect these same students with successful female leaders in the field.
Our center’s partnerships with Abbott Nutrition, Cardinal Health and DHL Supply Chain have proven vital in this journey by allowing some of their leaders to devote regular time to mentoring students.
That’s where you come in. Connecting with Fisher as a mentor and sharing your story, your successes and challenges can ignite passion in our students far beyond what we can achieve in the classroom.

In the supply chain field, just knowing you’re there can go a long way.

Peg Pennington is the executive director of the Center for Operational Excellence at The Ohio State University Fisher College of Business. At the COE, Peg drives recruitment and manages relationships with its 40 member companies. A former finance manager at Emerson Network Power, she serves as a senior lecturer at OSU Fisher College of Business and a coach in its Master of Business Operational Excellence degree program.