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June 27, 2017
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We haven't done enough to promote diversity

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A recent supply chain talent survey shows that while the profession continues to evolve, it still lacks diversity. Let's vow to do better.

Earlier this year, I worked with the Supply Chain Insights team to analyze and write our annual supply chain talent report. There were over 400 respondents to the survey, and the results of our cross-tabbing and data analysis were enlightening.

Article Figures
Diversity of Respondents

[Figure 1] Diversity of Respondents
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Differences in gender characteristics

[Figure 2] Differences in gender characteristics
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Differences in drivers/characteristics of employment opportunities by ethnicity

[Figure 3] Differences in drivers/characteristics of employment opportunities by ethnicity
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In general, the study shows that people with supply chain careers have a high level of job satisfaction. Seventy percent of respondents are either satisfied or very satisfied with their current job. The most satisfied are baby boomers working for technology companies.

The survey also shows that the supply chain profession is evolving. As baby boomers retire, Generation X and millennial employees are taking the baton. There are stark differences in behavior among the different generations. For example, while baby boomers are willing to work longer hours and focus on improving traditional processes, Generation X-ers and millennials are pushing to drive change and adopt next-generation processes.

The use of the term "supply chain management" to describe the activities of make, source, and deliver as a single function is still developing. While we have centuries of experience in building logistics and transportation teams, the concept of supply chain management was first defined in 1982. Thirty-five years later, the term still needs to be better recognized and understood. For example, our talent report found that within manufacturing companies only one-third have a supply chain-focused human resource team. Most of those teams are less than five years old, and only 50 percent are effective, according to respondents.

The need for different views and experiences

As I wrote the report and delved further into the results, one thing became clear to me: Supply chain management is still a white male profession. Only 28 percent of the respondents were female, and 57 percent were Caucasian (see Figure 1). Sadly, diversity in the profession remains an issue. I foolishly thought we had made more progress.

By and large, our survey showed that supply chain professionals in both genders have similar goals and aspirations (see Figure 2). The only difference is a greater concern with working from home, flex time/hours, and commuting considerations.

The similarities indicate to me that supply chain management as a profession can be just as appealing and satisfying to women as to men. I think the issue is that we are not educating young women about supply chain management as a career, and that we need to build an awareness of supply chain management in young females in high schools and in the larger community.

We also need to do a better job of reaching out to women from different backgrounds. A year ago I attended a badly facilitated women's networking conference. I left angry. One reason was that I felt the content was patronizing and underserved the greater need. I was looking for a forum of women leaders focused on building women leaders. As I looked around the room I was disturbed by something else: There were few women of color. To be successful, I believe supply chain management needs diversity. I want to work in a career that is inclusive.

Note that the Supply Chain Insights talent survey shows that the differences in drivers for job satisfaction are greater by ethnicity than by gender (see Figure 3). Employees of color are seeking greater career path opportunities, more diversity in the workforce, and greater benefits. Companies that are aware of this can make sure that they lead with this information when recruiting students of color.

Recently when I toured colleges with strong African-American populations, I was shocked to see few recruiters and a shortage of job opportunities. I couldn't help shaking my head as I contrasted this experience with my discussions with graduates of Penn State's supply chain program, who were sorting through multiple job offers and saw employers bid for placement in the school's career fair. It was a stark and disturbing difference.

How can we do better?

I was a female supply chain pioneer in the 1980s. In those days there were few women or people of color in the profession. I tried to forget the difficulties they encountered then, but the distasteful stories linger in my memory. After four decades, I thought we had made more progress. In working on this report, I realized that we need to fight harder, and that I personally need to do more. As a result, this year I will be focusing on several actions:

1) Speaking at U.S. colleges with strong minority populations. Over the last three years I have participated in career days and networking events that tried to find greater placement for students of color. The report reminds me that I need to stay focused on this mission.

2) Networking at the Imagine 2017 Conference. At this year's Supply Chain Insights Global Summit, I will be hosting a networking session to help companies better understand and embrace the needs of a diverse workforce. We need to move past self-serving and patronizing groups to build a more global and diverse workforce.

3) Hiring and mentoring. During the year, I will look for opportunities to hire and mentor diverse candidates. I will staff my events with students of color and hire co-ops with this intent in mind.

I hope you will join me in making supply chain management more inclusive. For greater insights on the current state of talent, we are also sharing our full report to help global supply chain teams.

Lora Cecere is founder and chief executive officer of the research firm Supply Chain Insights.

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