CSCMP's Supply Chain Quarterly
December 15, 2017
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Onward and upward ... until you hit a barrier

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A new report from AWESOME (Achieving Women's Excellence in Supply Chain Operations, Management and Education) suggests that companies would benefit on several levels by promoting women into top supply chain positions, yet barriers to advancement remain.

Earlier this week I had the pleasure of attending a networking reception put on by AWESOME (Achieving Women's Excellence in Supply Chain Operations, Management and Education). AWESOME was launched in 2013 by Ann Drake, chairman and CEO of DSC Logistics and the first woman (in 47 years!) to receive the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals' Distinguished Service Award. After receiving the award in 2012, Drake founded the group with the aim of expanding opportunities for women's supply chain leadership. Since then, the AWESOME network has grown to include more than 850 senior-level supply chain executives.

While the reception was a wonderful opportunity to meet and speak with very accomplished and respected business leaders, networking is just one aspect of AWESOME's mission. I won't go into all the details here—you can find out more at www.awesomeleaders.org—but one of them is to gauge the state of women's leadership roles in the supply chain profession. Toward that end, AWESOME has been producing a series of reports, called "Reality Check," that capture members' current attitudes, business experiences, and lessons learned about strategies for advancement.

The fifth volume is just out. Much of the material in the report is based on views expressed during AWESOME's 2016 Annual Symposium, held earlier this year in Portland, Oregon. The report's highlights include this list of five key factors affecting the progress of women in the supply chain profession:

The expanding role of supply chain leadership—Supply chain leaders continue to play a more strategic role in overall business decisions, resulting in the need for skills beyond those traditionally required in those positions.

Increased benefits of diverse leadership—Analysis shows a connection between the participation of women in a company's top leadership and its success, as well as a link between diversity and innovation.

A need to address the supply chain talent gap—The continuing shortage of qualified professionals provides further incentive to attract women to the supply chain profession and to retain, develop, and advance women to the highest levels of leadership.

More companies are taking steps to advance women—Leaders and their companies are beginning to adopt the most inclusive definition of "diversity" while moving beyond initial steps in achieving diversity goals.

Progress depends on a strong effort by both the individual and the company—Women must position themselves for advancement, and companies need to be actively engaged in removing barriers to their progress.

AWESOME Executive Director Dr. Nancy Nix points out that although much progress has been made, more remains to be done at a corporate level. "Our recent research reveals a pattern of women entering the field and then still hitting barriers as they advance. While many companies value diversity, fewer are actually setting goals, taking action, and measuring effectiveness," she said in comments on the new report. She also noted that a 2016 study conducted by AWESOME in collaboration with Gartner Research found that the percentage of women in leadership roles decreases the higher up the corporate ladder you go. Among those surveyed, women comprise approximately 35 percent of the supply chain workforce but only 5 percent of the highest positions, including chief supply chain officer, senior vice president, and executive vice president. The finding that women leaders often fail to "toot their own horn" may also play a role in their slow ascent.

If you'd like to know more, all five "Reality Check" reports are available for download.

Toby Gooley is Editor of CSCMP's Supply Chain Quarterly.

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