Joined by Kinaxis colleagues Kerry Currier and Francini Ortiz on a crisp, sunny morning at the end of March, we marveled at the cool light display of Converse shoes in the lobby of the Converse building in downtown Boston as we checked in as attendees and panelists to the inaugural MIT Center for Transportation and Logistics Women in Supply Chain Summit, where an examination of the gender gap in supply chain was a central topic.
The two-day event brought together 60+ women and men from 27 companies across North America to discuss topics in four areas related to women in supply chain: balance, filling the talent gap, mentorship, sponsorship & networking, and leading global teams. Katie Date and her team did a wonderful job of getting the right mix of time for panels, group discussion and networking to make the event extremely valuable and insightful.
I am in my 40s, and I have spent my career in supply chain, so it was no surprise when stats about the number of women in supply chain hit the screen. Stats like, women earn 57 percent of US Bachelors degrees and 59 percent of US Masters degrees, and hold 52 percent of US jobs, yet the total supply chain workforce is only 37 percent female and one in five women are the only woman in the room. Many times throughout my work life, I have been that woman. That being said I have also been fortunate to have some great male (and female!) mentors and sponsors along the way. These stats decline further as you move up the corporate ladder.
The event was a great way to reflect on the strides we have made for gender equality to close the supply chain gender gap, as well as realize that there is still so much to do; the women’s movement did not end in the 60s with our mothers.
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Here were my key takeaways from the MIT CTL Women in Supply Chain Summit:
- It’s not about balance, it’s about integration. As a working mom, I struggle with this idea of balancing my work life with my home life and often feeling like I am failing at both. Hearing Converse COO, Nicole Zukowski, talk about how it is about integrating the two was an “a-ha” moment for sure. We spend close to 50 percent of our lifetime at our jobs, flexible work hours and locations play a huge part in helping employees feel balance. In addition, letting your kids see what you do at work, and letting your colleagues see what you do at home and with your family is an important factor in feeling you have balance in life and reminding people that we are all human. For example, one of the panelists, who travels frequently for her job, talked about how, when appropriate of course, she takes FaceTime calls from her three year old son, letting him talk to the people around the room. That is integration at its finest!
- Be purposeful in recruiting, promotion and retention practices. There were a number of great examples and best practices discussed to help companies recruit, promote and retain females. For example, writing job descriptions in a way that does not dissuade potential female candidates from applying, and including females in every interview panel. One stat quoted rates that the hiring a female is 79 times greater when two women are in the final interview process. On retention and promotion, companies should encourage men as advocates for women as they can help to retain top talent and create accelerated development programs to help promote women more quickly.
- Build a personal board of directors. Converse HR Director, Stuart Teale, talked about their ‘Draft Picks’ program where they help employees build their personal board of directors internally. These are people from whom they can seek coaching, advice, advocacy from on a regular basis. It helps spread the load of mentoring among the many and gives the employee several points of view and experiences to draw from. The concept was one I had not heard before and struck a chord with me and many others.
- Be your authentic self. Do not try to be someone you are not, i.e., a man. The women I met and who spoke were strong, intelligent, funny, engaging individuals. Women bring so many amazing qualities to the table like empathy, and high emotional intelligence. Embrace and lean in to those qualities; be your best version of yourself. There are times when showing emotion is important. It lets people know that you are human and after all, it is a human world, right?
- If not me, then who? Finally, Maria Nieradka, Advisory Board Member of AWESOME, said five little words that have stayed with me, almost haunted me, since the event. “If not me, then who?” So simple, yet so powerful. Waiting for someone else to fix the supply chain gender gap problem gets us nowhere. At our current trajectory, it will take us 108 years to close the gap, which is unacceptable! We all have a part to play, men and women alike: highlight conscious and unconscious biases, advocate for women, mentor women, change the dialog with our young daughters, and so much more. So, what will you do? Let me know in the comments below!
For additional insights, check out this blog post about the event by Ken Cottrill, Global Communications Consultant, MIT CTL.