Five key questions on gender diversity in the supply chain

Five key questions on gender diversity in the supply chain

By Hilary Rundle, Director at Bis Henderson Recruitment

The corporate world may be actively pursuing initiatives to improve gender diversity within senior management teams, but progress appears slow. 

Groups, such as the 30% Club, are pushing for 30% of women on FTSE 350 boards by 2020. However, indications are that it will take until 2029 to fulfil that objective, with the index provider, MSCI, finding last October that women held only 17.9% of directorships.

Similar disparity between men and women is recorded for senior roles within the supply chain too. Data gathered by Gartner in April 2018 shows that women represent only 14% of executives at the level of CSCO, EVP, SVP and CPO. And although the average percentage of women within the total supply chain workforce amounted to 37%, only 25% of women were senior managers and directors. 

Clearly, much more needs to be done. But to progress, there are five important questions that need to be asked if businesses within the sector are to achieve gender diversity across the workforce and at executive level: 

1. Why is it that women are so poorly represented at senior level within the supply chain?

Both men and women are equally capable of successfully performing the executive duties demanded of a senior supply chain post. But, as things stand, fewer women are in these roles. Confidence may be a significant factor. According to a 2015 KPMG Women’s Leadership Study of 2,410 professional working women and 604 college women, between the ages of 18 and 64, some 67% said they need more support building confidence to feel like they can be leaders.

Organisations need to develop an inclusive culture, where discussion and mentoring of all staff is encouraged and is combined with a leadership programme that offers equal opportunities for career development. Importantly, CVs should be submitted gender-blind.   

2. How can more women be encouraged to apply for top supply chain management jobs? 

There is evidence to suggest that masculine forms of language used in job adverts may put potential female applicants off. Research has highlighted that male-coded words, such as ‘ambition’, ‘challenging’ and ‘leader’, can make the job less appealing to women. The Institute for Apprenticeships is to trial gender-neutral language in their efforts to boost the number of females taking on apprenticeships in science, technology and engineering related industries. Interestingly, it was found that adverts that used neutral words, such as ‘honest’, ‘understand’, and ‘dependable’, lead to an increase in applicants. So, perhaps there are pointers here for those recruiting for positions in the supply chain

3. Should businesses poach female executives in order to redress the imbalance? 

Of course, finding and then recruiting talent from another organisation is a long-practiced, and often very successful, way of building a strong leadership team. And, importantly it is a very useful means for individuals to further their career, perhaps enabling them to move far more rapidly through the ranks. But to purely seek female executives in order to improve gender diversity on the board is in many ways dubious. Firstly, it is a short-term fix, without contributing to the greater good of developing gender diversity across the sector and within the culture of the business. And secondly, if pursued as a policy, it would be considered as discrimination.

4. Can it be right to positively discriminate in favour of female applicants when recruiting for senior positions? 

Any form of discrimination is wrong and in trying to redress the gender imbalance within higher echelons of management, selecting to fill quotas can create as many problems as it solves. Morally, legally and for good practical reasons, the person appointed to the role should be selected on merit alone. So to ensure a level playing field, more female candidates need to be encouraged to apply for senior positions, and the pipeline of talent entering the sector – and flowing through it – must be more evenly balanced. And that means attracting more women into the supply chain profession.

5. What should be done to improve the male/female balance within the talent pipeline? 

Attracting young people into the sector is a major challenge, regardless of gender. To some extent the problem is one of image and public perception. So much more needs to be done by businesses involved in the supply chain to inform schools and colleges of the huge opportunities that exist for young people to build successful careers in the profession. 

To encourage more young women to enter the sector, female role models, champions and leaders should be made more visible to school leavers, and perhaps, there should be a greater focus on the growing importance of the softer-skills required by those managing supply chains. The next generation of supply chain executives will need to be good communicators and will need to know how to skilfully manage large teams of people, possibly across multiple disciplines.

The encouraging thing is, within the NOVUS scheme – where young people are able to gain a degree in supply chain management with the promise of a job at the end of the course – there is a significant closing of the gender gap. So there are hopeful signs for gender diversity in the supply chain.

Building a corporate culture that embraces gender diversity is a complex human resources exercise. Businesses wanting to develop a truly inclusive approach to recruiting at senior level should seek expert help from a specialist executive search agency – one that has a proven track record in generating greater diversity within leadership teams. At Bis Henderson Recruitment the focus is on building diverse leadership structures using techniques that attract a wider talent base – such as by developing non-discriminatory role profiles and through targeting non-sector specific leaders with transferable skills. We help companies to construct interview and selection frameworks that focus on core ability rather than specific experience, and we work with a broad range of businesses to produce mentoring programmes for developing female leaders.

Creating a more inclusive culture enhances an organisation’s ability to attract, recruit and retain the talent needed to meet strategic goals. And that’s important, as research suggests that organisations with a diverse leadership team outperform those that don’t.To gain further insights, including the key steps organisations can take to reap the financial and operational rewards from achieving gender equity at executive level, download the free whitepaper here

Hilary Rundle is Operations Director at Bis Henderson Recruitment