What was clear from the moment the “Women in Supply Chain Management” panel discussion commenced was the distinctly low number of men in the audience. Almost ‘lone wolf’ facilitator Samer Almadhoun nevertheless got into his stride as he discussed the organisation he’s formed in Jordan to bring women into the supply chain. Now 355 Jordanian woman are certified in his country. Samer does not stop there, he stays in touch with these ladies and their career development to ensure they are given opportunities to perform and to rise up the ranks.
The position in South Africa is really not that different, nor globally for that matter. The education and gender gaps persist with an estimated 5 percent year-on-year growth in women entrants into the industry. Data also shows that a woman takes four years longer to get to a senior position than a man. But women are not asking for special treatment.
The panel universally emphasises the ethos of fairness. Equity is to do with both men and women having access to opportunities, creating a level playing field among the genders. The right skills for the job is topmost as is diversity. “Genders, nations, cultures make for a strong team in a balanced fashion. Views are tested, minds are opened, entrenched positions are loosened. Fresh ideas and solutions enter the workplace,” says Dr Pamela Steele, public health supply chain policy specialist.
And it all starts at home. Adds Laura Singel Scott, Global Process Owner for Integrated Business Planning, McCormick & Co, USA, “When we recruit internally and externally, we have a matrix in place to make sure we are taking a balanced view of diversity. Blind CV’s mean that the person looking over the document is given no information regarding a name, sex, or race.”
But, it appears prejudice is a hard thing to shift. Although the doors may be open to a diverse range of candidates, promotions among women are low and sink lower still as they stay within a company: 50/50 to 60/40 to 70/30 etc. Laura’s organisation only has 20% females in management which she battles to celebrate. “We are doing the right thing on the front end, however there is still a lot to fix on the back end. Maybe maternity leave policies and flexible work arrangements skew the outcome, supported by a heavy degree of unconscious bias.”
The problem with unconscious bias is that it’s unconscious. “There is a survey offered by Harvard which can be completed online and is designed to uncover hidden biases which could be generation-driven, for example. The idea that women are supposed to be home whereas the next generation is going out to work and succeed, is one example.”
Culture is another big culprit. The one where women are considered unsuitable for higher positions in the midst of more dominant males is entrenched in many cultures and family structures. Sometimes this state of affairs is not helped by women’s innate sense of honesty and fairness. “For example, it’s been shown statistically that men will apply for a position even when they are not qualified, however women will not apply unless the answer is a strong yes to all of the skills required. Keep in mind how you rate yourself,” MJ Schoemaker suggests.
No-one has to tell supply chain practitioners that competitive advantage and profitability is all about customer service. “It’s been proven that when you have a mix of people at upper levels in business, they understand their customer base as well as the people in their organisation. It’s also been shown that net profits go up by 6 percent when women make up at least 30% of upper leadership. Yet only 5 percent of CEO’s in Africa are women.”
Delegates and the panel alike concur that giving the job to the right person is paramount. “It’s not about entitlement and hand-outs. No woman wants to be promoted only because of her gender, skills are very important. If you are a woman and unhappy that you are not getting the job, look at your skills. If you have the skills and are still not getting the job, that’s a different story,” says Kea Mpane, HOD Logistics & Distribution at Transnet Engineering and Sapics board member.
“We also need to check that we haven’t inadvertently taken on the biases of our male counterparts. Our kids need to be taught from young that all avenues are open to them. There’s more out there, if they wish, than being a policeman, nurse or teacher. Communicate with your kids and teach them at school about the exciting field of logistics and the supply chain.
“Ensure that you’re not so busy getting the job done that you lose sight of the bigger picture and all those on your team. Learn to deal with workplace men who are threatened by powerful women and try to prevent them from going places. It’s all about balance between men and women. Communicate rather than allowing misunderstandings to fester. Give everybody their say so men know where you are coming from and vice versa. ”
Hearts and minds
Deborah Dull of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (USA) concludes, “Women study supply chain, only to find there are no positions available. Or if employed, there is no room for growth. Sometimes no growth occurs. Men must be included in the conversation. We can fix policies and statements, kpi’s etc, but if we don’t get into the heart and minds of leaders to be open minded, it may yet be a long road ahead.”