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Supply chain management: How to attract more women to the sector?

Debbie Lentz, President of Global Supply Chain at RS Components and the Electrocomponents Group

Statistics show that women account for 37% of the workforce. While to some this statistic could be more gender-balanced than expected, the figures over the years have largely remained flat. 

In fact, further research also reveals that females only account for 5% of senior positions. 

As a senior woman working in supply chain management, Debbie Lentz, President of Global Supply Chain at RS Components and the Electrocomponents Group, is familiar with how few females are represented in the sector. 

Debbie Lentz joined Electrocomponents plc, a global multi-channel provider of industrial and electronic products and solutions, as the President of Global Supply Chain in 2017. Debbie is responsible for leading the further development of the Group’s supply chain capability to provide an innovative and sustainable market-leading service for customers and suppliers.

Historically, men were sent for laborious roles within warehouses for lifting or to the docks to shift mechanical equipment and women sat behind a desk doing administrative tasks. 

Spring forward to today, and with 40% of graduates within logistics being female, there is now a strong movement towards a balanced workforce – but there’s still some way to go.

Debbie advises: “A female in a senior position in the supply chain function can influence an organisation’s culture and reputation. In many ways, a diverse workforce is critical to winning the battle on talent and, in today’s competitive environment, is a key differentiator to competitors.” 

While an increase in female graduates is encouraging to see, more needs to be done to improve the gender imbalance. So how can the supply chain industry attract more female employees? 

Educate from an early age 

As the complexity within the supply chain increases – and with advancements in technology and data – the skills gap widens. In order to remain viable, it’s important that organisations seek and obtain more diverse talent. 

Tellingly, research has found that companies that reported above-average diversity on their management teams also reported innovation revenue that was 19% higher revenue than that of companies with below-average leadership diversity. 

Commenting on the subject, Debbie explains: “Employing a diverse talent encourages different perspectives and experiences into an organisation. It’s important to make your employees feel supported and like they are a part of something – a key trait for any organisation in order to improve its performance.” 

One way in which businesses can improve the gender gap in the future is to focus their efforts on educating younger generations; this can be through university programmes or inviting a school to come and see their place of work for an informative and motivational school trip. 

There are also initiatives – such as The Big Bang Fair at the NEC, Birmingham, UK, for aspiring young scientists and engineering students – which are actively introducing young people to the STEM industry and showing that these industries have career options for both boys and girls. However, we need to see more of these events arise.

“It is our aim to inspire more and more school children, particularly girls, toward choosing STEM

subjects and pursuing a career in engineering, with the end goal of reducing the skills gap we have in the industry. For example, we have a proactive STEM programme.”

Hiring efforts that target females 

With the objective to close the talent gap, we are seeing businesses begin to explore and improve their hiring processes and employee benefits to attract more females.  

A recent HSBC report into the technology sector revealed that, of those surveyed, 89% cited flexible working as a motivator to be more productive at work. 

Having a positive work-life balance is crucial for employees’ health and wellbeing, regardless of gender, and this balance is particularly hard to achieve for females who are juggling both a successful career and a family.

Debbie continues: “Flexibility is not as simple as working earlier or finishing work later. It’s about putting your employees’ needs at the forefront – working around schedules, sick children, and school plays. As long as the work is being produced, employees should not be penalised for trying to have both a career and a family.” 

Nurture from within

A survey by Harvard Business Review revealed that, of the 57 female CEOs they interviewed, two-thirds said they didn’t realise they could be CEO until someone else told them. 

Debbie comments: “Your best female leader could be just a promotion away. It’s important that women within your organisation are receiving the right career development in order to progress. By investing in a stronger internal mentoring and support programme you could spark long-term goals amongst the female employees you already have.” 

“One of the most rewarding parts of being a mentor is watching an individual grow and achieve the career success they’d always dreamed of.”

Raising awareness of the gender imbalance

Supply chain visibility is every business’s ultimate goal and a crucial component to remain viable.

However, this goal shouldn’t stop at the logistics of an organisation but should also carry down into the business’s workforce.

If you attend any logistics conference you will find a demographic that is heavily male-dominated, and the majority of speakers are senior-level male executives.

A huge challenge to attracting more women into the industry is the poor levels of visibility of the females that are already working in the sector. 

Speaking on the matter, Debbie adds: “Women that are already working within the supply chain are crucial players in closing the gender gap. It’s important that employers are encouraging their female employees to have a presence at conferences and events to network, and that employers are even encouraged to speak at these events to increase awareness.”  

Increasing awareness like this is not only beneficial to the individual attending the event but also for the company they are representing. This is also a great way for females to share their experiences and inspire individuals into the sector.

The beauty of working within the supply chain is the abundance of career opportunities it presents – there are very few aspects of a business that the supply chain doesn’t touch. 

Whilst the industry has come a long way to improve the gender gap, there is still a lot more that can be done to remove the stigma. In order to help fuel women’s progress in the industry, a team effort is required. It’s time to do your part to make a change. 

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