Women in Logistics: Breaking Gender Roles in Leadership & Addressing the Talent Shortage

As automation and digital transformation continue to gain momentum, a parallel paradigm shift is taking place that is changing the landscape of global supply chain leadership. Women are slowly stepping out of the shadow of their male counterparts in increasing numbers to lead global supply chains into the post-pandemic world.

According to survey results released by Gartner last June, "Women comprise 41% of the supply chain workforce in 2021, up from 39% in 2020. … Every leadership level saw an increase in representation, except the executive level, where there has been a slight decline. In 2021, women account for 15% of executive-level roles, down from 17% in 2020."

That slight dip at the highest echelon might be due to pandemic-related issues prompting women to leave the workforce altogether. Still, as McKinsey's research shows, there is no denying that companies with more gender and ethnic diversity at the C-suite level outperform less-diverse competitors. This is why companies ranging from Fortune 500s to startups entrust women to take the reins of their global supply chains.

Women Are Blazing a New Frontier of Leadership

Some of the most strategic, innovative leaders in the supply chain industry today are women.

  • Arguably, there is no higher-profile example than Carol Tomé, who was appointed the first female CEO at UPS in 2020. As Business Insider explained in profiling 16 women who are reshaping the face of supply chains, "Taking on the job in the midst of a pandemic and a subsequent e-commerce boom, Tomé has kept a tighter rein on costs and cast a more selective eye on customers in order to prop up the company's profits above all else. In less than a year she has already made high-impact changes to UPS strategy and operations and posted record profits."
  • Another example is Judy McReynolds, President and CEO of ArcBest for the past 11 years. She spearheaded the company's expansion of services beyond less-than-truckload into the lucrative tech-enabled logistics, a move that resulted in record results in 2021.
  • Then there's Penelope Register-Shaw, CSO for the FRONTdoor Collective, a nationwide network of franchisors and franchisees that aims to revolutionize the approach to last-mile deliveries. Register-Shaw's wealth of industry experience includes more than 20 years at FedEx (Chief Compliance Officer & President of FedEx Trade Networks), Amazon (she was instrumental in the launch of the company's wildly successful Delivery Service Partner last-mile delivery program) and Walmart (VP of Last-Mile Delivery Logistics).
  • Closer to home, Hannah Testani ascended to CEO of Intelligent Audit in 2021, after serving 12 years as the company's COO. Her promotion came on the heels of Intelligent Audit achieving 70% growth year over year in 2020.

These women and so many others exude the skills needed to thrive as a leader. They are excellent communicators and creative problem-solvers who can collaborate and multitask at the highest levels to drive smooth-running global operations. Even though 63% of men and 75% of women believe the skill sets of women are advantageous for supply chain management, it still remains that men dominate the C-suite in the industry.

Overcoming Adversity Common for Women in the Supply Chain

It's not that women aren't seen as valued contributors in the supply chain; the issue has been women being unable to leverage their experience for consideration of job openings at the executive and C-suite levels. For years, they have filled various roles in supply chain operations. More recently, the industry has spoken of the capacity crunch, the driver shortage, and the ongoing need for more supply chain management personnel. Yet, according to WomeninTrucking.Org, the number of female drivers has risen by 88% since 2010.

Additionally, there is a wage gap to consider. Women, in general, receive lower compensation than their male counterparts, but that too is changing. As noted by Supply Chain Dive, "Supply chain continues to be a lucrative, in-demand career, and women's salaries are finally catching up. Overall, the Association for Supply Chain Management's Supply Chain Salary and Career Report found that the median salary for supply chain professionals is $86,000 a year. And despite the economic challenges of 2020, 87% of those surveyed also received a cash bonus. Within those numbers, they found that the pay gap between men and women under 40 has finally closed."

Yet even a decrease in the wage gap leaves plenty of room for improvement. Fortunately, there is a growing number of organizations and best practices to attract women to the logistics field and help them refine their skills to position them for management roles.

Collaboration and Networking is Helping Women Advance

In late 2021, Intelligent Audit became certified as a Women's Business Enterprise. This certification, available exclusively through the Women's Business Enterprise National Council, provides access to a national database of corporations and government entities with supplier diversity programs seeking to do business with certified women-owned businesses. This, in turn, increases the talent pool of potential employees who want to work in a company culture driven by women.

Consider the benefits of working with and for a WBENC-Certified business and how those benefits translate into better experiences for customers, employees, and transportation network partners alike. Such benefits include:

  • Tax benefits by working with a minority-owned and operated business. Depending on the location, partnering with minority-owned and operated businesses affords considerable tax incentives and tax breaks. Remember, women-led businesses are minority-owned and managed, and they can help companies realize more value.
  • Increased ROI and operational efficiency. Increasing value means deriving a more robust ROI from partnerships, and women-led companies already have the burden of setting themselves apart from male-led peers. This added level of creativity often comes full circle through faster turnaround on core projects and needs. With Intelligent Audit, that might mean processing reports faster to derive more value from core carriers and beyond.
  • Increased rapport with colleagues. Going back to the misconceptions that some may hold toward women-led companies in logistics, the push to do better increases rapport among teammates. In turn, companies with female leadership tend to see their own experiences and values grow well beyond expectations to better command their presence in the industry.

The Leading Ladies of Logistix is another organization dedicated to helping women connect with mentors who provide skills training and instruction on scaling their supply chain businesses. Tristen Simmons, the founder and CEO of freight brokerage Lady Logistix, LLC, said she and her partners started this mentorship program to educate women on the many facets of the supply chain, including transportation, finance, real estate, compliance, and technology. "You don't want to jump into this industry without being educated," Simmons told FreightWaves. "People will tell you that trucking and logistics can create a flashy lifestyle and that trucking is sexy. But where are those people to tell you how to build business credit or how to handle cash flow? … We want to help them find the right path."

More Companies Have Goals for Gender Diversity

Again referencing Gartner's Women in Supply Chain Survey 2021, the proportion of supply chain organizations with any goal for diversity jumped to 73% from 64% in 2020. Within the subset of respondents (29%) who have stated objectives, 68% said the supply chain organization had a targeted initiative focused on women, a huge step up from 46% in 2020.

Such initiatives are helping combat what Gartner says is the No. 1 challenge companies face when trying to keep mid-career women: 54% of survey respondents cited a lack of career opportunities for women in the supply chain.

There's another factor contributing to the overall talent shortage in the supply chain. According to the Harvard Business Review, "Almost 20,000 logisticians are expected to leave the field each year, and we have a projected growth of 56,000 new jobs over the next decade — but only 10,000 people are graduating each year with logistics degrees."

There is hope despite those sobering statistics, given the growing reliance on data and analytics in the supply chain. According to the University of Wisconsin Data Science department, "A 2020 Burtch-Works study found that the number of women in data scientist roles is on a steady, albeit slow, rise. In 2018, just 15% of data scientists were women. However, in 2019, that number rose to 17%, and in 2020, it rose to 18%. The same study also found that the largest percentage of women in data science roles are in the entry-level individual contributor category, followed by the managerial level one category." With more women working in data analytics, it would seem that innovation aligns well with the need for more women in the supply chain.

The study also found that women in the computing workforce are more racially and ethnically diverse than men in the field. A higher percentage of women of African American and Asian descent have computing roles than men. Specifically, 9% of African American women and 22% of Asian American women have computing in freight positions, compared to 7% and 15% of their male counterparts.

Such diversity also falls perfectly into place with the more scientific and data-based roles women have come to fulfill in today's workforce. It will be fascinating to see how growth in that sector evolves over the remainder of 2022.

A New Age of Supply Chain Diversity

Gender diversity in supply chain management is long overdue. Companies of all sizes now realize that women might just be the most underutilized assets in what Gartner calls the "war for talent" in a staffing-challenged supply chain. Women like Carol Tomé, Judy McReynolds, Penelope Register-Shaw, Hannah Testani and so many others are taking supply chain leadership into a new age of diversity — which will benefit everyone.For more supply chain industry insights and commentary, check out the Intelligent Audit blog or follow us on LinkedIn.

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