Supply chain professions: Women's place today?

Published on 15 September 2021

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Despite a diversification of its professions and a recent and relative feminization, the supply chain remains predominantly male, especially the higher up the organization chart you go. We have gathered a panel of experts from the field and from education to understand how to make supply chain jobs more attractive to women and to remove the obstacles to the feminization of a sector that has strong recruitment needs:  

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Salomée Ruel: associate professor of information systems management and supply chain management at Kedge Business School; 

Marie-Laurence Deruaz: Logistics Director at Suez Eau France 

Anicia Jaegler: director of the Operations Management and Information Systems department and professor at the ISLI at Kedge Business school, delivers their analysis; 

Just over 4 in 10 (41%) supply chain positions, according to the Gartner 2021 survey, are filled by women. These numbers are slowly changing, as Gartner reported an occupancy rate of 39% in 2020 and 33% in 2019. However, in executive positions, their share is only 17%, and decreasing. What are the persistent obstacles to this feminization? 

Anicia Jaegler: "Historically, logistics originated in the military world. Then, it was implemented in the industrial world and associated with transport and storage. This explains its masculinization. The supply chain, which is more recent, is slowly becoming more feminine, with very significant differences depending on the activity and sector".

Salomée Ruel: "The operational functions of logistics - transport, handling, etc. - which make up the bulk of the troops, have less than 10% women. Conversely, in customer services, more than 9 out of 10 employees are women, but these profiles weigh little in the overall workforce. 

The digitalization of the sector, which is pushing companies to recruit more "mathematical" profiles, does not seem to be conducive to the feminization of the sector, particularly in management positions, which are predominantly male. 

This is related to the fact that it is a male world that has difficulty making room for women, but also to image problems generating a lack of attractiveness for some women".

Marie-Laurence Deruaz: "The supply chain is often reduced in people's minds to its "logistics" part, which is historically considered to be a man's job, physical, with a lot of travel and staggered hours, considered to be very restrictive. 

These stereotypes apply to recruiters, but also to female candidates, who tend to censor themselves. Fewer in number in training courses, they find it harder to take the plunge when applying. 

My own team of about 60 employees who perform operational supply and package preparation duties includes six women". 

How can we make these jobs more attractive to women? 

Anicia Jaegler: "The first action is the promotion of professions in industry, transport, e-commerce, etc. The supply chain is everywhere and its professions are very diverse. Several initiatives are moving in the right direction: a book for primary school children, a card game for high school girls, etc".

Salomée Ruel: "We need to work on the image of these jobs. We must make it known that these jobs, considered as very manual and requiring muscles, have been largely facilitated by mechanization, which also relieves the men. 

It should be noted that beyond logistics, the sector now encompasses a wide range of functions, around the management of the supply chain. 

As a teacher, I insist on their transversal and strategic dimensions. We need more female teachers in logistics. At Kedge Business School, the Superior Institute of Industrial Logistics, where I teach, and the Msc "International Transport" are run by women. We have an educational role to play by training our female students in negotiation and leadership and by trying to change the way students view their colleagues. 

This image work must be led by companies, but also by journalists and public authorities. 100% female events such as the "Global Women Supply Chain Leaders 2020", organized by B2G Consulting, are starting to be set up. 

Finally, in the locker room, change also means strict enforcement of the law that prohibits posters of naked women, which is considered sexual harassment. It may seem like anecdotal evidence, but it's not always." 

Marie-Laurence Deruaz: "We also need an active HR policy on gender equality. At Suez, this means communicating to all employees about the stereotypes and discrimination that women may be subject to. 

It is important that communication also highlights successful women and career opportunities. 

Recently, we set up a women's network to give them more visibility, to allow them to share experiences, but also to decipher codes and remove barriers that they sometimes put on themselves. 

When I set up my team, I made sure to give both men and women a chance: two out of five site managers are women. On a daily basis, I encourage the teams to be open to this type of recruitment. We have some of the best female warehouse staff. 

But these changes are not always without difficulties. It is also necessary to support the teams, as some members have difficulty recognizing the legitimacy of women managers. This requires open discussions with these employees to help them take a step back from what they are saying and what they think, but also support for the manager. 

What are the benefits for a company to have a more active gender diversity policy? 

Marie-Laurence Deruaz: "Diversity in the broadest sense of the word is an asset for the company. It is the variety of experiences, skills and points of view on the same problem that will make a team more efficient. And diversity is part of this. As long as you know how to agree to cross the views. I have noticed that teams with women leave more room for communication. 

Anicia Jaegler: "The research conducted made it possible to link the presence of women and financial performance, sustainable performance and diversity." 

Salomée Ruel: "Women are more sensitive to issues of well-being in the workplace and to compliance with Quality, Health, Safety and Environment (QHSE) rules. 

They are also more sensitive to the respect of suppliers' codes of conduct; a key dimension at a time when consumers do not hesitate to boycott a brand that violates ethical rules. Finally, research has shown that in supply chain audit situations, teams led by women perform better and uncover more disputes and compliance issues. 

Generix Group North America helps distribution & manufacturing companies achieve operational excellence with their WMS & MES  Supplychain solutions. We invite you to download our WMS Decision Making Guide here.