International Women’s Day: #ChoosetoChallenge Gender Disparity

March 8, 2021
Andrea Little Limbago

Supply chain security is essential in addressing the most pressing challenges of our time – from the pandemic to climate change and from food security to national security – and requires a diverse range of expertise and backgrounds to tackle this growing range of challenges.

 Unfortunately, gender disparities in the supply chain workforce, including pay and leadership gaps, undermine our ability to rise to these challenges. On this International Women’s Day, the theme #ChoosetoChallenge should be a defining call to action for all of us in the supply chain industry to disrupt the status quo and together ensure greater gender diversity across all aspects of global supply chains.

The overall number of women in the supply chain workforce has remained steady at 39% according to a recent Gartner report. This number quickly dwindles when analyzing leadership positions. While the study found an increase from 11% to 17% of women executive leaders, the number of women in Vice President and Senior Directors roles dropped from 28% to 21%.

The gender disparity in salaries also is striking at all levels of the workforce, and then grows as women move up the corporate ladder. On average, a 2017 survey found men in supply chains earn 29% more than their female counterparts. This gap widened to 48% for women who had worked in supply chains 15 to 19 years. A separate study found the gap closer 16% on average and notes the increase of women entering supply-chain management.

Global Supply Chain and a Global Gap

Those studies largely focus on the corporate world in the United States and Europe, but supply chains have global reach. In fact, the gender gap extends well beyond the corporate leadership roles impacts many of the most vulnerable global workers. Approximately 190 million women work in global supply chains, many of whom are forced to contend with unsafe working conditions and salaries below living wages. COVID-19 has also disproportionately impacted these women in global supply chains, with additional economic hardship due to cancelled orders, layoffs, and workplace closures, not to mention the growing risk of domestic violence and increased virus exposure as primary caregivers. COVID-19 has also reversed the global trend of women in low-resource countries entering the workforce at unprecedented rates, and has reversed the last decade’s progress of women in the workforce in OECD countries as well.

Despite these disappointing statistics, there is room for cautious optimism. For instance, the previously mentioned Gartner study found that companies in the top quartile of gender diversity outperform other companies by 21% on profitability and 27% on superior value creation. A separate study explored conflicting findings on gender diversity and performance, and found that corporations based in countries with both normative acceptance of working women along with regulatory support experience better performance as gender diversity increases. When assessing global supply chains, country-level and cultural context is essential to consider

There also is a broader movement toward supplier diversity programs, wherein corporations explicitly seek suppliers with at least 51% of a company owned and operated by an individual or group traditionally associated underrepresented or underserved. Not only do these programs support greater competition and widen the pool of potential suppliers, but they also add agility to supply chains. Some studies have placed the ROI of supplier diversity programs around 133% depending on annual sales numbers. And as Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) considerations continue to garner greater attention and compliance requirements – such as the recent law supported by the German cabinet that mandates human rights and environmental considerations in global supply chains – supplier diversity programs will also contribute to greater compliance as well as stronger performance.

How Companies Can Show Their Support

There also are a range of ways corporations can signal their support toward gender diversity across their supply chains. In 2019, eleven companies announced their commitment to women’s empowerment across their supply chains and subsequent programs to help achieve their goals. The United Nations Global Compact – signed by over 16000 global companies – includes gender equality as a top priority in its sustainable development goals. Companies are delisted if they fail to uphold the standards established under the Global Compact, with subsequent reputational damage as well. Companies can also choose to adopt more female-friendly policies such as longer maternity leave options and adopting zero-tolerance policies for sexual harassment among many other measures.

These are great first steps, but more companies must #ChooseToChallenge the current status quo. As a tech company focused on supply chain risk, Interos is committed to enhancing the number of women in the tech and supply chain industries.  Founded by Jennifer Bisceglie, we are already shattering the norm as one of the few venture capital-backed female-founded startups, which historically account for only 2.3% of VC funding.  Our gender diversity numbers are also well above the average for tech companies, and we #ChooseToChallenge and #CloseTheTechGenderGap by achieving gender equity in the workforce within the next few years.

With supply chains now front and center in popular discourse, we must take advantage of this interest and help grow diversity across the supply chain workforce. As supply chain risk professionals, we know well the power of networks, and the ripple effects a few central nodes can have across the globe. Each of us can impact these gender imbalances and commit to building a diverse workforce on par with the collaboration and innovation required to address the most consequential challenges of our time.

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