Supply Chain & Logistics Industry: Gender Gap

Why look at gender gap?

There are many reasons why we need to work towards a cause of gender equality. There is a case for better business bottom lines as studies have shown that companies with diverse management teams are 21% more likely to outperform their peers on long-term value creation and profit margins. There is a macroeconomic case for working towards gender equality, and that is exemplified in the current 17% of India’s GDP is contributed by women, with a potential 770 Billion USD waiting to be unlocked when the figure reaches 50%. There is the most important human rights case in a country where Article 15 of the Constitution of India guarantees a fundamental right to equality. Most importantly, there is the humane case for gender equality that says all people are created equal and deserve equal respect, opportunity and social standing.

We take a look at issues within Supply Chain and Logistics to explore the unique challenges to gender equality in this sector.

What are the contours of the Supply Chain and Logistics profession?

The profession is variously described and covers a vast canvas including all activities encompassing the planning and management of all activities involved in sourcing and procurement, and all logistics management activities. This involves many kinds of professionals, which can be suppliers, intermediaries, third party service providers and customers. While each of these sections of the profession of supply chain, pose

their own challenges to employment and opportunities for women. The ultimate aim is the integration of supply and demand for goods and services within an organization.

Sectoral trends – Global and Domestic

Over the years, this is one sector that has been transformed through digital interventions and data analytics. The past saw volumes of paper documentation in the management of supply chains, and huge amounts of manual interventions, all of which have now been reduced significantly. The Economic Times survey sets a growth projection of USD 215 billion for the logistics industry in 2020 growing at a CAGR of 10.5%. The World Banks Logistics index saw India jump to 35th rank in 2016 as compared to 54th rank in overall logistics performance.

A large chunk of the logistics sector remains unorganized and has seen only partial digitization. 

An AT Kearney study on Supply Chain sector in India has projected that in 2025, the Supply Chain sector will be transformed by the emergence of megacities, proliferation of segments, improved supply chain infrastructure, better regulatory climate, stronger global connect and affordable and accessible technologies.

Given the exponential forecasts, a growing number of women are making inroads in the supply chain sector, which has traditionally been male-dominated and continues to see women in smaller numbers compared to other business sectors.

Women in Supply Chain and Logistics

Data on women in the sector in India is rarely available for the reason that women are recent entrants into the supply chain profession. Gartner’s global survey on Women in supply chain, reveals the global trends for participation of women.

As can be seen, the proportion of women in top-level positions was 7% in 2016, 15% in 2017 and 14% in 2018, but down to 11% in 2019. The representation of women at all other levels in the supply chain workforce, shows a significant increasing trend, up to 39% in 2019, compared to 35% in 2016. The figure above shows the trend of proportionate representation of women at different levels in the workforce. The glass ceiling is evident as the graph clearly shows the decreasing representation of women as we go higher. The heartwarming trend is that the percentage of women is increasing each year since 2016 through to 2019. 

Research shows that women don’t get the same advancement opportunities and pay as their male counterparts in the world of supply chain and logistics. The supply chain and logistics world has its unique characteristics. A lack of women in leadership positions leads to less role models, ambitions women are often characterized as overbearing and emotional, rather than passionate and assertive, company cultures don’t foster career development for women. In a survey by American Shipper, nearly all women veterans involved in shipping and logistics had experienced some degree of harassment or bias, or career obstacle that men were not likely to have experienced. According to a study on pay in the logistics industry conducted by Logistics Management, 82% of respondents were male and the average male respondent made 46% more salary than his female counterpart.

The perception is that women are better at detail-oriented work, hence get assigned all roles that are administrative or compliance-oriented. The strategic and operational control work essential to SCM and Logistics tends to remain a male bastion. Women who are outspoken are often held back. People often underestimate women’s intelligence and capability and they are not taken seriously. The increased application of technology will make for a more level playing field for women and that is exciting. When it comes to promotion time, often women get overlooked or marginalized.

Closing the Gap

Having more women in supply chain and logistics roles, however, can offer companies a great competitive advantage. An Australian government report on workplace gender equality cited the following benefits. 

  • Better organizational performance
  • Boosted company reputation
  • Ability to better attract talent and retain employees
  • Improved productivity and economic growth on a national scale

In the long run, with increasing technology driving the supply chain and logistics management function, there may come a stage when women will actually be better at managing the dynamics as compared to me. This is because of:

  • Multi-tasking: Supply chain is a cross-functional role and requires multitasking. It is proven that women are wired differently. While men tend to think in a linear single task fashion, women have neural networks that process information back and forth and in a circular fashion. This makes it easier for them to multitask and perform more effectively in the SCM function.

  • Collaboration: The ability to integrate views of many, taking people along and getting them to work better with each other requires empathy, belief and humility. This comes easier for women than men. 
  • Team formation & Leadership: The ability to create teams that work better with each other requires insight into people and their behavior. This comes from soft skills requiring an ability to read between words, be aware of the core behavior of people and know and understand intuitively. It is a common belief that women will bring the quality of leadership that connects with the emotions of people and builds teams that work greatly together.

As complexity throughout the supply chain grows, technology and data drive greater value and the skills gap widens, companies need new, more diverse talent. Organizations can diversify talent and support women in supply chain management to drive performance and profitability.