Women Leaders in Supply Chain Management: Recruitment, Retention and Advancement

Supply chains are constantly evolving

Supply chains have probably existed for hundreds of years. Most of us are aware of the role that logistics and distribution have played since World War I. The field of supply chain management is as much an art as it is science.

It has constantly evolved over the last three decades – starting from the 80s. We don’t need to overemphasize the fact that supply chains are the nerve centers of domestic, international and global trade.

What began as material and inventory management in the 80s has metamorphosed into an all-encompassing function that begins from the ideation/design/product introduction stage to the last mile delivery to the customer/end consumer.

And the myriad and complex flows of material, machinery, product, process, data and information make this ever-changing and dynamic field more fascinating.  

Modern supply chains are global, glocal and local. There is an increased focus on addressing the 3Vs – Visibility, Velocity, and Variability.

Every effort being made by organizations across the world is to increase visibility and velocity and to control/reduce variability. 

The advent of technology startups, unicorns and “Amazon” has changed and continues to change supply chain and logistics paradigms. eCommerce companies such as Amazon and technology giants such as Google, Apple, Microsoft and Facebook have been trendsetters for supply chains globally.

Today’s supply chains are seen to be strategic differentiators and a source of competitive advantage for companies across various sectors/industries. 

Some of the key trends and developments that have affected current supply chains include:

  • Automation across sub-functions/processes across the extended chain
  • Digitalization
  • Big data and Advanced Analytics
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Supply Chain Risk Management
  • Supply Chain Finance
  • Supply Chain Design
  • Omni-Channel Distribution
  • Global Trade – US vs China
  • Sustainability 




People, Process & Technology

The collaborative role of these three key elements in the success of any organization needs no emphasis. 

Changing supply chain dynamics and consumer demand patterns call for flexible and responsive supply chains.

It is well acknowledged that “technology” is more of an enabler that supports business excellence and transformation. Processes and policies play a similar role through standardization and adherence to best practices.

But the most critical element among the three is undoubtedly, “People”. This is the fulcrum around which everything else revolves.

Therefore, supply chain talent management has taken the front seat among firms. Hiring, shaping and retaining the most suitable talent have been a major challenge.

Supply Chain Talent

When I completed my MBA in Operations 12 years ago, we had only one female student in our class of 31. Over the years, the batch size has more than doubled with more than a fifth comprising women. Need I say anything more?

I have had the good fortune of working and learning from female demand planning professionals. I am of the strong opinion that there should be a gender mix across supply chain functions and roles in companies, spanning the entire spectrum starting from design and product development to last-mile logistics and delivery.

Every company today is taking concerted and focussed steps towards inclusion and gender diversity in various ways, and I strongly feel this is a very welcoming step.

I was a panel speaker at the Technology Supply Chain Conference conducted by CPO Innovation in April last year. It featured over 50+ thought leaders including top-notch and very senior women leaders that accounted for a fourth of the total speakers.

Their thoughts and perspectives were very insightful. This further corroborates the fact that there is abundance of women talent not only in supply chain and operations management but in various other fields as well.

Gender diversity and mix is not an option anymore. It is an absolute necessity. Moreover, the only criteria while hiring should be talent fit and meritocracy. 

The IIMs have also seen a significant increase in women across domains in the 2019-21 batch. The overall % of women in the flagship course at the top 6 IIMs has gone up to around 34% from 26% last year, as per LinkedIn news. 

Top educational institutions, companies and professional conferences are playing a key role to nurture, promote and enhance the presence of women leaders in supply chain.

Many leading global companies and professional supply chain and operations bodies are focussing on promoting STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) among young and aspiring female students to encourage them to take up operations and supply chain management roles going forward.  

Advancing women in supply chain management roles and making sure that they are provided the right career path and opportunities to take up leadership roles is absolutely vital for any organization seeking growth.

This is a logical step and would yield significant benefits to diverse functional teams in organizations through plurality and diversity of opinions and ideas and enable the discussions to become a lot more meaningful.

The eight key tips from the eight global CSCOs are:

  • Be open to new things
  • Learn all aspects of the business
  • Foster a global perspective
  • Deliver on what you promise
  • Find the fun in what you do
  • Value and champion diversity
  • Create a fulfilling work-life balance
  • Take risks

True nuggets of wisdom for all supply chain and operations professionals indeed!