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A New Approach is Needed to Increase Women in the Supply Chain C-Suite and to Close the Talent Gap

Posted by Artemis Connection | May 22, 2019 10:07:57 AM

Nader Mikhail, founder and CEO of Elementum, makes the point that filling the supply chain talent gap isn’t just about filling jobs, it is about the future: “[I]t’s clear that supply chain professionals are poised to become the most powerful executives in the world, overseeing the heart and soul of global commerce and transforming the way companies run.”[1]

The demand for supply chain professionals exceeds supply by six to one.[2] Hiring qualified talent is the single biggest challenge facing supply chain companies.[3] Sixty-five percent of respondents in MHI’s 2019 survey rated hiring qualified workers as extremely or very challenging. Ninety-one percent rated it as at least somewhat challenging.

Survey respondents identified the top critical skills needed to compete in the next-generation supply chain: analytics/modeling/visualization (40 percent), strategic problem solving (37 percent), and general business acumen and cross-functional knowledge (31 percent). These results support previous research. Richard E. Crandall, PhD, CFPIM, CIRM, CSCP, professor emeritus at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina and the lead author of “Principles of Supply Chain Management” points to soft skills and leadership acumen as skill and talent gaps with the industry:[4] 

“Supply chain professionals also need softer skills such as change management, collaborative problem resolution and assimilation. As supply chains expand, multilingual workers will become more valuable, as will individuals with training in social sciences, people with a stamina and affinity for travel, and those able to affect change and be diplomatic when dealing with people from other cultures. Likewise, as political tensions rise, workers who are excellent negotiators will be in demand.”

Center of Excellence

Elementum makes the case that supply chain organizations should establish a center of excellence (CoE) focusing on sales and operations execution (S&OE) so organizations can respond to unexpected variations in a structured, systematic way thereby increasing revenue capture, reducing inventory, increasing productivity, and increasing customer satisfaction. They identify five tactics supply chain organizations should use when setting up a CoE, one tactic is people.[5]

When establishing the CoE, Elementum highlights the importance of creating a cross-functional team with different skill sets and ensuring organizations take time to get the right S&OE manager in place. When hiring an S&OE manager, Elementum outlines the following capabilities organizations should look for: data and analytical skills; project management experience; strategic problem-solving skills with a bias toward action; and a collaborative approach.

When selecting a cross-functional ambassador for each team within the supply chain, Elementum points to these characteristics: deep functional expertise; an openness to change; leadership and influence; and a holistic perspective.

The characteristics outlined for both the S&OE manager and the ambassadors parallel the skills which were identified above as those needed to compete in the next generation supply chain.


Women in the Supply Chain

Gartner’s fourth annual “Women in Supply Chain Survey” showed modest improvements in women’s overall participation in the supply chain workforce and improvements in representation in most management and leadership roles.[6]

On average, women make up 39 percent of the supply chain workforce, up from 36 percent in 2016. Increases have also been realized at the first-line manager level, middle manager, and director levels. Most notable is at the VP level, the percentage of women jumped from 20 percent in 2018 to 28 percent in 2019.

While these figures are encouraging, what is not encouraging are the numbers coming out of the C-suite. In 2016 just 7 percent of women occupied C-suite roles. This increased to 15 percent in 2017, dropped to 14 percent in 2018, and then fell again to 11 percent in 2019.

Increasing the number of women in the supply chain workforce and in leadership roles is important to innovation and to the bottom line.

A 2017 study conducted by McKinsey & Company found gender diversity is correlated with both profitability and value creation. Looking specifically at financial performance and gender diversity of executive teams, the study found top-quartile of companies on executive-level gender diversity worldwide had a 21 percent likelihood of outperforming their fourth-quartile industry peers on EBIT margin, and they also had a 27 percent likelihood of outperforming fourth-quartile peers on longer-term value creation, as measured using an economic-profit margin.[7]


Project Ascendance

Launched in 2016, Project Ascendance is an on-going research study conducted by Artemis Connection on the racial and gender divide in leadership. The purpose of the study is to gain a better understanding of why and how individuals ascend to high-level and management roles within their industry.

Project Ascendance includes a meta-analysis of research conducted by McKinsey, Stanford’s Clayman Institute for Gender Research, Rotman’s Initiative for Women in Business, and Harvard’s Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality, and interviews with more than 300 leaders.

Our findings show emerging fields like augmented reality, virtual reality, cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, and machine intelligence are easier places for diverse talent to thrive than more traditional fields –– in part because the rules are forming now. In these emerging fields, the leaders are just beginning to appear. Because of this, there aren’t mental models of who can be successful as the role models and leaders are just emerging.

Extrapolating this, we find there is a need for innovation when it comes to tackling the racial and gender divide in leadership, and in the workforce as a whole. We need to break away from the traditional model of hiring, and the traditional model of filling and nurturing the talent pipeline.

Looking back at the skills needed to compete in the next generation of the supply chain and the characteristics identified for key roles in building a CoE, there is an opportunity to increase gender diversity in the supply chain workforce and in the C-suite. We need to rethink traditional hiring strategies for the supply chain and rethink hiring leadership.


Artemis Connection

Artemis Connection is a strategy firm that was born from the belief that real-world problems need real-world solutions, not a presentation. To this end, Artemis puts the end-customer at the center of everything it does. We go beyond consultancy to build and deliver strategies that you can execute. We work with international, regional and local organizations in healthcare, the nonprofit sector, education, hi-tech, media and entertainment, government, and private equity and search funds.


[1] Nader Mikhail. Tomorrow's CEOs Will Come from an Unlikely Place: The Supply Chain. Forbes. December 12, 2018. http://fortune.com/2018/12/11/ceo-supply-chain/

[2] Richard E. Crandall. The Hunt for Supply Chain Talent. APICS Magazine. 2018.


[3] MHO. The 2019 MHI Annual Industry Report - Elevating Supply Chain. 2019. https://www.mhi.org/publications/report

[4] Richard E. Crandall. The Hunt for Supply Chain Talent. APICS Magazine. 2018.


[5] Elementum. How to Guide. 5 Tactics to Jump Start Your S&OE Center of Excellence. 2018.

[6] Awesome. Gartner. 2019 Women in Supply Chain Research. May 2, 2019. https://www.awesomeleaders.org/research/awesomegartner-research/

[7] Vivian Hunt, Lareina Yee, Sara Prince, and Sundiatu Dixon-Fyle. Delivering through Diversity.McKinsey & Company. January 2018. https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/delivering-through-diversity

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