ProMat 2019 – Where my Girls at?

How to Close the Gender Gap in the Supply Chain Industry

Last week, I was fortunate enough to attend ProMat 2019 in Chicago. With over 45,000 attendees (and growing), ProMat is one of the the leading supply chain and logistics trade show in North America. While I could go on at great lengths about all of the next-generation robotics, AI, and other manufacturing and material handling technology that was showcased out on the floor, one key impression I had while walking through 350,000 square feet of floor space and weaving through hundreds upon hundreds of vendor booths was that there were a lot more male than female attendees and exhibitors. This gender balance was striking enough for me to wonder why there is such a small female presence in the supply chain industry. And I wasn’t alone in making this observation. One of the main keynote speakers at the show was Reshema Saujani, Founder and Author of Girls Who Code, and she spent her riveting hour-long presentation addressing this industry’s gender gap.

Reshema Saujani, Founder and Author of Girls Who Code.

A gender gap in tech-driven industries are nothing new, of course. We read about it; see it on the news; and experience it everyday. Is it a lack of opportunities in (increasingly) tech-driven industries like supply chain and logistics? Or that fewer women are pursing STEM degrees? Or is it a sheer lack of awareness by woman that these jobs are available? The answer is all of the above. So how can we get more women to look at the supply chain and logistics field from early in their education and become sought-after candidates in the field?

Saujani, who founded a nonprofit organization which aims to support and increase the number of women in computer science, sees one of the main issues behind the gender gap in tech fields as being a cultural one. She feels we are turning girls off from careers in the tech industry through a lack of strong, smart technology leaders on television and in film. We live in a world where influencers in popular culture have a profound affect on their fans, and can really lead the charge by showing young women that there are other women out there being successful in technology.

The second big problem is outreach both at a young age when decisions on career paths are being developed and also in the supply chain industry work force. Corporate recruitment is only now starting to focus on setting hiring goals for female employees. In the formative the years, getting young women into programs that highlight tech careers and providing them mentoring and education can strongly influence someone’s decision to pursue a technology career. Through her Girls Who Code program, Saujani has found that the alumnae of her program have declared Computer Science as their college major at a rate of 15x the national average, thus proving that giving the right information in the right manner to these young woman can lead them down a path to  a career in a tech field.  

According to an article by a Staff Writer about the Supply Chain Industry Gender Gap, they are in agreement with Ms. Saujani. They add that a rather large pay gap between men and women in the industry is a factor. In 2017 the average male in the supply chain and logistic field earned 46% more than their female counterparts. A lack of female leadership is also a contributing issue to the gap. There are not enough women at the top to provide the mentorship and serve as the role models for the next generation of supply chain professionals. While the stats have increased from 7% of female C-Suite executives to 14% in 2018, that is still a large discrepancy from their male colleagues at that level. Additionally, women at all levels of employment in the industry account for only 37%, but that percentage drops off as you climb in organizational charts.

So how do we close this gap? It starts with continuing education for woman at every level of their career in supply chain, logistics, material handling, and manufacturing, and extends through the leaders in the field increasing their goals when hiring woman, retaining them, and providing growth opportunities at every level of the organization. It also takes events like ProMat and groups like MHI to bring awareness to this issue with providing insights on the subjects from well respected woman like Reshema Saujani. And hopefully, in the next several years, we will see a bigger female presence out on the floor of key industry events like ProMat.