The supply chain industry has made great strides in the last few years, especially when it comes to hiring women.

In 2020, 17 percent of chief supply chain officers were women, according to Gartner’s 2020 Women in Supply Chain Survey. And while that’s a 6 percent increase over 2019, there’s still a noticeable gap between men and women in supply chain roles.

Now, supply chain disruptions are having a moment. Everyone in the retail industry has found themselves very familiar with how supply chains work over the past 18 months as economic, labor and climate threats caused disruptions in nearly every sector because of COVID-19.

“It’s in the spotlight,” Emily Hewell, vice president of supply chain at Hubble Contacts, said at the recent retailX conference in Chicago. “It used to be just on the back burner. If it’s working well, no one really knows it’s there and it’s kind of just a support function of the business; now, it is the business.”

While the COVID-19 pandemic has shone a spotlight on supply chain issues, it’s also served to highlight the gender inequalities in leadership roles in the sector.

Katrica Charley, vice president of supply chain planning and strategy for Shoe Carnival, and Jacqueline Quirk, senior supply chain specialist at Nestle Nutrition, joined Hewell on a panel at retailX to discuss what it’s like to be a woman in a male-dominated field. The session was moderated by Women in Retail Leadership Circle’s co-founder, Melissa Campanelli.

Attracting More Women to Supply Chain Sector

When Quirk first began working in a supply chain position, she found herself having to explain that her job was more than just manufacturing and distribution, fields that are traditionally considered more male-centric because they used to be more labor-intensive. Quirk’s job involves a myriad of other touchpoints, including sourcing, packaging, procurement, production and logistics, and she said the industry should highlight that if it hopes to attract more women to the field.

“It’s more than just manufacturing,” Quirk said. “It’s more than just driving a truck. I think that would attract more women to really understand — especially future generations — what goes into getting your Starbucks latte in the morning, or getting that product on the shelf.”

Women Serving as Guideposts in the Supply Chain

The problem, Charley said, is optics.

“There have been many times that I’ve been in a room of professionals and I have been the ‘only,'” noted Charley. “And there’s great responsibility that comes with being the ‘only’ or being the ‘first.’ It takes persistence, it takes a doggedness to stay the course and lay the foundation by which other women can follow and benefit from.”

If more women served as guideposts — and if more companies helped women by offering sponsors and financially helping women grow their careers by helping them expand their network, join membership associations and make connections — there might be more women leaders in the supply chain field, Charley said.

“We’re taking a vested interest in the women we bring in from the start,” said Charley. “It’s not necessarily having their career charted out, but giving them different perspectives as to where they can take their career, and then putting them in front of senior leadership from the very beginning. Making those connections up front, giving them the wherewithal to be a part of teams where they’re leading and contributing as leaders helps build the confidence that they can become the next chief supply chain officer if they so choose.”

Are you or do you know a woman in retail looking to make connections? Apply to become a member of Women in Retail Leadership Circle!