Despite ‘talent gap,’ many see positive outlook for women in supply chain

This article was originally published as a WRAL Spotlight feature.

An imbalance known as the “supply chain talent gap” has grabbed the attention of many in the business world.

It is a term coined to refer to the fact that despite 35 percent of the supply chain workforce being female, only five percent of the most senior management levels are.

While this is the present state of affairs, both faculty and students of North Carolina State University’s supply chain program see many reasons for women to be optimistic about supply chain as a career.

MAKING FEMALE STUDENTS AWARE OF THE OPPORTUNITIES

Just a glance at the numbers shows a positive trend for female participation in supply chain. As stated, 35 percent of the supply chain workforce is female, but 37 percent of the supply chain students are female. This number is even higher — 39 percent — at N.C. State.

Tracy Freeman, a faculty member in N.C. State’s supply chain program, said in past years, supply chain was not a well-known concentration, which has contributed to some of the imbalance.

“I believe one of the keys to increasing the number of women in supply chain is exposing them to the various facets of supply chain and the potential career opportunities,” Freeman said. “At N.C. State, we require business administration majors to take an ‘Introduction to Operations and Supply Chain Management’ course. This is often the student’s first exposure to the field of supply chain.”

Freeman also cites the program’s “think and do” focus. This has allowed female students to partner with successful Triangle-area women in the business community during projects. N.C. State provides female supply chain students with project advisors and faculty mentors that can share their experiences as female supply chain professionals.

PERFECTLY SUITED TO WOMEN

Sara Sonderman, an MBA student in N.C. State’s supply chain program, agrees that seeing women in these roles is a powerful motivator for young women considering whether to choose this line of work.

“The image of men in supply chain can be somewhat intimidating for women,” Sonderman said. “Thinking of transportation, manufacturing and warehousing makes you think of a boys’ club. Modern supply chain has so much more to it though, and women’s creativity and communication skills can be a big asset.”

Her classmate Marguerite Murray concurred.

“The industry is well suited for women,” she said. “Many of the skills women are recognized for — the ability to see opportunities, think strategically and identify creative solutions — are assets in supply chain management. It’s also a good fit because the diverse and interconnected nature of the work allows for flexible scheduling — a key factor affecting women in the workplace.”

STRONG JOB OUTLOOK FOR WOMEN IN SUPPLY CHAIN

Both Murray and Sonderman have a very positive outlook for their futures in the supply chain field. Despite the historical imbalances in management-level jobs for women, Freeman said the industry is aware and making great strides to improve.

“As the United States continues to move from a manufacturing- to a service-based economy, supply chain is transforming into a much more attractive field for women,” Freeman said. “There are flexible, well-paying jobs that fit women’s strengths, and businesses are very interested in pursuing female talent to fill them.”

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