Supply Chain: When crisis knocks, opportunities grow

In the war for talent, is the exodus of women from other professions an opportunity for supply chain?

In my previous columns, I have discussed the crucial role that supply chain leaders play in elevating the profession from the tactical to strategic level. The profession is at an important juncture. How we harness the momentum of the past two years will determine the future role supply chain plays in the boardroom.

Al-Azhar Khalfan is President and CEO of the Supply Chain Management Association Ontario (SCMAO).

A recent survey from McKinsey & Company and LeanIn.org caught my eye. Amidst the supply chain talent shortage and conversations about “the great resignation,” this survey pointed out that women leaders are switching jobs at the highest rate on record – at a higher rate than men – as they demand more from their employers. A good work culture, flexibility, as well as more diversity and inclusion are among the areas these women wish to seek. The study also says that men significantly outnumber women at the managerial level, and that women can never catch up.

Yet looking at our community of supply chain professionals – representative of one of the largest supply chain professional groups in Canada – the diversity is inspiring. I am proud that in the supply chain profession itself, I have had the privilege of meeting with and learning from women who are in senior management roles and have made monumental contributions. Their passion for supply chain is evident. Yet many, if not most, of these leaders did not start their careers as supply chain professionals.

This begs the question: how can we inspire more women to consider professional opportunities within supply chain? Is the exodus of women from their current roles an opportunity for the supply chain profession?

In pursuit of answers, I reached out to a few supply chain leaders who are active in the SCMAO community, to gain their perspectives. Here is what they had to say:

As someone who has moved to supply chain from another profession, I can say that supply chain professionals need a broad toolbox to be successful. That’s why it represents a great opportunity for cross-functional promotions or stretch opportunities within an organization. On any day, a supply chain manager will draft a contract, draw insights from data or re-think a business process to drive efficiencies and so roles such as contract managers, business analysts and process engineers would all bring the right skills in a lateral move. With the importance of an optimized supply chain to drive business value, those looking for a high-growth career move would be wise to check out their company’s supply chain divisions.”
— Rosslyn Young, Chief Legal Officer, Legal Services, LCBO.

As a nuclear professional, I had envisioned my career in nuclear projects to be a forever path. As I moved into supply chain after working for 23 years in supporting the production of clean energy at OPG’s nuclear stations, I realized that there is so much value to be added to the enterprise through tackling supply chain challenges, building vendor relationships and securing supply in our critical energy industry at this time. The field is dynamic and exciting, and I encourage women who have a strong understanding of their business to consider how their knowledge and creativity might help the business in a strategic supply chain role. Having said that, it is also almost imperative for supply chain leaders to position the supply chain function as a rewarding career option, with a commitment to continued growth, training, and development for those new to the profession.”
— Karen Fritz, Chief Supply Officer, Ontario Power Generation.

I started my career in an engineering role, and after five years of technical work, I made the decision to switch into business. I completed my MBA and then joined supply chain. Switching industries is possible through investments in yourself and your future. Seeking out candidates who are developing themselves to switch industries is an innovative way to address the challenge of supply chain talent shortages. An optimal situation for both parties (candidate and recruiter) occurs when an organization has a growth opportunity involving net new business processes, with more openings than internally available talent. The focus shifts to recruiting candidates with a blend of natural tendencies, applicable background knowledge and proven experience. For any individual departing one industry for another, the emphasis in marketing themselves rests in demonstrating how their personally branded combination of these components can add value for their new employer. For example, if pursuing a growth opportunity in supply chain, how would the prospective female candidate show their proficiency in objectively considering facts to drive decisions quickly? Once hired, the woman and their new leader can leverage that strength in work assignments, professional development, and training while building exposure to the new industry.”
—LeeAnn Carver, AVP, Supply Chain Integration & Asia Operations, Canadian Tire Corporation.

I am proud to say that there are many more such examples within our community of supply chain professionals. The prospect of gaining transferable skills, business knowledge, and analytical and decision-making abilities are important factors in encouraging organizational talent to move into supply chain. Some key steps include, but are not limited to:

  1. Learn more about internal branding and marketing, then leverage these tools to position your supply chain team as a value proposition within your organization. Employees who are contemplating quitting other departments may then consider a supply chain career.
  2. Training in DEI, building organizational culture, and mentorship are especially important for current managers as organizations move to grow their supply chain workforce. Foster an environment that attracts talent from within the organization.
  3. Hiring employees from other professions, yet from within the organization, is a new way to address talent shortages and grow the supply chain talent pool. Albeit this comes with a commitment to equip employees with the right training and education.

As organizations cope with finding the right fit and supply chain talent, it is time to think “inside” the box, champion women within organizations who are looking for opportunities and encourage them to explore a rewarding career in supply chain. Incidentally, as per a recent ASCM career report published by Argentus, women in supply chain, aged 40-49 are more likely to be in leadership roles – another reason for more women from other professions to switch careers to supply chain, as never before has this career been so exciting!

The current spotlight on supply chain, the growing resilience and agility within the profession, along with the innovation and fast pace are ideal conditions for women with transferable skills to optimize supply chain operations through their focus on collaboration, problem-solving, empathy and culture. The only missing link for their success is the investment to train them through foundational and technical supply chain education. As the supply chain environment and future of the workforce goes through paradigm shifts, this is an area of investment that will continue to yield long-term results.