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The labor shortage in the supply chain and manufacturing industries has been well-documented, and increasingly as that shortage continues to grow. Corrie Banks and Kleo Landucci, executives at logistics services providing companies, can’t stress enough how they’d like to see fellow females continue to enter the supply chain workforce and break the stereotype of it being “a man’s world.”

“The supply chain has a bit of an image problem,” says Banks, Founder and President of Calgary-based Triskele Logistics. “When people think of it, they think trucking and warehouse. On the front lines, they see a need to be physically strong. They see a male-centric role. We don’t necessary think women can do things in the supply chain. We need for people to think differently.”

According to a 2012 study by Deloitte, Women comprise nearly half (46.6 percent) of the total U.S. labor force, yet just 24.8 percent of the durable goods manufacturing workforce. That disparity is much greater still at the executive level.

Due to the rapid rise of automated inventory and picking processes, warehousing floor jobs aren’t as rigorous as they used to be. Many facilities today require employees to be able to lift up to only 30 pounds. Beyond that, there are plenty of warehouse managerial positions to be filled.

“There’s a lot of management and supervisory roles,” Banks says. “Not everything is about picking in a warehouse and driving a forklift.”

Education Is Key

Both Banks and Landucci say the key to adding women to the supply chain workforce is through education — and at an early stage. Landucci argues that teaching kids the basic fundamental process of the supply chain can be instrumental.

“I think education starts very young, for girls and boys,” she says. “Teach them about what goes into it. Teaching where that toy comes from — from a container, a ship, that came to a port and sent to a facility, then to a store where it was purchased. We need to educate teens about the attractiveness of supply chain positions. Women have a terrific opportunity to become engaged.”

The Deloitte study — which surveyed more than 600 women in manufacturing across functional roles and levels — found that only 20 percent of them believe that manufacturing does a good job of promoting itself to potential female candidates. That sentiment is even stronger among women with bachelors and masters degrees.

Of those surveyed, 66 percent have more than 15 years of supply chain experience, 40 percent hold managerial or supervisory positions, and more than 80 percent have post-secondary education.

Those chart figures show a disconnect, with the study also finding that 75 percent of those surveyed saying they find a manufacturing career interesting and rewarding. That goes back to the “image problem” that Banks mentioned.

“There are unconscious biases,” Banks says. “These kinds of workplaces — we tend to go with the culture we’re comfortable with. The supply chain is dominated by men. If you’re a man and you like to play golf or other sports, you have a sort of community around those activities. They’re comfortable with that. When hiring two candidates with equal abilities and one who is a minority — woman or racial — we tend to go with what we’re comfortable with.

“What we need to do is consciously choose what makes us uncomfortable,” Banks continues. “Take the names off the resumes. If you didn’t know one was a female, there would be no bias involved.”

Associations

One clear example of the rise of women in the supply chain industry is the number of women-based supply chain associations that have formed in recent years. In 2011, Women In Manufacturing held its first annual summit, with 130 women in attendance. That number was 280 at their fourth summit, held Sept. 29-Oct. 1, 2014. In 2013, the Van Horne Institute created the Women In Supply Chain Initiative. Part of Industrial Supply Association, Women Industrial Supply Executives recently held its third annual summit last fall, and already has its fourth set for Oct. 12-14, 2015.

Outlook

While she knows the supply chain industry has a long way to go in terms of adding women to address the labor shortage, Banks has seen progress.

“When I was younger, I was often the only woman in the facility or building, or touring the railyards,” she says. “I see a lot of changes in culture. There’s movement in thinking outside-the-box, that women can do the job and are doing the job. They bring a lot to the table. There’s a shift in thinking in all levels, from front-line to executives, a shift in women thinking for themselves. Now it’s normal seeing women entering the manufacturing workforce. It’s becoming routine. A lot of barriers are being broken and reduced.”

Banks and Landucci will both speak at the Cargo Logistics Canada Conference, held Jan. 28-29 in Vancouver.

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