Inclusion and Diversity in Supply Chain: Cue the Cautious Optimism

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Gartner’s annual supply chain executive extravaganza sprawled into the greater Phoenix area in mid-May, with about 2,500 supply chain professionals catching up on the latest and greatest innovation, technology and strategy at the convergence of digital and physical supply chains.

What the casual attendee might not appreciate is the perpetual calibration we engage in all year long. We strive to ensure we’re covering all the important stuff (according to our research and our client base). We also work to cover “edge” topics that may not be in the supply chain mainstream yet, but are the vanguard for innovators and leaders in the profession.

For example, supply chain talent strategy is mainstream as a focus for supply chain organizations today. Several sessions focused on talent and many more featured prominent “people & skills” best-practice sections and watch-outs. From our research, we know that talent and skills are the No. 1 or No. 2 constraint to progress in every survey we do, and in Gartner’s annual CEO survey it’s the top constraint. Gartner handles 750-plus supply chain talent and organization-related client inquiries annually where clients are working through a variety of people, culture and org-related issues. So: it’s pretty important.

Within supply chain talent strategy, however, diversity and inclusion has traditionally been an “edge” consideration. Perhaps 15-20 of our annual client inquiries are about diversity and inclusion best practices. Session content, with the exception of Peer Forum breakfasts and Gartner SCM World Live’s events, has been light. Until this year, that is. We seem to be hitting an inflection point with additional Gartner event interest and participation, as well as survey results that tell us supply chain is on the right track for results and representation.

We had our first main breakout session at the Phoenix event that focused on diversity and inclusion as a business imperative (co-hosted by Cisco). Our annual Women in Supply Chain executive luncheon doubled in size and we hosted a diversity and inclusion community breakfast. In addition to volume of activity, though, the crucial difference in 2019 is that we are also finally starting to see broader progress across supply chain organizations in building visibly diverse and inclusive teams and leadership.

For example, our fourth annual Women in Supply Chain survey, conducted in partnership with AWESOME, uncovered that:

  • Women’s representation in supply chain organizations and management pipelines ticked up for the first time ever, including a jump from 20% to 28% at the vice president level. Women now comprise on average 39% of the supply chain workforce.
  • Having inclusion and diversity goals is crucial: Supply chain organizations that have goals are twice as likely to report progress in representation.
  • Supply chain leadership of initiatives makes a big difference to pipelines: Where supply chain leads, representation at the front line manager level was 37%, compared to 27% where supply chain isn’t leading. This echoes findings from other supply chain talent research we do: when supply chain owns and drives people-related initiatives, the outcomes are always better.
  • Men matter. A lot. We ran numbers to see if there was a material difference in progress reported with and without male involvement. The results suggest that you should run, not walk, to enlist male colleagues to co-lead and participate in these initiatives: 71% of respondents with men participating reported progress in promoting women into top supply chain jobs. That’s compared to just 40% reporting progress without male involvement.

Many of the findings prove for the supply chain profession what has already been proven in other professional groups or across more general professional populations with regard to including women on teams and in leadership ranks. Still, we’re glad to have the supply chain-specific data.

Several years of intense effort on the part of a handful of leading organizations, as well as early initiatives from a larger number of mid-maturity supply chain organizations, are starting to bear fruit, and more companies are piloting small initiatives. For the first time, for example, over half of the responding companies have actual goals.

Given that, it seems naive that we were expecting any material progress until now, with only a handful of supply chain organizations, albeit large and leading ones, working toward specific inclusion and diversity outcomes. Well, as of 2019, we have awareness, critical mass and proof points. Our next primary research and community discussions will go beyond gender diversity to other types of diversity, notably attracting, retaining and developing multicultural supply chain professionals.

Dana Stiffler, Research Vice President, Gartner Supply Chain

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