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“What does this mean for you when I say, ‘run like a girl’? It means run as fast as you can.”

You may remember the 2014 commercial where 10-year-old Dakota demonstrates to director Lauren Greenfield what it means for her to run like a girl. The commercial, which was part of a larger campaign for Always (a P&G brand), highlighted the negative stereotypes associated with being female by asking girls, boys, and women what images arise when asked what it means to run, fight, and throw like a girl. The intent of the commercial is to show how women’s confidence plummets in their formative years due to persistent, unfounded, negative gender stereotypes. Eight years later, I assume (and hope) that if this video were reshot, the perceptions young girls develop would be different. In other words, over the last decade how successful have we been not just talking the talk, but walking the walk to create more gender equality for future generations? 

More importantly, will these girls—who are now young women who are just entering the workforce—get the opportunity to contribute, compete, innovate, and lead in ways that these negative stereotypes might have prevented ten years ago?

The good news is that businesses–and society overall–seem to be moving in the right direction. In a 2004 study by accounting and advisory firm Grant Thornton, 19% of worldwide leadership roles were held by women. In 2021, the figure hit 31%. Unfortunately, the supply chain space seems to be slower to align with these trends. Even though studies (and common sense) clearly show the benefits of women in leadership roles, currently only 25% of leadership roles in the supply chain are held by women.  

Our industry is missing an opportunity. Before focusing on the gap that needs to be closed, let’s first recognize that women are essential to the success of any organization. They are essential in the Digital Transformation journey because, statistics show, adding women to these initiatives drives greater innovation and collaboration when compared with teams comprised solely of  male counterparts. Women in leadership positions are essential in employee retention and engagement strategies because knowledge building and sharing is an innate skill for many women. Women are essential in recruiting processes because having them in publicly visible roles shows diversity and inclusion. Female leaders are critical to sustainability and ESG efforts because empowered women bring new perspectives, ideas, and suggestions to improve results across sustainable economic growth, social development, and environmental sustainability. 

By first understanding the benefits women bring to the table, companies can then focus on openly discussing the gaps, developing solutions, and executing a strategy to achieve the above results. It’s important to avoid the trap of promoting women to positions of leadership without true influence and authority merely to fill a quota, but rather because a diversity of  intelligence, perspective, and leadership within the workforce will strengthen companies’ results

 So how do you start to make changes to bring women into the leadership pipeline and cultivate the many benefits they bring to your organization?

  1. Be honest, be ready
    The first step to any project is to reach a consensus that change is needed. Assess the current situation, collect, and analyze existing diversity data across each of the business units in your organization, listen to your associates, consider their concerns, understand, and acknowledge the points of friction. If this analysis uncovers gaps in the current situation, use it as the reason to change but also as a baseline to measure progress. Because once the understanding that change is required is reached, the next step is to promote a culture that encourages and promotes it. 
  1. Enable the right culture
    In a recent o9 conference, sales strategist Peter Bourke said, ‘companies don’t buy, people do.’ The same applies to the company culture; a company does not have behaviors, its people do. The company does not change, its people do. To enable a culture that is inclusive, that embraces women and diversity in general, you need to be deliberate about it. Be opinionated and say it, create and communicate about the vision, define, and execute against your strategy, but also establish goals, and hold people accountable. Indeed, by implementing a series of small changes and specific actions (think continuous improvement), by educating one person at a time, the culture will find its tipping point and will shift.
  1.   Drive change, put action in motion
    Change is defined as the result of an action that modified the situation between two moments in time. The deliberate actions and projects launched by your organization to be aligned with the culture is the cornerstone to the success of women inclusion.

The idea here is not to catch up and only hire women for the next 10 years to reach an arbitrary 50-50 status quo. Be mindful of your recruitment process and teach your talent acquisition team to look for highly qualified diverse candidates. Sponsor a women’s committee and allow time for them to gather, ideate, and embrace their feedback and their ideas. Acknowledge mistakes, educate, apologize, and repeat.

Ultimately, it requires a commitment to hire and embrace passionate, pioneering women who have shattered glass ceilings, built initial trails in male-dominated industries, coach, and grow the pipeline of talent that look up to these role models and see the potential beyond what has already been achieved. It’s also necessary to invest in even younger generations by supporting educational programs that continue to smash long standing barriers about the potential of women in STEM.

Also, be mindful that Dakota’s generation is now entering the workforce. Gen Z are digital natives who insist on gender equity as table stakes, not the exception or an aspirational goal like the previous generations experienced. For this generation, gender parity is a basic requirement, along with race and ethnicity or sexual orientation diversity and they will evaluate a culture for these hallmarks before accepting a job offer. 

In the same way that there is no better moment to embrace your digital transformation, there is no better moment to assess your corporate culture and reinforce (or begin) your journey to create a culture of inclusion and innovation. Indeed, as men and women interact differently with technology, any solution that you are investing in needs to be engineered to include both a male and female perspective. Think about it this way, if you are not thinking about all individuals and decision makers in your prospect market, your data and goal will be incorrect. 

Finally, any technology deployment involves its fair share of change management achievements and challenges, including internal discord. As highlighted by Forbes, women are relationship builders and results-focused collaborators, but they also have demonstrated throughout history their unique and invaluable approach when resolving conflicts. Having women included in the process will help smooth your user adoption and your overall digital transformation. 

At o9 Solutions, we are overly optimistic on what the future holds whether it is determining how to better use limited natural resources or investing in the next generation of supply chain talent through sponsoring projects like the two-week MIT Supply Chain Challenge, created to find innovative solutions to real world supply chain problems. We are proud and excited to award the 2022 first prize to the team of MIT master’s degree candidates Nina Anttila, Rachael Clark, Nicholas Winters, Kubra Bayik and Meiling Chen. To learn more about the perspectives of the three women on this winning team on the future of women in supply chain, the make-or-break requirements for future employers, and the aspirations the new generation of supply chain talent envision for their careers, listen to our special International Women’s Day episode of Masters of Digital Transformation.

Margaux Herbet-Saada

Margaux has almost 10 years of experience implementing supply chain tech systems within the foodservice industry and is passionate about innovative solutions that help companies improve their P&L, as well as their sustainability.