It takes women to see women in academia & in supply chain: fellow females, let’s get it done!

Author: Britta Gammelgaard, Professor of Supply Chain Management, Copenhagen Business School and Editor-in-chief of International Journal of Logistics Management (IJLM)

Today, equal rights for women have become a given in many societies. Although, it’s not the case everywhere, and consequently the UN has pointed to Gender equality and women’s empowerment as one of their 17 sustainability goals (UN, 2021).

Of course, equal rights are not the same as equal opportunities. Even in well-developed democracies, like my own, there is still work to do. For example, in autumn 2020, a second wave of the MeToo movement took off in Denmark where a newspaper published long lists of signatures from women and some men in different industries, stating to have experienced (various degrees of) sexual harassment at work. Sadly, my own profession, university academia, was one of them.

In 2019, a collaborative arrangement between Copenhagen Business School (CBS) and KVINFO (a Danish knowledge center for gender, equal rights and diversity) published a short report used for discussion at a celebration of the International Women’s Day, 8 March (Genderlab, 2019). The report, The leaky pipeline at CBS: The case of female academics, highlights a seeming lack of opportunities for women at CBS . In 1999, approximately 50% of the CBS student base were women, and in 2007, about 50% of doctoral candidates were women, and yet in 2017, only 17% of female full professors were female. The report also highlights that in the EU (data from 28 countries in 2016) 24% of academic top positions are held by women. As no “quick fixes” seem to exist to alter this generally unfortunate situation, I hereby encourage female fellow academics to stay aware of the situation and recall Madeleine Albright’s now famous statement: “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women” (Goodreads, 2021).

One way that women can help other women is to make women and their work visible. Within my field, Operations and Supply Chain Management, the US organisation AWESOME (Achieving women’s excellence in supply chain operations, management and education), is doing exactly that. In addition to organising seminars with highly ranked women leaders, they have collaborated with Gartner since 2016 to establish a numerical overview on the progress of female leaders within operations and supply chain management. This initiative replaced the annual survey, Women in Logistics, that was initiated and conducted over many years by the legendary professor at Ohio State University, Martha Cooper, a true lighthouse and role model for younger female academics.

As both the Gartner and McKinsey & Company (Thomas et al., 2019) reports show, improvements are being made in businesses around the world, however at the highest management levels, there is still a long way to go. A huge commendation should be directed to consultancies and their partner organisations for publishing reports on gender (in-)equality in business. This is helpful to all women and not at least our business school students and candidates.

Luckily, female academics have the potential to help other women by making their role and efforts in the economy visible through research. For example, let’s look at the current COVID-19 crisis with a logistics and supply chain perspective. The crisis is in its second year, and has shown us how important supply chain management is. Without well-functioning supply chains, vaccines and personal protective equipment cannot get to health care workers and patients in good time to be effective. The UN reports that 70% of front-line health care workers are women (UN, 2021). This means that women are most often the last link in a service supply chain, and so put themselves and their families at a higher risk of catching the virus than men. Gender equality in health care service supply chains is therefore a worthy research topic.

Women are most often the last link in a service supply chain, and so put themselves and their families at a higher risk of catching the virus than men

Also, in recent years, there has been considerable interest in sustainable and ethical supply chains, and consumers increasingly hold companies responsible for their global activities. Topics such as modern slavery and child labor (Gold et al., 2015) have been - and still are - thoroughly discussed in the field, and for good reasons. However, within our discipline, we need to take a gender perspective on the ethical supply chain more often. Most victims of the Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh (where buildings containing garment factories collapsed) were woman and girls (ILO, 2021). This is not problematised in the field, just as the role of female consumers of the products manufactured in places such as the Rana Plaza tower is not scrutinised. If research showed that female consumers were more responsible for buying fast fashion, and they were made aware of positive and negative sides of fast fashion manufacturing, they would be given the chance to take on that responsibility and change behavior to potentially benefit gender equality. The question is, however, whether gender equality has any impact on efficiency of supply chains. According to Larson (2019), it has. In his documentary study on the impact of corruption and gender on perceived logistics efficiency of countries, he found that gender inequality directly links to lower logistics performance. This means that gender equality as a topic has a role to play in ethical as well as economic supply chain research.

To further develop supply chain research, Touboulic and McCarthy (2020) suggest that the field should transform the predominantly masculine and rational discourse to include feminist perspectives. According to these two female authors, feminine writing will include more reflexive and narrative story-telling that will give women in supply chains a voice and provide everyone with a more diverse understanding of supply chains that include social justice, care, lived experience and compassion.

And so, in the spirit of Touboulic and McCarthy (2020), I am encouraging everyone reading this to actively ‘see’ women in academia, other organisations and in supply chains. Although it is not just the responsibility of women to do this, it does seem that at this moment in time, with a few exceptions, it really does take women to ‘see’ other women.

Fellow female colleagues, let’s get it done!


Genderlab (2019). The leaky Pipeline at CBS: The Case of Female Academics.

Gold, S., Trautrims, A. Zoe Trodd, Z. (2015) "Modern slavery challenges to supply chain management", Supply Chain Management: An International Journal, Vol. 20 Issue: 5, pp.485-494.

Goodreads (2021), Madeleine K. Albright, Quotes.

ILO (2021), The Rana Plaza Accident and its aftermath.

Larson, P. (2019), “Corruption, gender inequality and logistics performance”, International Journal of Logistics Management, Vol. 31 No. 2, 2020, pp. 381-397

Thomas, R. et al (2019), Women in the Workplace 2019, McKinsey & Company

Touboulic, A. and McCarthy, L. (2020), "Collective action in SCM: a call for activist research", The International Journal of Logistics Management, Vol. 31 No. 1, pp. 3-20

UN (2021), UN SDGs, Goal 5, Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.

Other useful sources

AWESOME (2021).

Gartner (2021).