Happy International Women's Day 2021: women in supply chain management
18th February 2021
Author: Britta Gammelgaard, Professor of Supply Chain Management, Copenhagen Business School and Editor-in-chief of International Journal of Logistics Management (IJLM)
The idea of an International Women’s day was first introduced at a meeting in Copenhagen, Denmark in 1910. Back then, the discussion had a substantial and close connection to revolutionary activities and therefore also to class. Five years later, in 1915, Danish women obtained the right to vote. Today, with our second prime minister in office, equal rights for women have become a given. That is, though, not the case everywhere and consequently the UN has pointed to Gender equality and women’s empowerment as one of their 17 sustainability goals (accessed 9 February, 2021).
However, equal rights are not the same as equal opportunities. Even in well-developed democracies, like my own, there still seems to be work to do. For example, in the autumn of 2020 a so-called second wave of the MeToo movement took off in Denmark where an acknowledged 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, Genderlab, 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. The report entitled ‘The leaky pipeline at CBS: The case of female academics’ contains a good deal of statistics – as the title indicates – is pointing to a seeming lack of opportunities for women academics at CBS. The report shows that although approximately 50% of the CBS student base in 1999 were women, and about 50% of doctoral candidates were female in 2007, the number of female full professors were only 17% in 2017. Further, the report points to the EU (28 countries in 2016 where data is from) where 24% of academic top positions are held by women. In comparison, Denmark had 21% women in academic top positions. 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’.
Helping (other) women include making them and their efforts visible. Within my field, Operations- and Supply Chain Management, the US American 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 (see f. ex. Gartner®, ‘2020 Women in Supply Chain Research’). This initiative replaced the annual survey ‘Women in Logistics’ that was initiated and conducted through 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, R. et al, 2019) reports show, improvements are made in businesses around the world, but 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, academia also have the possibilities of helping ‘other women’ by making their role and efforts in the economy visible through research. For example, from a logistics and supply chain perspective, an initial thought is to look closer at the current COVID-19 crisis. The crisis, now lasting for a little more than a year, has shown the world how important supply chain management is. Without well-functioning supply chains, PPE (personal protection equipment) and vaccines cannot get to health care workers and patients in time for protection against and spread of virus. I suppose that this is a well-known fact by now, but how many realise that the majority of health care and social workers globally are female? UN reports that 70% of front-line health care workers are in fact female. This means that women are most often the last link in an (often global) service supply chain and by being 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.
In continuation of the above, it is worth mentioning that in recent years, there has been a 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 is - thoroughly discussed in the field and for good reasons. However, it is still not so often that we in our discipline take a gender perspective on the ethical supply chain. Despite the fact that most victims of the Rana Plaza scandal in Bangladesh in 2013 were girls and women, 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 will be given a chance to take on that responsibility and change behavior to potential benefit of gender equality in low cost countries. The question is, however, if 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 transforms the predominantly masculine, rational discourse to include a feminist one as well. 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 everybody a more diverse understanding of supply chains that include social justice, care, lived experience and compassion.
Following Touboulic and McCarthy (2020) with this blog post, I encourage everybody to ‘see’ women in academia as well as in the organisations and supply chains, which we study. It is of course everybody’s responsibility including ours as women. At this time, however, it still seems that, with a few exceptions, it takes women to ‘see’ women in academia as well as in supply chains. Fellow female colleagues, let’s get it done!
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
https://sdgs.un.org/goals/goal5 accessed 15 February, 2021
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