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Speakeasy Examining women’s role in supply chain

From left are keynote Joseph Slota, partner at Deloitte Consulting LLP; Rebecca King, first-year MBA student; Sarika Menon, second-year undergraduate; and Aisha Khan of Johnson & Johnson.

SpeakEasy is a running feature in NJBIZ in which we recap a presentation given by key business leaders around the state at one of New Jersey’s many conferences and events. This report is based on a panel between Rutgers University students in supply chain management and industry leaders at the Women in Supply Chain Symposium held at the Rutgers…

The advancement of women to leadership roles is not simply a matter of diversity — it is also a competitive advantage to business organizations across the board.

That was the driving issue behind the Women in Supply Chain Symposium at the Rutgers Business School in New Brunswick last month for both students applying to, and businesses recruiting for leadership positions within the supply chain industry.

In the eight years since the supply chain management department was formed at Rutgers Business School, the program has grown to become the second-largest in the U.S., with over 800 doctorate, graduate and undergraduate students in the entering class last fall.

And 53 percent of the students are female.

“We take the challenges that women face in the workforce very seriously here at Rutgers,” said keynote speaker Barbara Lee, senior vice president for academic affairs and professor of human resource management at Rutgers University. “While our focus today is specifically on supply chain management, Rutgers more broadly serves as a leader in addressing women’s issues.”

The symposium offered a full day of informative panels, speed mentoring and networking sessions for both industry leaders and supply chain management students at Rutgers, including a panel titled “Breaking In — Early Career Success Factors.”

Here is what Rebecca King, first-year MBA student; Sarika Menon, second-year undergraduate; Joseph Slota, partner at Deloitte Consulting LLP; and Aisha Khan, global change and communications manager at Johnson & Johnson, had to say about women leadership in supply chain management:

Rebecca King: Only 7 percent of top supply chain management executives are women. What are organizations doing to try to close that gender gap?

Aisha Khan: Industries are setting up forums just like this one within organizations to recognize and talk about the issues, but also to build camaraderie and networks so that, as women gain leadership, they can pull others up with them.

Joseph Slota: Why should a woman have to worry that, because of her gender, she will eventually, if she so chooses, have a child and have to leave work? Why should she have to worry that her career is going to be damaged as a result?
Deloitte has set up a women’s initiative to talk with each other and address these types of issues. We are probably one of the more progressive organizations on the globe in this matter. Our CEO is female and we have a lot of other women taking their place in senior leadership, too. That’s not simply because Deloitte wants ‘token females’ in these positions — it is because they are smart women who are the best choices for the jobs.

Sarika Menon: How can companies help integrate women into leadership?

JS: It’s really up to the leader, people like myself, who are constantly reviewing resumes, to ask, ‘Why do I have a bunch of older, white men on this job? That goes against diversity. Where’s the mix?’ You’ve got to have a blend for excellence. Leadership should be recognizing that diversity is not about gender, race, religion — it’s about developing the best possible output.

AK: All industries are finding that the fight for talent is getting more aggressive, which is a good thing, but to bridge the diversity gap, it has to be on human resource and talent management to drive that pull, to make the company and jobs look attractive so that women, especially, will apply.


Network Now
David Dobrzykowski, an assistant professor in the department of supply chain management at Rutgers Business School, made a plea to both his female and male students who attended the Women in Supply Chain Symposium in April:
“As soon as you graduate, you become infinitely less interesting,” he said. “As a student, you can call Joseph Slota or Aisha Khan and say, ‘I’m working on a project; can we have a cup of coffee to talk about it?’ You may have to meet them at 7 a.m., but industry people are willing to meet with you now. The day you graduate and you make that same call, it will simply be perceived as a way to find a job.
“As a student, you have a wonderful status. I would ask you to exploit it now because it goes away at graduation.”

RK: Supply chain management often requires a lot of travel. It is speculated that one of the reasons women are not going into the field is because, at some point, there will be a tradeoff between having to travel and having a family. How are companies trying to help both women and men balance family and work life so that they can advance into higher positions?

JS: I hated leaving my family. I probably would not have chosen consulting when my children were first born. But I set my calendar up around my family and it was nobody else’s business. I once traveled to Hawaii, made a presentation and came back to be at my daughter’s softball game. Why? It mattered to me. My daughter is 30 years old and still tells that story. This is all about your personal selves.

AK: I think companies now are coming up with innovative solutions such as relocation packages and remote working opportunities because that is just the way it is today. Sometimes you have to show face and be a leader at the actual site, but with the way the world is right now, virtual meetings can help balance work and life, whether you are a male or female. It’s a trend that used to have been reserved for senior leaders, but we are now also seeing that flexibility trickle down for junior leaders, too.

JS: Now, millennials want to travel — I’ve had millennial employees tell me that they wouldn’t be with Deloitte without the travel opportunities their jobs provide them. Three-quarters of them were female. It comes down to personal choice. Do you want to focus on family life right now or do you want to travel?

SM: What specific traits are you looking for in job candidates?

JS: There was a person whom we interviewed three times. In our one-on-one, I said to this individual, ‘Tell me who you really are.’ He was thoroughly thrown off his game. The reason he didn’t know how to respond was because I saw through his disingenuous, prescriptive responses. And I thought, if I put this person in front of a client, he would fail. Each and every one of you has your own personalities. You’ve got to use who you are.

AK: Some people are too serious in interviews — you need a mix of curiosity in order to ask questions of the interviewer, too. Women are advantageous in this as they often have the higher emotional quotient to connect with interviewers as well as showcase their skills. The interview is often times so focused on the job and company but use 1 percent of that interview to get to know the people who actually work for the company. Is it a good fit for you, too? You don’t want a job just for the sake of getting one — you want the right job.
Forums like this are great, but women should be just as hungry, aggressive and focused as the men in the room when it comes to networking and securing interviews. Figure out what that role is really looking for and see if you have the skills to achieve that. If not, fill the gaps.


Women in Supply Chain Management
In 2013, SCM World found that while 60 percent of men and 70 percent of women supply chain executives across industries believed that women’s natural skillsets differ from men, more than 70 percent of men and 90 percent of women believed these different skillsets were actually advantageous to supply chain management positions.
However, a year later, SCM World found only 22 among 320 Fortune 500 companies had female top supply chain executives.  
In 2015, the Pew Research Center studied why there weren’t more women in top executive positions across industries. They found that women are often held to higher standards, according to 65 percent of those surveyed; many businesses weren’t ready to hire women for top executive positions (67 percent); family responsibilities didn’t leave time for running major corporations (58 percent); and that women don’t have access to the same kind of connections as men (47 percent).

RK: Supply chain management is a very male-dominated field. Some women are concerned that the men they will be managing will not support them. How can we change the mindset of such men?

JS: We, as men, don’t know how to deal with women. Women don’t know how to deal with men. A woman who enters into a discussion with someone like me — 6’3″, deep voice — may be intimidated from the get-go, so they may try to become someone who they are not until that eventually fades out and they become someone who they really are. A man may go into a situation thinking he has a rite of passage because men have been traditionally dominant in the business world. Organizations have trouble making both genders feel comfortable.

AK: I was a trader at Goldman Sachs when I first graduated from Rutgers. What I quickly learned is, to be a woman in a male-dominated culture, you have to be tough from the very beginning but also balance femininity. Don’t lose it. When I first got there, I bought power suits and collared shirts. That was how I thought I’d fit in. I would even research and talk about sports. But you still have to be yourself. You have to be confident and strong enough to bring your femininity into the workplace while at the same time being able to respectfully put people in their place.

SM: A lot of supply chain management majors find it difficult to find female mentors because there are so few women professors and it can sometimes feel competitive. How would you recommend finding a good mentor, whether a man or a woman, and how do you facilitate that within a company?

JS: I have a mentee, a tremendously smart woman, who happens to also be recognized as a good-looking young adult. Do you know how many people have insinuated that I was having an affair with her when all I was doing was acting as a friend and mentor? That is the most embarrassing thing for a male who really cares. A good male mentor is only mentoring you because you are a human. Such perceptions can ruin your life, so some men may stop mentoring because they don’t have the guts to face what people say.

AK: People tend to have an affinity for mentors like them because it’s easier to connect, but challenge yourself to have a diverse set of mentors. There is one gentleman, an older white male at work, who is known for being very assertive. I reached out to him and made a connection with him. We now have coffee every month — why? The insights I get from him are so different than those of my female mentors and peers. Sometimes I want very straightforward feedback and I don’t think I would get that from someone I am friendlier with.

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Meg Fry