For Women’s History Month: Women in the supply chain—past, present and future

Would today’s supply chain run more smoothly if we had more women in charge?

The last couple of years may have been the most stressful period the modern supply chain has ever seen. Between the ongoing pandemic, the explosion of eCommerce, maritime misadventures, raw material shortages, labor shortages and other disruptions, it’s never been more challenging to move goods around the globe. Or even across town.

Meanwhile, 2020 research from the University of Akron found that all-women supply chain pairs outperform all other gender pairings in supply chain efficiency, and suggests that “women exhibit an advantage over men in supply chain collaboration, and that employing women is advantageous.”

Since March is Women’s History Month, it seems like a great time to look back at the progress women have made in the supply chain and look ahead to their expanding roles in the future.

Female supply chain pioneers

Like most industries, the supply chain was owned, operated and staffed by men almost exclusively in the early 20th century. Over the last 120 years, women have progressively taken on more—and more significant—roles. Here are some pioneers worth recognizing:

  • Sarah Clark Kidder was the world’s first woman to run a railroad, taking over the Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad from her deceased husband in 1901, erasing its debt and returning it to profitability.
  • Bessie Coleman became the first African American, male or female, to earn a pilot’s license from FAI in 1921. A main road at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport is named in her memory.
  • Lillie Elizabeth Drennan became the first commercially licensed female truck driver in 1929. She also became the first female owner of a trucking company when she divorced her husband and ran it successfully until 1952.
  • Willa Brown became the first African American commercial pilot and first African American woman officer in the Civil Air Patrol in 1939.
  • Stephanie Louise Kwolek discovered liquid crystalline polymers in 1965, which eventually led to the development of Kevlar—a key component of mooring cables, aircraft and space vehicle parts.

Enormous growth, with room for improvement

Today, women hold 24% of management positions at trucking and logistics companies, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. That represents enormous growth in just the last decade, but most agree that there’s still a lot of room for improvement.

The trucking industry continues to be a challenge for women, point-blank,” says Joyce Sauer Brenny, President and CEO of Brenny Transportation Inc. “I had been in the trucking industry for 15 years. The trucking industry needed someone who would offer more opportunities for women, as well as provide an environment that responded respectfully to truck drivers and their unique careers. I founded Brenny Transportation in 1996.”

Jillian Carson-Jackson, President of Nautical Institute and Maritime Extraordinaire, says, “The fact that, in 2021, we continue to have discussions on the role and place of women in this industry is very disheartening. But I do try to see it also as a positive measure.”

The 2021 Women In Supply Chain Research study—from AWESOME and Gartner—reports some positive news:

  • Women comprise 41% of the supply chain workforce on average, a high point since this research started in 2016.
  • 73% of responding supply chain organizations have a diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) goal related to attracting, developing, retaining and advancing women—the highest proportion ever.
  • 84% of respondents said the pandemic had no impact on the retention and advancement of women.

Long story short, the supply chain is more female than ever before. Here’s why that’s a good thing.

Why the supply chain needs more women

Women are more collaborative. Most people believe this intuitively, and the research cited above confirms it. But why does that matter for the health of the supply chain?

Because the supply chain industry is by definition collaborative. You can’t have a chain with only one link.

We all know the supply “chain” is really more of a web. Every shipment depends on an interconnected network of organizations of all sizes, and each one of them has to trust that all the others are going to do their jobs. We’re all collaborating, 24/7/365. And that’s what women are best at!

In Dangerous Goods, trust and collaboration is even more important, because people’s safety depends upon it. That’s one reason we started the Women in DG Group on the DG Exchange. It’s a place where our members engage, support one another and champion women in our industry, encouraging female Dangerous Goods pros to share their knowledge.

So, back to our original question: Would today’s supply chain run more smoothly if we had more women in charge?

We can’t wait to find out. Join us!

Sign up for your free DG Exchange membership here.

Make sure your shipments are safe and in complete compliance with a full line of solutions from Labelmaster—a full-service provider of goods and services for hazardous materials and Dangerous Goods professionals, shippers, transport operators and EH&S providers.


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