Supply chain’s diversity issue lacks concrete direction

By Rhys Thomas
Though improving DEI is a goal for the majority of supply chain organisations, a lack of structure and goals hinders diversity efforts in leadership rol...

A lack of concrete goals and targets may hinder the commitments supply chain organisations make towards improving diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), according to a new report.  

Though 59% of supply chain professionals surveyed said their company had DEI initiatives, less than a quarter had formalised measures of success. Gartner and the Association for Supply Chain Management spoke to 298 supply chain professionals between November and December 2020 for the study. 

Larger companies were found to be more likely to have initiatives aimed at addressing race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, age or physical and cognitive diversity within their organisations. Just 24% of small business supply chains said improving DEI was an object, and organisations with consumer or retail customers were more likely to devote resources to the issue. 

In the context of the social justice movements of the past several years, Dana Stiffler, Vice President Analyst with the Gartner Supply Chain Practice, says this is unsurprising. “The largest global companies have globally recognisable brands, so they were under a lot of pressure to take action. In a global organisation, it’s more likely they’ll have a DEI officer or an HR leader that owns and cascades the DEI strategy. Where this is not happening fast enough, some chief supply chain officers (CSCOs) have designed and launched their own initiatives.”

People of colour missing from top management roles

Where even the biggest organisations fall down is diversity in the upper offices of management, particularly representation for people of colour. People of colour comprise almost a third of the total supply chain workforce, yet do not even account for a tenth of the top rungs of the corporate ladder: just 9% of VPs in supply chain organisations across the US, Canada and Europe are people of colour, for instance. 

In fact, the drop off begins even at the first levels of management, says Stiffler: “Compared to the overall representation in the workforce, there’s nearly a 50% drop once at the manager and supervisor positions.” The correlation between the size and revenue of an organisation is once again apparent.

Diversity “is essential, not aspirational”

“Building a diverse workforce is essential, not aspirational,” says ASCM CEO Abe Eshkenazi, CSCP, CPA, CAE. “Diversity of thought, influence and input — particularly from women and people of colour — is crucial to today’s global supply chains.” 

Eshkenazi admits that the issue is historic, systemic and not limited to supply chain - but much more could and should be done. “As supply chain emerged as a function, many of its management and employees migrated from other functions such as finance and engineering, which due to their own narrow talent pipelines were primarily staffed with white males. As in many fields, more progress is needed. Supply chain organisations can lead the way by creating an environment where diverse talent is valued, included and developed.”

COVID-19, though a strain on corporate resources, could be the turning point for DEI in the workplace. The shift to hybrid or fully remote work gives businesses big and small the opportunity to expand their reach when hiring talent. “Even smaller supply chain organisations will have the opportunity to hire diverse talent, simply because the available talent pool is bigger and more diverse,” Stiffler adds.

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