There's a gender divide in Canada's supply chain management field; one that sees women's salaries tending to lag behind men's.
That's the bad news – and, of course, it isn't unique to the supply chain. The good news, according to Cheryl Paradowski, president and CEO of the Purchasing Management Association of Canada, is that the supply chain management field is actually more equitable to women than some other sectors.
Speaking to the Van Horne Institute's "Engage! Women in Supply Chain" conference at the University of Calgary's downtown campus on Jan. 31 and Feb. 1, Paradowski outlined the results of an annual survey her organization conducts in conjunction with sister publications purchasingb2b and MM&D and, as of last year, CT&L. "We have some trends from at least as far back as 2008, so we can see how (things) are progressing in the sector," she said, noting that one of the primary areas into which they look is wages, where "currently the gap stands at just over $16,000 or about 17.7%."
That's a pretty significant chunk of change going unpaid and, according to Paradowski, that gap hasn't changed significantly in the past few years. "Salaries have progressed for both (sexes)," she noted, "but the gap in 2008 was 17.2%, so while salaries have grown, they've grown by 11.2% for men and only 10.6% for women."
Not only that, but the cash chasm – which doesn't loom large when the worker is starting out – gets wider the longer women stay in the workplace. "The split starts to come after 15 years in the industry and it gets even wider after 25 years or so," Paradowski said.
As for the aforementioned good news, "When it comes to the gender gap, supply chain management doesn't look so bad," Paradowski said, citing a 2010 report from The Globe and Mail, "because the overall gap across Canada in all sectors is 29.2%."
Reasons for the disparity between the salaries of men and women include education, or lack thereof. "The gap is generally narrower the higher the level of a woman's education," Paradowski said.
Another factor is biology. "Women have children," Paradowski said, "and it's not just the period of time we spend out of the workforce on maternity leaves; it also affects the kinds of career decisions we make because (women) are typically the ones who make the sacrifices for the balance of family."
In other words, a woman may decide to only seek out positions that don't require travel – or 10- or 12-hour workdays – so she can be at home to look after the family. And that can affect their earning power. "These are realities," Paradowski said, "but I think some of that is starting to shift and there's a recognition that men are equally capable – as long as we remind them – of picking up the kids."
Another fly in women's ointment could be a reluctance to toot their own horns. "Whether it's a lack of confidence or that we want to be sure we're (qualified) 100% before we're ready to go," Paradowski said, "there's a feeling that that factor plays into things."
Still, Paradowski said, there are good demographic reasons for confidence that the lot for ladies is looking up. "We are in a period of time within supply chain management that presents a number of opportunities," she said, "and now's the time to be thinking about how we capitalize on them."
Citing figures from the Canadian Supply Chain Sector Council, Paradowski said there are approximately 767,000 positions in supply chain-related fields today – everything from forklift drivers up to the chief procurement officer – 39% of which are female. And, as with other industries, there's a crunch coming that's going to open lots of doors in the not-too-distant future.
"The alarm was sounded on this about five years ago because we have the pending baby boomers who are going to be retiring," Paradowski noted. "It's a huge demographic fact of life anywhere in the developed world." Alas, the fiscal meltdown of 2008 delayed many of those retirements as many nest eggs turned out to not be what they were cracked up to be – meaning many of these retiree wannabes discovered, to their chagrin, that they would have to stay in the workforce slightly longer.
All this did was delay the problem, however. "It has not made it go away and we're still going to have to deal with it over the next few years," Paradowski said.
And since many of the individuals leaving the workforce are senior managers, Paradowski said, "that represents a significant challenge for businesses right across the country, because there's a significant knowledge component within that group of individuals." Paradowski thinks that's actually good news for women, however. "As far as I'm concerned, it's a huge opportunity for women to start to change that differential in terms of management positions that are available," she said.
How many jobs are there going to be? Paradowski said the Supply Chain Sector Council estimates there will be 66,000 positions that will have to be filled every year for the next five years, so there should be plenty of room for new faces.
On the other hand, many businesses may actually be quite clueless about how to deal with the coming crunch. "The scarier statistic to me," Paradowski said, "is when those numbers were posed to the companies who responded to the survey and they were asked how they were dealing with those skill gaps as a company, over a third said they were going to steal them from other companies. I'm a little bit worried about the sustainability of that. It's a bad strategy."
It's good for people looking for career advancement, however. "There's going to need to be a focus on skills development and training to move people into those roles," Paradowski said, "because they aren't going to be available organically. And we face a significant challenge in supply chain because it's not a very visible profession – it's a behind the scenes type of occupation. But it's an emerging and evolving field of practice, so we are very pleased to start to see its growth in the post-secondary community, and as businesses recognize its importance, it is going to become more visible."
On the other hand, "It makes current recruitment more of a challenge because you're trying to get people to understand what the field of practice is about," Paradowski said. "One of the reasons we either lose people with potential or have trouble attracting them is because we don't do a very good job at being able to define and excite people about the career opportunities they have available and I think that, particularly for women, this could be a big part of the puzzle."
Paradowski also thinks women in the industry need to stay ahead of the curve to help ensure there are enough women snagging gigs. "We need to be more proactive about identifying a destination, particularly if we want to bring our female peers along," she said, noting that a prime consideration is "indentifying those (people) and helping them get either the skills, the knowledge or the experience they need to aspire to those positions, and to give them that confidence, too, if that's one of the barriers."
Some of the skills needed over the next five years include computer skills. "A big part of our designation focuses on knowledge management," Paradowski said. Project management is another skill, as are negotiation skills and customer relation skills – skills that aren't necessarily only supply chain-related, but which can translate there. "When I see some of those skills, it really tells me how transferrable some skills are into our sector," she said, "and this is an opportunity to not worry about having 100% of the skills, because we do have a lot of these transferrable skills that we can bring into those roles."
Supply chain careers can also be attractive to women because the field is seen as allowing for some flexibility, some work/life balance. "Bigger organizations are investing heavily in it and creating opportunities where there is some job security," Paradowski said, "and the more we become tech savvy, there's the ability to work from home, or work remotely. The range of opportunities really continues to be one of the attractions and something for us to highlight when we're looking to recruit anybody into roles, but, in particular, for moving women forward in the field."
As for what can be done to take the message of SCM's potential to people who may not have considered it as a career path, Paradowski said "we're going to continue to highlight those survey results because if people don't know those numbers are out there, the actions aren't going to happen to make them change." She also sees this as a way to get more wampum for women. "I think we need to equip the women in supply chain with the documentation that those (gender) gaps are there," she said, "and to start asking why when we have equivalent competencies to bring to the table."
Paradowski also encourages women to pursue a professional designation, or any other professional development, as a way to enhance their career paths. "This is where women who are currently in managerial positions have the opportunity to provide that mentoring," she noted. "We are growing in terms of the educational opportunities that are available in this profession and I think such credentials are a good way to build credibility, as well as building on the confidence side."
As for networking and "horn tooting" opportunities, Paradowski said "that's the other way for women to be able to get ahead – to move their way into the ‘old boy’ network and start to find out who the players are in the industry, what opportunities there are." She suggests women go to some networking breakfast and/or dinner meetings or other professional development events as a way to make important connections.
But there's more to it than just meeting the movers and shakers who can help women advance; it's also about learning. "It gives you access to a network of individuals who may be dealing with the same challenges that you are," Paradowski pointed out. "If you are able to tap them for the solutions you become the hero in your organization for bringing that solution forward and that's certainly a way to be noticed and to be promoted."
Which, of course, is good advice for any worker, regardless of gender.