Women’s Influence in Manufacturing and Supply Chain

Join the supply chain conversation at Think Supply ChainIn March, I picked up a study conducted by Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute (MI) titled “Untapped Resource: How manufacturers can attract, retain, and advance talented women.” The first paragraph hit me hard:

“In the midst of the resurgence of manufacturing in the US, companies are facing a widely acknowledged talent shortfall. Meanwhile, there’s one obvious source of human capital that the manufacturing industry has not fully tapped: women. Across all manufacturing sectors in the US, women are underrepresented in the workforce. While women represent nearly half (46.6 percent) of the total US labor force, they only comprise a quarter (24.8 percent) of the durable goods manufacturing workforce. The proportion of women in leadership roles in manufacturing companies also lags behind other US industries.”

I took a look on LinkedIn to see how many women I could find in vice president positions related to supply chain management. I sent notes out to some asking if they would be willing to talk to APICS about their experiences as female leaders in the field. After conversations with these fascinating women, it was clear we needed to do a feature article on women in supply chain for APICS magazine. However, one question still bothered me: while clearly there are very successful women in supply chain management, why are women still underrepresented in manufacturing?

One reason may be that even with all the diversity initiatives today, we continue to be uncomfortable talking about the lack of parity that exists in the workforce. It doesn’t matter if the subject is gender diversity or cultural diversity, it makes people uneasy. We are afraid to bring it up in conversation. When others do, it’s easier  to suggest that no problem exists, as if there is no longer an issue. Clearly, there is.

There are many perspectives from which to discuss this issue. Yes, one is political, and if the issue was strictly such, it may not be an appropriate conversation for a professional association. But, as the Deloitte/MI study points out, an important workforce development conversation must be had.

Drawing women to manufacturing

Working harder to attract and retain women in manufacturing is beneficial to everyone in the manufacturing industry. An increased number of women in manufacturing, according to the Deloitte/MI study, can

  1.  Address the skills gap issue in manufacturing.
  2. Improve the competitiveness of the industry by gaining women’s insights as consumers and influencers.
  3. Improve profitability. According to Catalyst research, Fortune 500 companies with a high percentage of women officers have a 35 percent higher return on equity and a 34 percent higher total return than companies with fewer female executives.

To address this issue, employers, professional associations, and educators need to participate in meaningful initiatives. Companies that want to attract and retain women must create more flexible work environments and amp up support for continuing professional development—benefits that attract talented men as well. And the manufacturing industry as a whole must do a better job of targeting and presenting itself to women. For this to happen, we have to be able to have the conversation. What can we do together to increase the number of women in manufacturing?

Reverse Innovation and Supply Chain

Think Supply Chain - Jason WheelerSharon Rice: I’m pleased to welcome guest blogger Jason Wheeler, CPIM, CSCP, to “Think Supply Chain.” Wheeler is Process Improvement Engineer, Warehouse Operations for Roche Diagnostics Operations and the APICS chair-elect.

I recently heard the term “reverse innovation” used during a discussion at work. Not being familiar with the concept, I quickly did a little research to find out more about it. The broad definition means goods are developed as inexpensive models to meet the needs of developing nations and, then, repackaged as low-cost innovative goods for Western buyers.

Wanting to learn more, I began looking for articles or a book that could provide more insight on the topic. A quick search brought up “Reverse Innovation: Create Far From Home, Win Everywhere,” written by two Dartmouth professors, Vijay Govindarajan and Chris Trimble. The book provides a better understanding of the concept while also discussing why large corporations have struggled with this idea.

Using the reverse innovation mindset, GE designed a portable, low-cost ultrasound machine that could be used in rural China. That same product now is used in many ambulances right here in the United States. GE went on to use the same process to design a low-cost portable electrocardiogram (ECG) unit for rural India. After the initial unit was completed, GE designed additional products with some minor enhancements. Similar to the portable ultrasounds, visiting nurses and primary care doctors are able to use the ECG units at rural clinics that could not afford the high-end units.

Where are some other areas where reverse innovation might be put to use? How might it be applied to improve supply chain and operations management?