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Episode 39: Speaking Up for Diversity and Inclusion in the Supply Chain

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Bob Trebilcock: Welcome to The Rebound, where we'll explore the issues facing supply chain managers, as our industry gets back up and running in a post COVID world. This podcast is hosted by Abe Eshkenazi, CEO of the Association for Supply Chain Management, and Bob Trebilcock, Editorial Director of Supply Chain Management Review.

Remember that Abe and Bob welcome your comments.

Now, to today's episode.

Welcome to today's episode of the rebound. Speaking up for diversity and inclusion in the supply chain. I'm Bob Trebilcock.

Abe Eshkenazi: I'm Abe Eshkenazi.

Bob: Joining us today are Katie Fowler and Pamela Dow. Katie and Pamela are both ASCM board members. For today's discussion, they're wearing their ASCM hats. However, they're both experienced supply chain leaders in their day jobs.

Katie is head of integrated business planning at Signify, a leader in connected LED lighting systems based in the Netherlands. Pamela is vice president, global supply chain, integrated planning, analytics and technology at Tenneco.

Katie, Pamela, welcome.

Katie Fowler: Thanks, Bob and Abe. I'm very happy to be here to champion diversity and supply chain.

Pamela Dow: Yes. Thank you, Abe and Bob. Appreciate the opportunity to be here with Katie discussing diversity and inclusion, and the supply chain profession.

Bob: Well, we're thrilled to have you both here to talk about this topic. Last summer, I had the chance to interview the chief supply chain officer for a large wine and spirit distributor. Now, over the years, I've done a number of stories about his companies, automated distribution centers, as well as the supply chain redesign they did to aggregate their slow movers. That's supply chain stuff.

I was a little surprised when his communications team told me what he really wanted to talk about was the company's diversity and inclusion initiatives. Just a few weeks ago, I had a chance to talk to the authors of a book on lean transformation, titled Steel Toes and Stilettos. The authors, both women, cut their teeth in manufacturing at a time when women were few and far between on the factory floor.

While they now consult on lean transformation, they said a lot of the questions they're getting asked today are about diversity and inclusion and building diverse teams. There's clearly something in the water right now as everyone, no matter what the business, is in a war for talent.

Katie and Pamela bring at least two perspectives to this discussion. First is said they are experienced supply chain professionals, and they've excelled in their field, and they have both done so in industries that were primarily male, and probably not particularly diverse when they joined.

To kick it off, how about a little background? How did each of you find supply chain? Katie, why don't you go first?

Katie: Well, Bob, really, it found me. I guess I was in high school, and there was this event that came up, and I really wanted to lead the event. Instead, I was chosen actually to be the logistics director. I resolved to do the best possible job so that I would be chosen the following year for the leadership role.

Well, I was the logistics director twice before I became the leader, and my father, who's also in supply chain, urged me to really think about what I liked about what I did in that retreat. Especially since the local university, University of Tennessee, was a top ranked school in the field. That's how it found me, and that's how my supply chain journey began.

Pamela: For me, it was back in the '80s. Katie, I'm not sure if you were born yet, but I was attending Michigan State University, and I needed to declare a major. I ran into a friend, and she was so excited about the major that she had just selected. She said it's a really great new and upcoming program in the business school, and it's called materials logistics management, which now is referred to as supply chain management.

She said there would be tons of opportunity, and that the counselor said that it would be a career and great demand in the future, and there aren't that many people in it, and MSU was just one of four schools that offered it at the time. I jumped on board, and I've been working in supply chain operations for the past 35 years since.

Abe: Really interesting how you both found, or as Katie points it, how supply chain found you. I think that's more of the path that most individuals have found their ways into supply chain industries that have been traditionally dominated by men. You could really say that it was an old boys network from way back when.

Pamela, you started in steel stamping and automotive. Katie, you've worked in oil and gas, predominantly male dominated industries. What was the experience like when you went in there? Were a lot of other women in there, or were you guys like unicorns trying to find your way through your early years?

Pamela: Basically, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I literally answered a blind ad in a newspaper, and it turned out to be a great company that I was with for about eleven and a half years. I was just thrilled to have a job. I was really fortunate. At the time, the government had just mandated airbag systems, and we were making the electro-mechanical sensing devices. It was part of a launch of a brand new Greenfield site. I was the 12th person hired, and I was asked to launch the MRP system. I said, "Well, there's a bunch of wires hanging from the ceiling. Who's going to do the computers?" They said, ''Well, why don't you just do that too?'' I had really only had one class of computers in college, and had never touched one really, other than that.

I was a self-starter. I was very inquisitive. I built a very strong network of support, and I also had an insatiable thirst for learning. I became involved with APICS in the early '90s, which is now ASCM, and that developed my skills even further. I had great bosses that challenged me, and I was given a new leadership role within the plant about every two years for the ten and a half years that I was there.

Becoming materials manager at 29, operations manager over three facilities, program manager. Then I was the pilot site for the SAP implementation for the division.

I was often the only woman in the conference room, but there was a very, I guess I would say I was very observant about leadership and communication styles, very aware of how I interacted with men, how they perceived my interactions and perceived me. I would also talk with a lot of good friends and coworkers, and roleplay or talk about the situation and how the responses were to the way that I was projecting or presenting something, or trying to get a decision made. They would coach me for how to be a strong, confident female, and be able to survive in a male-dominated industry.

Katie: I grew up with parents who told me that I could do anything I wanted, despite the fact that I grew up with some significant vision challenges. They also taught me that I had to work for it. Either had to learn about it, become good at it, become a master at that skill, or adapt and overcome these challenges.

This really gave me a fierce drive and a voice, both inwardly and outwardly, so much so that I had a colleague of mine describe me to a new team member as all-terrain vehicle. It doesn't really matter if there's a road, I'm still going to get there. Throughout my career, that's really served me well, but also I see the opportunities that I lost because I muted that internal drive and voice. I started to doubt myself. I think as women, I believe we struggle with self-doubt, and doubt can be very helpful, triggering us to stop and reflect before acting, or doubt can cripple us and start us on a path of self-sabotage.

Bob: It seems as if during the pandemic, there's been this renewed energy around what used to be called corporate responsibility, and now falls under ES&G. Diversity is certainly part of that. As the chief supply chain officer for Southern Glazers wanting to talk to me about their diversity and inclusion efforts.

Pamela, for you, why is diversity important to supply chain? Why should it be a consideration?

Pamela: You're right. As I reflect on ES&G, and how that's grown over the years, and the aspects of it range from diversity and inclusion, to data security, fair labor, harassment policies, and ultimately, customer satisfaction. The importance is that supply chain is all about solving problems and implementing solutions.

Diversity of thought provides us the opportunity to be creative, and brainstorm new ideas and solutions, that if we didn't have diversity, we may be stuck in the same way of doing things. Each year, ASCM actually publishes top trends in supply chain. In the recent publication a few that were listed as either new, or had advanced within the top 10 trends, were advanced analytics and automation, finding, developing, retaining, managing supply chain talent, and then supply chain agility.

If you look at the things that we used to talk about 10, 15, 20, 30 years ago, these trends are all new, and they have all new ways of having to solve problems and to implement solutions. We need that diversity of views, opinions and perspectives on how to approach challenges, or to take on a new frontier. It's critical to an organization's success.

Bob: Abe, I wanted to ask a quick follow-up, if I might. Sorry about that.

Pamela, it's interesting to me that first thing you mentioned was diversity of thought. When I talked with the Steel Toes in Stilettos women, one of the things that they said was that they were told that they had the most diverse teams within their organization, and they worked for a large manufacturer as well. Yet they said the thing that they praised or prized was diversity of thought.

Can you just expand on that a little bit more since that was your first go-to, and then, Abe, take over from there?

Pamela: Well, and you know what's really interesting is that when I was sitting in those conference rooms, those meetings, those problem-solving sessions, I literally always had a different idea or a different perspective, and it was so different from everybody else that was in the room. I never understood why, and I never really gave it a voice because I was afraid of being wrong. Sometimes I would, but it was different from what all the men in the room were thinking, so therefore I stayed quiet for a long time. Then what I learned is that as I was having ideas, and then as more diversity of thought started entering into these rooms and these meetings and sessions that we were having, it turned out that I was actually, I had a breakthrough thought that no one else was thinking about. That was that pivotal moment that I had to get confidence, to have my voice, to be able to share diverse views. That was really I think a learning that I went through quite a few years ago.

Abe: Really interesting point that you're bringing up, Pam, about the diversity question.

Katie, let me throw this question to you. Over time, we tended to see that diversity was measured with a quantitative marker. How many individuals of color, how many gender. Some organizations, it started to segment the groups. For example, you had a woman's group, or you may have had a people of colors group, or LGBTQ associates working within an organization. When you think of diversity on teams, is it the aggregation of those individuals, or is it something more? Is there something greater that we're looking at when we talk about diversity of thought, of perspective, of relationships.

Katie: I think it's really all of the above. It's more about a diversity of perspective and a diversity of thought, like you and Pam have mentioned, rather than diversity of labels. I've been on so many teams that have both had racial, ethnic, LGBTQ, and gender diversity. I found the more diverse the team, the more creative we became, and that creativity was power. This didn't come without some patience. You, as an individual, need to ensure that you're open and respect and receptive.

This includes checking your own biases or educating yourself on different cultures. Affinity groups, in particular, allow individuals and outlet to learn from each other on how to express their diversity, champion each other, and engage others for support. In my opinion, these groups, while primarily supporting those, they identify with, also exist to support those who do not identify as a part of that affinity group.

As a leader, we need to know when and where, and who to ask for help in understanding different perspectives, and that can really inspire trust. It also means that you're admitting a vulnerability in your understanding, but you're also showing courage enough to better yourself and gain more information.

Abe: Pamela, you're an experienced professional, and you're a woman in supply. Interestingly, today I got an email from an organization asking me if I wanted to be either a mentor or a mentee. Along with ESG diversity inclusion being important topics today, the idea of mentoring or being mentored, given the turnover in any workforce, I think is becoming important.

Given your dual roles, do you think you either, a, have a responsibility to mentor other women coming into the profession to serve as a role model? In other words, how can yours and Katie's experiences, and other women like yourselves, help move the profession forward?

Pamela: I'd say yes to both. It's a responsibility to mentor, but there's a difference as well in sponsoring. A mentor is coaching, but to become a sponsor, that's when you're in those succession planning reviews with HR and your peers and leadership, and you are sponsoring the advancement of women in careers. I've been a mentor and a sponsor actually for women, my entire career. I actually have the longest mentoring relationship that I'm still involved in with someone. It's been 20 years. We meet once a month for 30 minutes to an hour, unless there's a situation that she may need more frequently.

I remember she called me up once and she was getting ready to get a promotion. She said, I'm not good at fighting for myself and fighting for more, and we role-played. She went in and they made her an offer for a promotion, and she challenged back and she actually got 4% more of a raise, and a higher title than what they were going to give her.

That's one example of how important it is to be able to be a mentor for someone. I've also developed a mentoring worksheet so that the person that's being mentored can think about what do they really want out of this relationship? What do they want to develop, and what are their career aspirations? Then that helps me understand how I can best work with them to achieve their goals.

As a role model, the second part of this, when a woman holds a senior position, it conveys to other women that women can be leaders, and it provides them the confidence that they can achieve whatever they set their minds to.

As for Katie and my experiences to move the profession forward, I'm just thrilled that people actually are starting to understand what the supply chain is all about and what we do. Abe is a great voice, through ASCM and also through all the interviews and things that he's doing, to really help people understand supply chain. We continue to focus on improvements in people, process, and technology, and along with ASCM, providing the education resources, and we're developing those future professionals and leaders in this field of work.

Abe: Really extraordinary stuff, Pam and Katie. Let me start with you, Katie. Of course, Pam will please jump in here. You're both on the ASCM board of directors. Our organization has gone through some significant focus on diversity for the board, and I think we can proudly say that we've made some significant strides on the board to not only recognize diversity of participation and thought and relevance for us as an organization.

When you take a look at our responsibility as a company, and your responsibility as a board member, what can we do to help promote diversity and inclusion across membership and across other organizations? Oftentimes it's said that you have to lead top-down. How important is it for our board to reflect a much more diverse organization? Katie?

Katie: I think it's incredibly important. I think ASCM can really strive to, number one, lead by example. Like you said, when I not only look at the board, but I look at the teams in ASCM, I see a very diverse group of capable and passionate individuals, really committed to creating a better world through supply chains.

Second, I think ASCM can be that voice. It was recently featured in the last annual salary survey that the gap between men and women in our field of supply chain under 40 has closed. That's excellent. The ASCM Foundation also released, in 2021, a survey on diversity, equity and inclusion in the field with some really great insight. Lastly, the resources for individuals in ASCM, these can really foster an inclusive atmosphere within supply chain through tools like training, certification, microlearning, and most importantly, mentorship, like what Pam recently described.

Pamela: Yes. Well said, Katie. I would just add, in addition to that, that ASCM offers a career fair, which my company is going to be taking advantage of for interns and full-time people. It's an opportunity, again, to bring that diverse talent into the industry, as well as having ASCM professional organizations that are in universities.

I did take some time off, and I fulfilled a dream of mine, and I became a professor at a university, and there was an ASCM community there of students, and to interact with them, and to speak to them, and to support them in their career decisions, and giving them opportunities and exposure to sponsoring companies, was really exciting. We can do that through diversity of universities that specialize in careers and diverse talent. It's a great way to have that inflow of key talent and diversity.

Abe: Pam and Katie, thank you so much for sharing your perspective, and more importantly, for continuing to lead what we know is a critical part for supply chains, not only today, but in the future. That is all the time that we have today. A special thanks to our guests, Katie Fowler and Pamela Dow. Finally, a special thanks to you for joining us on this episode of The Rebound. We hope you'll be back for our next episode. For The Rebound, I'm Abe Eshkenazi.

Bob: I'm Bob Trebilcock.

Abe: All the best, everyone. Thanks.

Bob: The Rebound is a joint production of the Association for Supply Chain Management and Supply Chain Management Review. For more information, be sure to visit ascm.org and scmr.com. We hope you'll join us again.

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