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ASCM Insights

Episode 7: Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace


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.

Bob: Welcome to today's episode of The Rebound: Diversity and Inclusion in Workplace. I'm Bob Trebilcock.

Abe Eshkenazi: I'm Abe Eshenazi.

Bob: Joining us today is Katty Kay. Katty is the lead anchor for BBC World News America and a New York Times bestselling author. You may also have seen her on MSNBC's Morning Joe or read her most recent book, "Living the Confidence Code: Real Girls. Real Stories. Real Confidence," which she co-authored with Claire Shipman and JillEllyn Riley.

If that wasn't enough, Katty will be the keynote speaker at this year's ASCM Connect Virtual Conference. There are a few certainties in business or life these days, but I think one thing we can all take to the bank is that in the month and maybe years ahead how we work, where we work, and who performs the work is going to look very different from how it looks now.

How businesses and in our case, supply chains, adapt is going to be the challenge for all of us. That's some of what we're going to talk to Katty about today. Abe, why don't you get us started.

Abe: Absolutely. Katty, welcome to The Rebound.

Katty Kay: Great to be here.

Abe: As well. Like the majority of the world, I'm not sure you paid much attention to the supply chain prior to the pandemic. Today almost everyone has become a supply chain expert and supply chain has become ubiquitous. The interview you did with our editor, Beth Rennie, you talked a little bit about the changes that you see coming to the work in the workplace as a result of the COVID pandemic. Can you give us a little bit of insight on what you expect and what you see?

Katty: First of all, thank you so much for having me and I'm excited to be joining you all. By the way, I did think about supply chains a little bit when it came to trade agreements, for example, between North America and Mexico. Of course, we covered supply chain issues in that context, but I don't think any of us foresaw the workplace revolution that COVID has launched.

We have all been talking and thinking about how to work more virtually, how to give people a flexibility to work from home more, but it dragged its feet a little bit. Over the last 10 years, yes, some companies, some organizations, on a sort of individual and slightly ad-hoc basis, had made changes to allow people to work from home. Then bam, along comes a pandemic and suddenly everybody is forced to work from home.

I think it was a wake-up call. It was a wake-up call to all of us that it was possible, that the technology was there and worked. COVID forced us to test that technology in a way that I don't think any organizations would have done on that scale had it not been for the pandemic. I suppose the question now is what happens next? After the pandemic, do we all go back to the status quo and everyone is back in offices full-time again, or do we carry on working virtually?

Which when we wrote about alternative work schedules from a gender point of view back in 2008, working virtually was one of the key planks to more work-life balance for working mothers is what we were writing about, but working parents generally. That ability to have more control of your schedule, to have more flexibility, to be able to work from home or if you needed to was something that a lot of working mothers and working women found very useful but it was hard to get. It was hard to get companies to agree to let people do that. There was a real stigma around it, you were put on the mommy track if you asked to be able to work from home even one day a week.

Over the last 10 years since we wrote that book in 2008, the technology has really advanced. More important than technology was the nudge that was produced by COVID that forced all of us to work from home and took away the stigma overnight of doing so because moms are working from home, dads are working from home, people with no kids are working from home. Everybody is working from home, and so there’s no stigma surrounding it.

Bosses and organizations have woken up to the fact that this works, that it functions fine. I think that is where the real change is and we had to take the stigma out of remote working in order to make alternative work schedules possible, and COVID paradoxically has done that and I don't see people going back to how they were for quite a long time.

Partly from an epidemiological point of view, I speak to doctors regularly about this in my interviews and nobody seems to think that before next spring we're going to be in a set position where things are totally safe because even if there is a vaccine produced, it's going to take a while for it to be distributed en masse.

Beyond the health side of things, you look at the opinion surveys of men and women and a lot of people are saying they don't want to go back to work full-time. That actually they like working from home and they feel they are productive working from home and they would like some balance of maybe two to three days a week in the office and two to three days a week at home. That seems to be the ideal or kind of half-and-half seems to be the ideal.

It's going to be very interesting to see how companies and organizations handle that and whether this actually provides some relief to working parents particularly, and working mothers and working women in giving them that workplace flexibility that has eluded us for a very long time.

Bob: Thank you, Katty. In your books, you've written about the power women have in their marketplace and the importance of confidence to your career. In your last answer, you were talking about women working from home and how that might go forward. I was thinking I have two editors who work for me both around 40, both with young kids working at home and their husbands now working at home. I've seen the struggle that they've gone through in comparison to their spouses or me I've worked at home forever and my daughter is 30 years old. That's not a problem. They're tearing their hair out. When you think about the workplace today, what's the state of women in the workplace? What's changing?

Katty: Look, I think we are at a stage where there is a general recognition that more diversity, not just of gender, but of race and ethnicity and background is better. There are now more than a dozen global studies that show that organizations that have more women in senior positions outperform their competitors by every measure of profitability. That it is a good thing for society if we have more diversity.

There's a professor at the University of Michigan who has come up with a great algorithm showing that diverse groups come up with better solutions to business problems than homogeneous groups. Take a group of men and women, they will come up with a better solution to a business problem than a group of all men even if those men individually, each of them, has more qualifications in that field.

There is something about a group that brings different perspectives and different experiences and different ways of thinking to a problem that produces a better solution. I think that has been a real shift in the whole diversity argument. This is not anymore about just being PC or diversity for the sake of looking good or feeling that you're doing the right thing.

This is diversity because it produces better results. When it's better results, when it's the bottom line that is driving the argument, I do think we see more change more readily. These studies that show that women produce better outcomes or having more women produce better outcomes, that kind of data makes an impact. What organization wouldn't want more profitability, a more efficient organization by having more diversity at the top?

It's also, you look, women are better educated than men. We have more degrees. We have more postgraduate degrees. We have more PhDs, so we bring talent to the table as Warren Buffett said. What organization wants to play with only half a deck of cards when you could play with the whole deck of cards? I think organizations that open their door to talent, to having more women in the process and more women in senior positions are seeing the returns on that effort in doing so.

It's not perfect yet. Clearly, women are underrepresented at the very top and I think that's partly a legacy issue. I had an interesting conversation with Christine Lagarde who was the first female head of the International Monetary Fund. She now runs the European Central Bank, and I asked her about this recently. It was actually on the International Women's Day. I was saying, "Why are we moving as slowly as we are? Why aren't we moving faster in terms of women in politics and women on boards and women at the tops of organizations?"

She basically said, "Well, there is still an old boys' network that has been around for decades and decades and decades, if not centuries." It's a workplace structure that was built by and for men with men at the top. Just because of unconscious bias, even if it's not willful, even if it's not deliberately trying to exclude women, men tend to replace themselves with their own like. David will replace himself with John or Thomas, not with Sarah or Jose.

It's interesting how our minds work, and breaking through that takes a long time. I think we have to just keep presenting the data and showing the benefits that come from having more women in the workforce. In many ways, when you look at the data, this is a great time to be a woman in the workforce. There is a recognition that women bring a lot to the table.

By the way, I think there's also a recognition to some of the skills that women bring to the table. Things that were seen as soft skills before are now seen as quite profitable skills. That women bring to the table high EQ, an ability to read a room, we are good negotiators, we're good at building consensus, we're good listeners, and we tend to be.

I think all of those now in a flatter world, more globalized world, particularly perhaps in the COVID world where we're all working across multiple platforms, all of those are seen as very valuable skills and worth having in your organization.

I tend to be an optimist, generally, and I do think we are making progress. I think that we are moving in the right direction of having more inclusivity in senior positions because people see that it is good for the organization, not just because they feel like it's a good PC thing to do, but because it's a bottom-line issue.

Abe: Katty, that's really interesting and I think it supports a lot of the theories. Honestly, to your point, a lot of the empirical evidence about organizations and their results, return on equity, and their performance.

Let's dig into supply chain a little bit deeper because I think some of the examples that you identified are still lingering within the supply chain field. The history of supply chain traces back to engineering and finance, two fields that were predominantly white and male and now, perhaps old, white, and male.

Significant changes were happening, as you indicated, prior to even the recession back in 2008-2009. Given the current events, every business is at an inflection point today. What's going to be important for them to focus on as we develop a more diverse and inclusive workplace? What are those key issues internally for the organization to pay attention to?

Katty Kay: You've hit on such a good point because we are at this moment where everybody is looking around the room and saying, "How diverse are we? How much have we opened up? How much have we moved beyond that old boys' network? What more do we need to do from our hiring process, to our retention process, to our promotion process? Are we putting in place the structures to make sure that we are getting as diverse a group of applicants? Then, once we get those diverse group of applicants, are we making sure that each of them get as good a shot as the white males who are applying?”

I think we have seen the country really focus on this issue. It's not just consumers that are focusing on this issue, not just clients that are focusing on this issue, but workforces are focusing on this issue. They are forcing change. I've spoken to a number of CEOs who have said to me recently, "Look, this is being driven by our own workforce who are shining a spotlight," and social media is a very strong, powerful spotlight, not always a fair spotlight.

Every CEO knows that brands and reputations can be destroyed in an instant by a negative social media campaign against your company. One of the things that people are focusing on is how diverse your workforce is and how diverse your senior C-suite is. There is a real spotlight on this, and there's a lot of research that's being done on how do we make sure that the hiring process is gender-neutral, is giving as good a shot to women as it is to men and to people of racial minorities as it is to people who are white?

A lot of work is even being done on algorithms, for example. Are we getting the right algorithms in place? There are big tech companies who developed algorithms for their hiring purposes and then found that those algorithms had been written by white men and skewed to white men, and so they threw them out and are starting from scratch and trying to make sure they get more women included in the algorithm writing process to make sure that the algorithms are more gender-neutral and are not skewed to white men.

It's interesting that you raise engineering. My son is an engineer at UVA. He's an engineering undergraduate. His engineering class is 35% women. It's not ideal, but it's up from the 20% women it was just a few years ago. Here's what UVA did, is they did a deliberate outreach program. A lot of universities have done this when they've looked at their engineering cohort realized how heavily male it is skewed. They've thought, "What can we do to make engineering attractive to high school kids?" They found that actually, you have to go back, not just into high schools, but you need to go into middle schools and send female engineers as role models, for example, female astronauts, or female computer programmers, or female biochemists.

If girls at the age of 11, 12, 13, see women doing those jobs, it can be transformative. It can make you realize that, "Wow, there is a woman who's an astronaut. There is a woman who's an engineer, and I could be that person." It's much easier for a teenage girl to relate to somebody of their own gender doing a job, and then see themself in that job, and then see, "Okay, these are the things I need to do. I need to focus on my arts, my sciences, and my maths and my physics and chemistry in order to get into that position."

I think all the universities are doing big outreach programs, not just into high school. By the time you get to high school, you've lost them. You need to go into middle schools and start looking at, "How can we make sure that we encourage girls to be thinking about these careers or ethnic minorities to be thinking about these careers in order to have them when they come into the pipeline?"

I think it's not a dissimilar process that happens in organizations. You need to be looking at your associates in their 20s and, particularly, for example, with young female associates. One of the things that we've come across, and it's very similar to the issue that we've dealt with when we've been writing about teenage girls, is some fear of failure or aversion to risk or not wanting to take on new challenges in case you don't succeed at them perfectly or that you might fail at them.

That's something that runs very deep in teenage girls and younger women. I think organizations that can go to their 20-year-old associates and say, "Okay, we want to encourage you in your 20s to start taking risks, and yes, you may fail sometimes. It may not work out perfectly, but here is the safety net for if you do. Everybody takes risks and sometimes fails. We encourage you to take those risks so that you get them used to doing it."

It's flexing a muscle. Once you've built up that muscle, then they can carry on doing that in their 30s, 40s, 50s. You're training people to think in a way that can lead them to stretch themselves, take on those risk assignments, take on those challenges in order to put themselves into the pipeline for leadership.

Bob: Katty, I'd like to move you back to the Christine Lagarde anecdote, which is also the end of your last answer, which was the pipeline for leadership. We know that at the leadership positions in many industries, it is still an old boys' network. How do we, at the leadership level, begin to look at folks other than white guys in leadership? How do we promote them, how do we advance their careers, and how do we keep them around?

Katty: I think what you guys are doing in the supply chain industry is the right thing. You're having the conversation. That's the starting point, right? Recognize that there's an issue, recognize that you want to try to solve it, recognize what the barriers are to solving it, and then work with your own leadership, existing leadership, to make it a priority.

We have found that in organizations where the white guys at the top see this as a priority. See this as something that is beneficial to the whole organization, and transmit that message right down the chain, they are the ones that make a difference.

Once you have your leadership involved, engaged, and committed to this, then you can get your staff on board and make people realize what we've been talking about that this is beneficial to the whole organization. This is a win for the organization. Frankly, it's something, especially in the climate we were talking about of today, you're going to have to do. You need to find a way to do it. You need to improve the numbers.

I think once you can shift people's mindset to see this as a plus, not as that we're losing something, that it's being taken away from us by some kind of birthright, then I think you can start making the changes.

Then it's a question of, "Looking around, what are the best practices? Who has managed to do a good job on making sure that good talent is not being excluded at even the hiring process? How do we make sure that Jane's resume looks as attractive as Jack's resume? If they're identical resumes there's just one is a man and one is a woman. How do we get around that issue? Do we have our unintended bias training in place? Have we spoken about that when it comes to hiring and retention and promotion?"

Then when we get women who are on track and have been trained and who are valuable members of our team and then get into their 30s and start having young children, how do we make sure we keep them? How do we make sure that we are an attractive place for them to stay and make sure that we put in place the systems where-- so they take some time off for maternity leave or they come back from maternity leave? They need more of that flexibility that we were talking about in the very beginning of this podcast. They need more of that control of their schedule. How do we make sure they have that without feeling stigmatized so that we keep them in the pool?

All of those things I think are-- Those things are technicalities and practicalities. It has to start with the leadership deciding that they are going to make this a priority and then you can implement the changes that you need.

Abe: Katty, one last question and I want to magnify or at least a little bit more focus on the leadership issue. In your posts, you've been writing about women in the workplace for more than a decade. We've seen changes in hiring and in salaries and we continue to see gaps specifically at the leadership level, not the organization historically but moving women into leadership and what does it take for them to accept that challenge. Often, we hear the comment that you've heard about, unconscious bias, women may not even be given the opportunity to demonstrate that they can lead in an organization.

From your perspective, what's changed since the times that you've been writing about the women in the workplace, and more importantly how do we make sure this isn't the flavor of the month or just a conversation point today?

Katty: I think it won't be flavor of the month just because inexorably the trend is moving towards more diversity. I don't see anywhere that people are saying, "Actually, you know what? Let's roll back on, the diversity has gone too far." Yes, it's moved slowly and a lot of people are frustrated and would like it to move faster, but I'm not hearing anybody in any organization saying to me, "Wow, we got more women at the top or we got more diversity into our organization and it was a bad thing, we need to go back to having more white men?" That's just not a conversation that people are having.

I do think it's certainly more than flavor of the month. On the question of how we get more women into the pipeline to take those opportunities, some of it is-- It's interesting, we're working on a new book at the moment, actually, that looks at some of this specifically. I interviewed the CEO of a major law firm in Canada, actually. I asked him about this, what were these hurdles he came to because he had come up with a very interesting phrase that he used when I spoke to him at a conference. He said, "Listen, we made the change when we realized we were promoting men on promise and women on performance."

The difference with that is that men don't have to have checked off 25 different things that they've done in order to be promoted. They will be promoted on the promise that they're going to be performing well, but he said the women have to have checked all of those 25 things, and even then, people might have reservations about them. "Are they committed enough? Are they a company player? Will they travel enough? They have--" and he put it in floating inverted commas parentheses, "they have issues, people find issues with women." He said, "All that was, was a kind of unconscious bias."

When he pointed out to the organization, "Look, we have to stop promoting men on promise and only promoting women on performance because that is always going to hold women back. That will always be a barrier to entry for women. They can never meet that standard." He said it was kind of a lightbulb moment for the company and then he went through all the cases. He had the data showing how they had done that in the past. He said we're just going to throw that playbook out and no woman has to have checked any more boxes than men have to have checked and we will make sure that we're promoting women on promise and men on promise equally and it produced a real change in the organization.

It is a mindset issue, which is really interesting, but it suggests to me that it's something that any organization can tackle if they start looking at how they're really doing it.

Bob: Thank you, Katty, and thanks for being our guest today. That's all the time we have. Thanks, everyone, for joining. I hope you'll check out Katty's keynote address at ASCM Connect Virtual Conference, and we hope you'll be back for our next episode. We look forward to seeing you then. I'm Bob Trebilcock.

Abe: I'm Abe Eshkenazi.

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 and We hope you'll join us again.

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