With four female presidents over the years, and a growing number of women supply chain experts on the programme each year at the annual SAPICS Conference, The Professional Body for Supply Chain Management (SAPICS) is leading the way when it comes to diversity and inclusion in this once male-dominated profession.
The SAPICS Conference is Africa’s leading event for supply chain professionals. At the 1996 conference, there was just one female speaker out of 33 on the line-up, reports SAPICS president MJ Schoemaker, the organisation’s current president and the fourth woman at SAPICS’s helm. Reflecting how far SAPICS and the supply chain profession have come, the 2021 SAPICS Conference, which takes place from 24 to 26 August 2021, features 22 women supply chain experts who will share their insights and experience with African supply chain professionals.
When Schoemaker was nominated as SAPICS president earlier this year, she took over from Keabetswe Mpane, who had served as a director of SAPICS for eight years and had a two-year tenure as president. Tracy Cheetham has the honour of being the first woman president of SAPICS. She served in this role for five years – and handed over to Liezl Smith, who was a director of SAPICS for nine years.
“SAPICS certainly has a good story to tell this Women’s Month,” says Schoemaker. But while she notes that SAPICS can be proud of the strides it has made in gender diversity and inclusion, and there are certainly more women in the supply chain management profession today than there were 10 years ago, there is still a long way to go. “We have seen an increase in the number of women employed in the supply chain field but not at the executive level. Women are predominantly working in support functions and there is little movement to the upper levels. South Africa is lagging behind in innovative solutions such as flexible working hours for parents and working from home which would allow for career advancement and opportunities.”
SAPICS director Chanti Wilson echoes this. “In all my executive level engagements, it is rare to find women sitting at the table. Often, I am the only woman in the room as the consultant. More focus on gender diversity is needed and there are too few women cracking the glass ceiling to reach the executive level in the supply chain profession.”
Her advice to women striving to advance in the industry is to network with women who have similar interests and aspirations. “Identify a mentor who will guide you in your career and the next steps. I suspect the introduction of hybrid working options post COVID will go a long way to making supply chain careers more attractive to women.”
Schoemaker also emphasises the value of a mentor to women in supply chain management. “Women will benefit from a mentor to support them in navigating their way to the upper levels. Additionally, our male colleagues need to be on board and recognise talent across all genders,” she states.
Schoemaker believes that organisations must have a clear diversity and inclusion policy that promotes equal opportunities for all employees. “Action must start at the top and be cascaded through the organisation to ensure that all leaders recognise the importance of diversity and move away from the traditional unconscious bias that supply chain is a male career.”
Both Schoemaker and Wilson are enthusiastic about the opportunities for women in supply chain management. “Supply chain is highly diverse, exciting and here to stay! There are more women studying subjects such as engineering and IT today, which are sought after in the supply chain profession,” says Schoemaker.
“I would not hesitate to recommend this as a profession for women. There are huge opportunities for personal growth and development. Supply chain looks at the whole business, not just a siloed function, therefore it is a great steppingstone to more senior roles in an organisation, if this is your aspiration,” Wilson asserts.
This year’s 43rd SAPICS Conference will include special Women’s Month workshops open to all delegates. “Queen Bee Syndrome” is the topic of a workshop presented by Dr Denine Smit of the University of the Free State. In a workshop entitled “Leading for the Future”, coach and leadership expert Cecily Carmona will exploreleadership practices that allow people to connect, grow trust, bring out the best in others, overcome challenges and create working environments where everyone can thrive.
The 2021 virtual SAPICS Conference takes place from 24 to 26 August 2021. Visit https://conference.sapics.org/ for more information on the 2021 SAPICS Conference or to register.