The shift in gender balance within the data science and supply chain industry has been slow despite the advancement of big data showing no signs of slowing. A Gartner survey in 2020 revealed that only 17% of Chief Supply Chain Officers are women.

The data tells us that the problem exists because it cuts much deeper. In Singapore, only 58% of women with STEM qualifications work in related jobs, compared with 70% of men in a study of 738 Singaporeans by the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) conducted last year.

The real question is, what needs to happen to make that a reality? The first step is recruitment. Women need to know manufacturing represents a viable career choice, and right now that’s an area where many companies and educational institutions are failing.

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United Women Singapore and Ipsos research reveal that girls had continued to show a preference for non-STEM career pathways when compared to boys. 48% said that they found STEM subjects difficult while 39% gave a lack of interest in STEM as the top two reasons for choosing non-STEM pathways.

It starts at home and at schools

As a leader in the supply chain and data science field, I started multiple resource groups which support women at work, promote STEM careers to girls and women, and help provide an environment where women want to work in and can succeed in data science and the supply chain industry.

We worked on exposing girls and women to various role models in the STEM industries through mentorships, letting them have a real taste of the applications in STEM through internships and showing them more pathways for a career in the STEM field.

By providing footsteps to follow in through interviews with inspirational women who have already risen up the rungs to senior leadership and sharing resources and tools to help younger supply chain professionals thrive in their careers, this not only helped individual women reach new levels in their career journey but also to provide an exemplary circle that rose the tide for all. 

Parents play an important role too by introducing STEM ideas and projects to their children from a young age to inquire more about the world around them, and creatively solve problems. The power and influence of positive role models and examples have long been shown to improve learning outcomes.

Refreshing organisational structures not for the sake of diversity

One of the biggest challenges organisations face today is how to navigate supply chain disruption. As a woman in the supply chain industry, we recognise how important diverse voices and ideas can be to creating success, whether that’s personal career success or client success.

There is also a necessity to turn off our analytical, problem-solving minds and lead the team to more honest and open discussions about various issues in our world related to diversity and inclusion.

Diversity on its own is not enough: women need equity of opportunity and true inclusion. For this kind of change to happen, there is a need to have male allies who do not just insist that women be at the table but notice when they are being disproportionately interrupted and discounted and advocate for their voices to be heard and valued. 

There is also a need to consider bias beyond gender, where diversity efforts should continue to represent women of colour, LGBTQ+ people and neurodiverse communities.

Supply chain organisations need to remove the functional barriers in supply chain management and address how current structural models should connect the data, processes, and people. This could boil down to democratising decision-making and a democratised planning model could shift business processes and birth refreshed organisational structures.

With consistent planning, this may challenge the way organisations operate and increase possible scenarios and options to create a broader organisational hierarchy that includes more women on the top.

Raising awareness levels

The only way forward is for companies and employees at all levels to be more aware of real and perceived bias toward women and take the necessary steps to correct them.

The immediate next step is to paint a positive image of the industry, provide better education about possible career paths, and foster the development and growth of women already in the talent pool.

This article was contributed by Ms. Polly Mitchell-Guthrie, Vice President Industry Outreach and Thought Leadership at Kinaxis

About the author

Ms. Polly Mitchell-Guthrie, Vice President Industry Outreach and Thought Leadership at Kinaxis

Polly is the VP of Industry Outreach and Thought Leadership at Kinaxis, a supply chain planning and analytics software company. Previously, she was Director of Analytical Consulting Services at the University of North Carolina Health Care System and worked in various roles at SAS, in Advanced
Analytics R&D, as Director of the SAS Global Academic Program, and in Alliances. She has an MBA from the Kenan-Flagler Business School of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she also received her BA in Political Science as a Morehead Scholar. She has been very active in INFORMS (the leading professional society for operations research and analytics) and co-founded the third chapter of Women in Machine Learning and Data Science (now more than 60 chapters worldwide).