Here's What I Learned at the Women in Supply Chain Forum

The 2022 Women in Supply Chain Forum sparked conversations about women in the supply chain and offered a workshop on collaborative problem solving through self-advocacy, communication and collaboration.

Attendees pose for a group photo.
Attendees pose for a group photo.

Professional growth often starts with a conversation and on open dialogue to understanding the strengths and weaknesses of yourself and the industry you work in. The 2022 Women in Supply Chain Forum, with title sponsor GreyOrange, sparked those conversations about women in the supply chain and offered a workshop on collaborative problem solving. The keynote speaker, Sarah Barnes-Humphrey, host of Let's Talk Supply Chain podcast, kicked off the event with insight into how self-advocacy and diversity improves the supply chain and empowers men and women alike. In an industry that can sometimes seem closed off, these points act as a diving board for open dialogue that improves not only the individual professional, but the supply chain community as a whole, to find common thread between the differences in people, places and factions of service in logistics. 

I've always thought of honest communication as a universal tool for improvement, and this includes at the leadership level. During her session, Courtney Muller, president at Manifest and chief corporate development officer of Connectiv, described exactly that and how company culture is influenced by the tone of leadership which affects the ways they communicate with employees. When leaders open their doors to conversations, employees feel more comfortable with sharing new ideas and solutions, creating a willingness to self-advocate which can be especially hard for minorities in the workspace — including women. 

The Forum featured both panel discussions and fireside chats with applicable topics to professional and workforce development. As overcoming supply chain disruptions weighs heavy on the industry, Marie McCarthy, chief operations officer for L.L. Bean, explained how the company used flexibility to produce masks and provide food for Maine locals during the height of COVID-19. This shift was a no-brainer for L.L. Bean, as McCarthy detailed their dedication to stakeholder commitment that drives all aspects of what they do. Even in warehouse automation one of the key components, she says, is holding firm to the respect for human interaction and the people behind the scenes. Continuing on with the theme of flexibility, NorthPoint Logistics Kaitlin Rusbarsky, managing director of international operations, and Liz Decker, director of client success, discussed how NorthPoint has used pivot points to provide needs and necessities. As obstacles such as inflation, the global pandemic and worker shortages continue to rise, the need for internal evaluation can often help a company access what works and what doesn't in everchanging times. GreyOrange fireside chat featuring Marie McCarthy.GreyOrange fireside chat featuring Marie McCarthy.

Every day I read and write about how shortage has affected most avenues of the supply chain, but one stands out among the rest: truck driver shortage. The three women who know the most about it, Ellen Voie, president and CEO of the Women in Trucking Association, Rebecca Brewster, president and COO of the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI), and Lindsey Trent, president and co-founder of the Next Generation in Trucking Association, sat down to bring awareness to the key components of diversity in trucking that can work to improve the current climate through the empowerment of women and young people in the field.

"ATRI recently found that 14% of men are more likely to get in a crash than women", says Brewster, and this is telling data when the topic turns to the differences in men and women. Neither is better at truck driving than the other, but differences in gender and experience can offer a difference in perspective and skill.

Unfortunately, I learned that a large contention point with trucking comes from safety and there is a heightened sense for this among women. Voie says, "The Women in Trucking Association asked female truck drivers how safe they feel on a scale of 1-5, one being the least and five being the most, and the average answer was 4.4".

As strides are taken to improve the livelihood for women in trucking, the driver shortage can dwindle. Another way to approach the issues is through educating young people who, Trent says, are often unfamiliar with what the supply chain is, the job opportunities within it and the ways it influences their lives — even simply as consumers. 

Supply chain visibility and resilience can come in different forms. A session with Kathy Fulton, executive director of American Logistics Aid Network (ALAN) and Stephany Lapierre, CEO and founder of TealBook, looked towards that common goal through different lenses – one through humanitarian crisis efforts and the other through technology, but both underlining the need for resources and information for risk response.

"Risk is broad", says Lapierre, "and data can provide the necessary information to mitigate it and show visibility."

The supply chain thrives off of these elements and it continues to be a critical part of the process as a whole. 

Antonia Popova, director of customer accounts for RXO, broke down strategic partnership in logistics. Since RXO's recent spin off from XPO, Popova says "A diverse and inclusive group has been the foundation for maintaining positive company culture during a time of change."

Personal understanding between fellow employees and leadership helps to cultivate an environment that uses differences as a positive tool for change and in turn, makes them a better partner for consumers. Applying personal experiences to work can improve the way we communicate with one another and foster inclusion.

I for one am no stranger to these ideas. I spoke and attested to the ways my prior military service in the U.S. Navy has shaped my experiences now working in the supply chain field. As the only female nuclear mechanic in the engine room, I've been privy to the bias that can sometimes come when a woman works in a field that's not the "norm" for her gender. When I realized I was the only female I knew I was going to stand out. I used that, not as a crutch, but as a superpower to show that if you're going to focus on me, I'm going to prove to you that my different perspective brings a special set of skills that allow me to succeed. And this has followed me into every job since.

The Forum brought together women, and men, of all backgrounds  in life and business. Some of these women were Supply & Demand Chain Executive's 2022 Women in Supply Chain award winners and this gave the event a chance to celebrate them in person. The networking opportunities were compounded by various receptions and conversation tables that allowed attendees to share stories, connect on socials and truly celebrate the diversity of women in the industry.

Opening keynote with Sarah Barnes-Humphrey.Opening keynote with Sarah Barnes-Humphrey."If I could chat with my 25-year-old self and say, one day, you will not be the only female in the room, I wonder how my 25-year-old self would respond. When I looked around the room at our first ever Women in Supply Chain Forum, it was everything I envisioned and more. It was filled with networking, education, attendees sharing their journeys and offering advice/suggestions, and more importantly, women making meaningful relationships with other women in the industry. I share the Women in Supply Chain Forum with our brand director, Jason DeSarle. This show is just as much as his as it is mine, and I couldn't be more proud of my team, myself and the women we support. I'm blessed to work for a company that helps make my visions become a reality. Cheers to the Women in Supply Chain and the men that showed up to support them," says Marina Mayer, editor-in-chief of Food Logistics and Supply & Demand Chain Executive and co-founder of the Women in Supply Chain Forum.

The things I learned at this event will be echoed through my work in the coming year – until of course the 2023 Forum, when I get the chance to learn and collaborate even more with the incredible women in this incredible industry. Cheers to women in supply chain! As Beyonce famously once said, "Who runs the world? Girls!"