A survey released by Gartner, Stamford, Conn., and conducted in partnership with Achieving Women’s Excellence in Supply Chain Operations, Management and Education (AWESOME), Chicago, shows sustained strong representation of women in the senior-most ranks of supply chain organizations relative to other functions.

Key findings include:

  • Representation of women in the senior-most ranks — CSCO, SVP, EVP or CPO reporting to the CEO — is strong and sustained year over year relative to other functions, but remains low and flat at all other levels of leadership.
  • Compared with 2017, more respondents report supply chain-led formal goals and initiatives to improve gender diversity.
  • Increasing the visibility of successful women leaders as role models is one of the most important things companies can do to impact recruitment and retention as well as advancement of women to senior levels. Other actions will differ based on targeted areas for improvement.

Gartner's third annual Women in Supply Chain Survey surveyed 148 supply chain professionals about their companies' goals and initiatives to improve attraction, development, retention and advancement of women. Gartner also collected baseline data on how many women are in frontline manager, senior manager, director, vice president and executive-level roles within supply chain organizations. Another goal for this survey was to identify practices that are increasing the engagement with and success of women in supply chain organizations.

This year, for the first time, Gartner surveyed supply chain service providers, technology companies and consultants — the "sell side" of supply chain — to see how their perspective compares with manufacturers, brand owners, distributors and retailers.

About half of the companies surveyed report progress toward gender equity in supply chain leadership, while half do not, but there are bright spots scattered around the data. For example, in 2016, 38% of respondents reported zero women at the VP level. In 2017, that percentage dropped to 26%. This year, it dropped again to 20%.

In 2018, on average, 14% of companies reported executive-level supply chain positions (e.g., CSCO, SVP, EVP, CPO) being held by women, which is about the same as last year (15%).

The primary and most effective pushes for gender diversity to date are top down, driven by CEOs, boards and investors. However, this strong showing at executive levels is not mirrored at other levels within supply chain organizations. In every case, from frontline managers to vice presidents, the average percentage of women leaders is flat over the past three years. Active investment in and attention to the top ranks has not reached lower levels. In addition, many companies face mid-career attrition and lower engagement that contracts the leadership pipeline.

Sector views are showing patterns similar to previous years as well. Consumer sectors show, on average, a larger population of women overall, and subsequently, more women moving through management into senior management positions, compared with industrial sector supply chain organizations. However, 2018 shows a sharp drop in the percentage of women in executive ranks in these companies.

In the "Other Verticals" sector grouping, which includes life sciences, healthcare, telecommunications, hospitality and utilities, the data experienced higher proportions of women at all levels, which is in line with previous years. At many of these companies, particularly in the service sector, supply chain is often regarded as more of an administrative, back-office function that is cost-focused and often synonymous with procurement. These are companies that traditionally have had more women overall in supply chain, and therefore, a higher likelihood of women advancing into leadership positions.

This year, for the first time, Gartner also surveyed participants from logistics and transportation providers, supply chain consultants and supply chain software and technology providers. As a group, supply chain providers do a better job of retaining and progressing women through the middle of the pipeline and into senior leadership roles. In this group, one in five VPs is a woman, compared with industrial companies, where it is one in 10. When Gartner looked more closely at those companies with more women VPs, it was discovered that their pipelines were larger on average, with an average of 50% or more women in the total supply chain organization, compared with the 31% sector average.

While representation apart from top leadership is unchanged over three years, one significant shift in

2018 is the percentage of respondents who say their organization has specific goals to increase the number of women in the supply chain organization. In 2018, Gartner saw a 7% increase from 2017 —

43% to 50% — in the percentage of companies that have stated objectives in this area. Most notably, all of the increase is from respondents going beyond general objectives to setting specific goals that appear on management scorecards.

Next, the study focused on the 50% with goals to see what they're doing to meet those goals. How many have launched formal initiatives? One shift experienced in 2018 is that more respondents are leading their own initiatives rather than solely relying on enterprise-level HR efforts. Of the supply chain organizations (not solution providers) that have goals to increase the number of women in supply chain, 60% say the supply chain organization has targeted initiatives to recruit, develop, retain and/or advance women in supply chain. This is up from 44% in 2017.

This year, the study added two questions to highlight what it will take to improve recruiting and retention outcomes, as well as what will result in more women being offered and advancing into top jobs. The goal was to focus on specific actions that could compare with initiatives already underway and to move past obstacle mindsets to action mindsets.

Respondents identified increasing the presence and visibility of senior women leaders as one of the most important actions companies should take to impact the ability to better recruit and retain women (15%) and advance women to senior levels (16%).

For advancing women to top jobs, 23% of respondents considered development and career pathing to be the most important action. An additional 16% identified sponsorship and mentorship, which is typically also an activity within an integrated pipelining process, as the most important. Combining these two, 39% of respondents pointed to integrated pipelining processes as the most significant opportunity for advancing women to top leadership positions (vs. a combined 14% who identified these as the most important actions for recruiting and retaining women). The No. 1 recommendation for improving overall recruiting and retention of women is changing cultural values, leadership orientation and behaviors (18% of respondents). Changing culture and behaviors was also important to more effectively advance women (14%), but only third in the hierarchy of actions for that category.

Other notable differences between priority actions for recruitment and retention vs. executive advancement:

  • The data suggests that improving the ability to identify and reach diverse candidates is far more important to recruiting and retaining women than to advancing women (15% vs. 6%). This suggests there are more readily identifiable candidates for advancement to top roles than there are for new hires.
  • Respondents placed more emphasis on flexibility and family policies as a requirement for better recruiting and retention (11%), but put far less emphasis (2%) on these as important for advancing women to top jobs.
  • Adjacent to culture, but not dominant enough to make the Top 5 actions, 5% of respondents focused on ensuring equality of pay, policies and opportunity as the most important action to take for recruiting and retaining women candidates. However, no one suggested those as important for advancing women to top leadership roles.


Results presented are based on a Gartner study conducted to track progress on attracting, retaining and promoting women in the supply chain profession. The research was conducted online from Feb. 2 to March 4 among 148 respondents primarily in North America. AWESOME partnered with Gartner to develop the survey, recruit participants and analyze results.

Participants work in companies with an internal supply chain organization, are dedicated vendors of supply chain services and solutions or in services and solution providers where supply chain is one of many business units or practice areas.

Respondents were required to be familiar with the supply chain organization/business unit, specialty or practice area of their organization. Multiple answers from the same company were filtered, so that only one organizational perspective is represented in the final dataset.