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Dana StifflerDana Stiffler of Gartner

David Maloney, Editorial Director, DC Velocity : 

Are women climbing the corporate ladder within our supply chain industry? Consumers love the convenience of curbside pickup, but for retailers—not so much. And, a tough road ahead for transportation markets.

Pull up a chair and join us as the editors of DC Velocity discuss these stories, as well as news and supply chain trends, on this week’s Logistics Matters podcast.

Hi, I’m Dave Maloney. I’m the editorial director at DC Velocity. Welcome.

Logistics Matters is sponsored by Fortna. Fortna partners with the world’s leading brands to transform their distribution operations to keep pace with digital disruption and growth objectives. Known worldwide as the distribution experts, Fortna designs and delivers intelligent solutions powered by their proprietary software to optimize fast, accurate, and cost-effective order fulfillment. For more information, visit Fortna.com.

As usual, our DC Velocity senior editors Ben Ames and Victoria Kickham will be along to provide their insight into the top stories of this week. But to begin: The supply chain has traditionally been an industry with mostly male executives. Are women making inroads into the C-suite? Here to address that question is Victoria with today’s guest. Victoria?

Victoria Kickham, Senior Editor, DC Velocity : 

Thanks, Dave. Our guest today is Dana Stiffler, a vice president and analyst with the Gartner supply chain practice. Dana is here to talk about Gartner’s 2020 Women in Supply Chain Survey. So, welcome, Dana.

Dana Stiffler, Vice President, Supply Chain Practice, Gartner Research : 

Thanks, Victoria. I’m glad to be here with you.

Victoria Kickham, Senior Editor, DC Velocity : 

We’re glad to have you. So, Gartner recently published its 2020 Women in Supply Chain Survey, and I was just hoping you could tell us a little bit about the survey, sort of how long Gartner has been conducting it, and really, what’s the ultimate goal of the research?

Dana Stiffler, Vice President, Supply Chain Practice, Gartner Research : 

Sure. So, this year, in fact, was the five-year anniversary of the survey. So it’s the fifth year that we’ve published it, and if I go back to the beginning of the project, it really happened because Gartner clients, across industry, across different types of supply chain organizations, were really impatient with their diversity and inclusion progress, especially the gender focus. So they really wanted to see more women coming into the supply chain profession, and they really wanted to do a better job of progressing them into leadership positions. So, that noise got louder and louder. We decided to do a formal project, and the goals associated with the project were really to establish a baseline for representation, so that we would have something to look at and measure our progress against.

And then, also, the second mission and focus of the project has been to look in more detail at what companies are doing that’s really improving representation of women in supply chain, and women in supply chain leadership. So, can we shine a light on best practice and the right kinds of projects and approaches that really seemed to work?

Victoria Kickham, Senior Editor, DC Velocity : 

So, in looking at the survey, or looking at the summary, as I did, it showed that 17% of chief supply chain officers are women, which I think was an increase of 6% over last year, and the highest rate since you’ve been doing the survey. I wanted to sort of see if you could assign it, sort of assess the progress that women are making in the industry, and how strong a sign is that? And what were some of the other key findings this year?

Dana Stiffler, Vice President, Supply Chain Practice, Gartner Research : 

Sure. So, when we look at that top supply chain job, and we look at that 17%, it is certainly a sign of progress. And one of the things that we’ve noticed when we look at women in business leadership, not just supply chain leadership, is that that representation at the top spot has really, has good trickle-down effects over time. So what we’ve seen over the last five years is—especially in a subset of companies and supply chain organizations that I’ll talk about—just a lot of progress in either building that pipeline into that senior job, or sometimes hiring laterally, to leapfrog into a place where you have more women in senior leadership.

So, some other findings that are kind of, that are related to this chief supply chain officer finding, are the superior performance of the consumer retail sector and the supply chain organizations in that sector. We look at their relative representation and strength of pipeline, and they’re much stronger than other sectors. And there are a couple of reasons for that: Another finding, also, in the research, is that those consumer retail supply chain organizations are more likely to have specific goals and objectives that appear on management scorecards. They’re more likely to focus on recruiting and integrated pipelining initiatives that tend to have greater impacts.

A couple of other findings that we had this year were that we’ve kicked over into a clear majority of supply chain organizations having stated objectives in terms of increasing the representation of women in supply chain leadership: 63%, in 2020, of the respondents said that they have those objectives. I would contrast that to when we started, where it was only, it was only one in three respondents said they had formal goals and objectives. Today, we’re at almost two out of three responding supply chain organizations telling us that they’re focused on this specifically, and that it’s on management scorecards.

Victoria Kickham, Senior Editor, DC Velocity : 

So, you mentioned sort of getting women through the pipeline, and, as you say, they’re not—in some sectors, it’s working better than others. You mentioned retail. What can organizations do to kind of consistently sort of get women through the pipeline to top positions? Are there specific things that you recommend they can do?

Dana Stiffler, Vice President, Supply Chain Practice, Gartner Research : 

Yes. So, yes, just to build on the couple of initiatives that I referred to—so integrated pipelining is kind of, is really a holistic set of initiatives that allows you to build that robust pipeline. So it includes a number of different processes and practices. It includes recruiting, development of leaders, including sponsorship and active rotation. For them, experience-wise, it also includes succession-planning and performance-management processes that have been addressed to strip out unconscious bias, for example. So that’s integrated pipelining, a really holistic approach and initiative.

If you wanted to talk about a more tactical approach or project that yields good short- to medium-term benefits, recruiting is an excellent place to start, because there’s been so much science and formal process discipline applied to the recruiting process—such as making sure that you have diverse and inclusive slates, making sure that your interview committee is also inclusive and diverse—that really make a difference, that if you were to look at, “What is one more tactical project where I could realize benefits in the nearer term?” it would probably be recruiting.

And ultimately, when we’ve looked at this community over time, of responding companies and supply chain organizations, you can see that they start to bake in a lot of these approaches and addressing of bias and so forth into all these decisions, forums, and processes. Over time, they become baked in, rather than the so-called special diversity project. So I think that’s where we’re really aiming, and we’re starting to see some supply chain organizations get to that place where this is not a special project, it’s the way they develop and progress talent.

Victoria Kickham, Senior Editor, DC Velocity : 

Thank you. I also wanted to ask just about the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic. We’ve noticed that it’s really shined a light on the important role the supply chain plays in our everyday lives, and I wanted to know if you could just sort of quickly address what effect, if any, that might have on women’s roles and gender equality in the supply chain, maybe in terms, of you know, attracting more women to the field, and recruiting, and that kind of thing.

Dana Stiffler, Vice President, Supply Chain Practice, Gartner Research : 

Right, I think, you know, supply chain has gotten some very good and some very bad advertising in the Covid age. But the upshot of that is that everyone really realizes how important supply chain is to them personally. And so, I think about, you know, what we’ve experienced personally in the consumer value chain, what we’ll experience personally in the healthcare value chain, and I think that that really already has shone a light on the importance and influence of supply chain. So I think we’ll attract more women and men into this profession that will continue to rise in all of the university majors that are declared and the advanced degrees that people are taking. In fact, I just heard from one of the university programs that we know that their master’s-level degree program, which is virtual, has more applicants than ever. So we’re already seeing some of that effect.

One other thing on the Covid influence on women in business and women in supply chain is, we are concerned about some of the short-term effects of people trying to be productive working from home, or women—or people, really—in frontline positions where they have, also, domestic care and schooling responsibilities. I think we’re concerned that there may be some near-term impacts on productivity and potential that are specially experienced by women that we’re trying to track and mitigate. But medium- to long-term we’re optimistic, because we’re injecting more flexibility in work time and workplace, which should make supply chain a more attractive profession for everyone, including women.

Victoria Kickham, Senior Editor, DC Velocity : 

Yes, thank you. There are so many aspects to this, and it’s all changing, and I really appreciate that perspective, for sure, especially working from home as I am now. Are there any other key findings, really important issues, you wanted to point out?

Dana Stiffler, Vice President, Supply Chain Practice, Gartner Research : 

Yes, maybe save the best for last. So, it’s really important that male colleagues and leaders are involved in these projects and initiatives. And so we have really strong data showing a correlation between the involvement of men in these projects and actual progress being made. So, 71% of initiatives that include men report progress, especially at the top ranks, getting that top job. And I would just add, we talked about consumer retail being really strong; the consumer retail supply chain organizations have a much higher propensity to involve men in their initiatives. So, that, I think, is the—just makes a really strong case for women and men to work together to go after these goals.

Victoria Kickham, Senior Editor, DC Velocity : 

Absolutely. Thank you. So Gartner published a report based on the survey, and I believe you’re offering a webinar on the topic as well. Can you tell our listeners how they can access those aspects of the study?

Dana Stiffler, Vice President, Supply Chain Practice, Gartner Research : 

Yes. So, if you go and look for Gartner webinars, and particularly the session that’s called “2020 supply chain survey showcases women’s progress in C-suite,” you’ll be on a page where you can fill in your details and listen to that webinar and access the accompanying PowerPoint, free of charge.

Victoria Kickham, Senior Editor, DC Velocity : 

Great. Thank you. And I should also note to our listeners: In the podcast notes on most of your platforms, you should be able to get a link directly to that as well. So, thank you, Dana, again, for being here. We appreciate it.

Dana Stiffler, Vice President, Supply Chain Practice, Gartner Research : 

Thank you, Victoria. It’s been a pleasure.

David Maloney, Editorial Director, DC Velocity : 

Thank you, Dana and Victoria.

Now let’s turn to some other supply chain news from the week. Ben, you reported that while curbside pickup has been extremely popular with consumers during the pandemic, it puts a lot of stress on retailers. Could you share why?

Ben Ames, Senior News Editor, DC Velocity : 

That’s right Dave. Many retailers have seen steep increases in the volume of fulfillment they’re doing from the store, as opposed to from the distribution center, because consumers are driving hot demand for options like buy online, pick up a curbside, or buy online, pick up in store. That’s happened during the pandemic. And the reason is that buyers see those practices of shopping as ways to minimize their health risk, while still getting products in their hands very fast.

But there’s a downside, which is that from the retailer’s point of view, those services put enormous pressure on a company’s picking, packing shipping, and pickup processes. That’s according to Radial, which is a third-party logistics provider in Pennsylvania. They’re one of the country’s top 40 or 50 biggest 3PLs by revenue. I spoke to them during the week, and they said that, despite those challenges, curbside pickup and in-store pickup are probably here to stay, even after the pandemic effects begin to fade away. And they will be part of what people are calling “the next normal” as we head into a new range of business operations,

David Maloney, Editorial Director, DC Velocity : 

Ben, did Radial give any idea about how retailers could do that effectively?

Ben Ames, Senior News Editor, DC Velocity : 

They did, Dave. The goal here is for retailers to improve their omnichannel operations, across both their digital and their physical footprints. And Radial says that one of the most important tools for a company that’s trying to do that is order-management software. That’s because it can help a retailer improve their inventory visibility. You have to know exactly where your goods are before you can promise a consumer that they can pick them up at a specific store at a specific time.

I spoke with Prashant Bhatia, who’s an executive at Radial. As an interesting side note here, he said that he had been hired at the company just eight weeks before, but he has yet to meet a sole person in person from Radial, because everything has been done remotely because of the sort of Zoom calls and the social distancing that everybody’s following during the pandemic. But Prashant said that the Covid-19 pandemic, as we’ve seen, has dramatically changed consumer shopping behavior. So retailers now need to be flexible enough to handle changes, like stores reopening on different schedules because of pandemic restrictions, or fulfillment centers opening and closing on different days as infections might happen. However, it’s a hard mountain to climb. But if they can achieve that kind of flexibility, retailers can offer a really wide array of services that can keep customers coming back.

He gave some examples. Some changes in the marketplace recently are some consumer packaged-goods manufacturers are shipping directly to shoppers, instead of selling just at stores. Some retailers are marketing private-label goods. Some brands are performing ship-from-store fulfillment to use the inventory that’s located close to [a] buyer’s home. So there are a lot of things that stores can do, if they can get there. So we should see some big changes coming up in coming years.

David Maloney, Editorial Director, DC Velocity : 

And these are trends we’ve been tracking for some time, but the pandemic has really accelerated them to the point that they’re being done a lot sooner than we really expected.

Ben Ames, Senior News Editor, DC Velocity : 

That’s exactly right. Yep. Another thing that Prashant said was that Radial has seen some holiday-peak-level volumes already, during these summer months, just because of real spikes from the pandemic, and so that it’s that kind of market pressure that can accelerate these trends.

David Maloney, Editorial Director, DC Velocity : 

Thank you, Ben.

Some new numbers were also out showing additional impacts on the pandemic on supply chains, and, Victoria, you reported this week that it looks like a tough road ahead for transportation markets. What can we expect for the coming months?

Victoria Kickham, Senior Editor, DC Velocity : 

Yes, thanks, Dave.

So we notice there’s quite a bit of research going on in the transportation market concerning, as you say, the effect of the coronavirus pandemic on the industry. And the industry had been experiencing some pressures before the pandemic, and the crisis has really caused slowdowns across all modes. And it’s interesting, this is happening despite transportation companies remaining busy keeping supply chains running.

So we looked at a handful of studies published recently, really in the last week, and found a couple of interesting statistics that I thought I’d share. So, [the] first study, from Deloitte, examined the broad transportation market, and it showed that by the end of this year, they said up to 45% of the transportation sector’s operating profits could erode, just given what’s happened since March. And another study on the freight and logistics market—this one was by McKinsey & Company—estimates that the recovery time from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic will be three to five years. Now, that will vary based on transportation mode and commodity, but just shows that there’s a little bit of a rough road ahead.

David Maloney, Editorial Director, DC Velocity : 

Yeah, it sure, it does. What can transportation providers do to address some of those challenges?

Victoria Kickham, Senior Editor, DC Velocity : 

Well, quite a bit, actually. So, the researchers point to the resilience of the transportation market and its vital role in the supply chain as important factors. As I said, you know, all these companies have been kept busy, keeping things going during the pandemic. But they also pointed to some changes companies can make as well.

So, one is to reorient their commercial models toward what they call “pockets of growth” that will be stronger over the next few years. An example is, you know, agriculture and food and pharmaceuticals, they anticipate will recover faster than others.

Another is to invest in new digital capabilities. And that is a really important point, many of the research organizations say. And actually, another study, also released in the last couple of days, by Boston-based Lux Research, showed that the transportation industry, in their estimation, is—in general—is in its infancy when it comes to what they call digital transformation, which is, you know, applying new technologies across your business. And they say applying technology tools can really help with some of the industry’s main, what they call “pain points.” One example is visibility, you know, having visibility across your transportation network, and they pointed to technology such as asset-tracking to monitor goods in real time, as one area where companies can really make a big difference. So, as we’ve seen, you know, over the last many years, actually, technology continues to be a key weapon in a company’s arsenal to fighting these challenges, again.

David Maloney, Editorial Director, DC Velocity : 

Yes, it certainly seem so, and we’ll continue to report on those as developments happen within the transportation space. We encourage listeners to go to DCVelocity.com for more on these and other supply chain stories. Go there to check it all out. Thank you, Ben and Victoria, for sharing highlights of the news this week.

Ben Ames, Senior News Editor, DC Velocity : 

Thanks, Dave.

Victoria Kickham, Senior Editor, DC Velocity : 

Yeah, thank you. My pleasure.

David Maloney, Editorial Director, DC Velocity : 

And again, our thanks to Dana Stiffler of Gartner for being with us today. We encourage your feedback on this topic and our other stories. You can email us at podcast@dcvelocity.com.

And a reminder that Logistics Matters is sponsored by Fortna. Fortna partners with the world’s top brands to transform distribution operations into competitive advantage. Expertise includes distribution strategy, DC operations, micro-fulfillment, automation, and intelligent software. Distribution solutions designed today for tomorrow’s challenges. Learn more about the distribution experts at Fortna.com.

We encourage you to subscribe to Logistics Matters on Apple, Google, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts. Just search for “Logistics Matters” to find us. Our new episodes are uploaded each Friday.

We’ll be back again next week with another edition of Logistics Matters, when our guest will be Zac Rogers of Colorado State University. He will talk about what’s behind the Logistics Manager’s Index, and why it’s important to measuring the health of the industry, so be sure to join us. Until then, please stay safe and have a great week.

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