Author: Gianluca Calani (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)


Women in Supply Chain Leadership in Switzerland

CSCMP Roundtable aims to inspire young female leaders and corporations on the steep journey to gender equality

You feel completely overwhelmed due to the family obligation. You are considered an amazing subject matter expert, but never considered for leadership positions. You want to stay away from politics but feel you are not connected to the decision makers.

Well, be aware you are not alone since those are the common challenges that most professional women are facing in Switzerland, according to Mrs. Petropaki, GM of Advance, a leading business association for gender equality in Switzerland, a network of 120 Swiss-based companies committed to increase the share of women in management.

Three supply chain leaders to be taken as role model

I spent time with three female leaders who drive the Supply Chain agenda in their companies, big players in their respective industries. Even though we share passion for Supply Chain, our conversation this time was about Gender Equality. I wanted to see the world with their lens, and gain perspective about the challenges they face.

 

Barbara Stolle Amedick (BSA), Head of Supply Chain Mgmt. at Hitachi ABB Power Grids. She has covered different roles including Purchasing, Supplier Quality and Product Development in Ford, BMW and ABB. Recently she carved Supply Chain out of ABB and built-up SCM for the standalone Hitachi ABB JV


Barbara van Ulden (BVU), worked for an investment bank prior to starting career in SCM. She has covered leading roles in S&OP and SCM in various industries such as Sporting Goods, Agro-chemicals, and Healthcare. She is multilingual and holds an MBA from SDA Bocconi


Antonella Leone Kammler (ALK), Global SCM Director at Eastman. From R&D, Technical Marketing and New Business Development, she went through management consulting, before moving to SCM. Antonella holds a PhD from ETH Zurich and an MBA from Warwick Business School

 

These are their communalities

  • Have left behind them a legacy of tangible results
  • Confident and optimist
  • Acknowledged when they were in the wrong place
  • Invested effort and time to figure out who they are
  • Developed trusted business relationship with men
  • Use empathy to connect
  • Are very conscious of how to influence
  • Make the pie bigger with collaborative negotiation
  • Courageous and risk-taker
  • Leverage support of formal and informal mentor
  • Embraced the emotional cost of having a career
  • Believe that diverse teams deliver better results
  • Think strategically
  • See Supply Chain as the engine of the company
  • Advise to stay eager, be confident, be bold
  • Believe that gender equality needs to be managed

With Supply Chains that become pervasive in today’s organizations, the role of SC Leader is shifting from specialist into connector and influencer. While technical skills will be considered as given, networking, storytelling, and ability to make things happen will be at the core. A way to go for many professional women, and a lot to be done by companies and leaders, to shift from a cosmetic approach to D&I into a cultural change, creating new working conditions.

What does it take?

Our three leaders have moved across functions, companies, countries, and industries, mastering hard and soft skills to move into leadership positions. According to BVU this requires you to be aware of the role you want to play, to be very specific in what you want to achieve and to focus to make it happen. According to ALK you need a lot a curiosity, consistency over time, and willingness to make an impact. BSA thought strategically and very consciously about her career, what and where to play in the long run. All of them have taken personal risks, either “leaving a good job in an industry that you’re not passionate about” like BVU, or “join an MBA with a 12-month child”, like ALK, or “implement a huge transformation during the pandemic” like BSA. But still…risk taking is an important part of what they did to land in the right place. And as BSA mentions, is also important to acknowledge when you are not in the right place and change course of action!

Can’t make it alone!

Observing that they got help does not come as a surprise! From whom? Well first from their partner and families, who supported their choices and presented tangible help over time. But they also all found through their career, male leaders who have given them exposure and helped them to take on more responsibilities, firmly believing in diversity as a tool to empower teams! They have also leveraged their formal and informal networks, to find their strength, and to be mentored to make the right choices. This according to BSA is particularly crucial in critical situations, when the context around you is trying to bring you down and get an outside perspective could remind who you are and what you have achieved so far. This is most important, since no matter what, self-confidence is a building block of your success.

Negotiation

According to the study “A Meta-Analysis on Gender Differences in Negotiation Outcomes and Their Moderators” from J. Mazei (University of Münster, Germany), in certain circumstances, women may be more effective than men when negotiating money matters, contrary to conventional wisdom that men drive a harder bargain in financial affairs. Previous research has found that gender roles reflect certain expectations of men’s and women’s behavior: male gender role characteristics include behaving in competitive, assertive, or profit-oriented ways, whereas the traditional female gender role has communal characteristics, such as being relationship-oriented, accommodating and concerned with the welfare of others. The good news is Negotiation is a skill that can be learnt! Studies indicate that the gap between men and women’s outcomes narrowed as they gained negotiating experience. View yourself as an agent for your Organization, capitalize on training and experience and ultimately prepare, prepare, prepare! BSA telling that very clearly: “you need to pronounce what you want” and “negotiation as an opportunity to make the pie bigger in a win-win situation!!!

Common challenges

The fact that some women succeed in their career, does not mean they did not face inequalities. “I am a mother and therefore I cannot be committed to my career”, “you cannot be flexible so you are not interested”, “my idea is more relevant if it is shared by a man” or again “you always need to fill all boxes”. How to manage this? Well, as ALK says, a woman needs to embrace her ambition, gain presence, and let her voice be heard. It is a personal journey to develop “gravitas” by making contributions intentionally and in line with the own values and strengths. You need to be able to connect well to influence others, so you need to understand what makes people tick, focus on what they are looking for, to become relevant!

 About supply chains

Supply Chain is pervasive and as we learnt in the pandemic can make or break a business. Sustainability, Digitalization, Supply Chain Resilience, Agility and Circularity are the key top trends. How can women embrace them? They will need to make informed decisions based on data, combine agility and strategic view, be engaged. The shift from hard into soft skills for a supply chain which connects the dots across supply and demand is tangible. This implies the need to adopt new languages, the ability to translate metrics which historically belonged to supply chain, to metrics that are understood across the organization. According to ALK talking about forecast accuracy sounds very technical outside supply chain, while a change in the P&L can immediately call the attention of Sales and Finance. Therefore, storytelling and the ability to connect operations and finance are key skills for the future.

For companies

Many companies today are focusing on the gender gap, in a cosmetic manner. The required change is a cultural change, it will only happen when companies and their leaders will acknowledge that diversity (in a wider sense) is an opportunity for stronger business outcome and will be ready to accept the cost of it. As BSA describes, a diverse team requires more time in the storming/forming phase, but on the long run it pays back since diverse perspectives enable better decisions! Companies shall communicate their focus and agenda very clearly, advertise and being loud about it, hire at all levels and scout for talent in collaboration with the external ecosystem, develop female networks, and leverage it to share opportunities internally and externally.  They need to strongly focus on educating leaders on their unconscious bias BVU states. Companies should also look at flexibility as an opportunity for the entire family and be more demanding towards institutions to build a more modern, affordable, and flexible ecosystem. Finally, companies should also start to position SCM differently; not just a technical part of the organization, but as an area that can strategically impact the result of the company. And Leaders please stop just assuming a woman is not interested or cannot work more or travel… but ask, ask, ask!

For women

Growing in gender equality also requires more women who want to be there, who accept to be out of their comfort zone and look constantly for impact, who are confident, able to speak-up (but in a constructive manner), able to say yes but also say no, who are ready to accept nobody is perfect, and are willing to engage in networking by finding alternative ways to the “Boys club” to build lasting relationships, who seek feedback but do not let anybody judge on their inner beliefs!

Equality is a win-win! According to Mrs. Petropaki, women tend to cover a lot more duties in the household, which is regarded to be their responsibility, at cost of a huge mental load; the legacy of their education, external judgement and the Swiss ecosystem, is not making this easier. Women find it hard to sell themselves and their leadership skills, facing the risk of being trapped as excellent subject matter experts, and not considered for strategic roles. According to research, women tend to network at the same level in the organization as opposed to men, who tend to look for relationships with higher levels. Politics and power are frequently considered aspects to avoid, and not effective tools to make things happen.

Alkistis Petropaki - GM at Advance

How to turn this around? To solve the challenge of work-life balance the partner plays a key role and can help by taking responsibility at home.  Women on the other hand need to fight the narrative of the male incompetence in the household, accept that not everything can be perfect, and let go. Companies play a key role in establishing flexible working models for the couple, and institutions need to support with much more flexible and cost affordable infrastructure. Visibility comes at cost of leaving the comfort zone, it requires to dare and learn on the go, obviously taking risks and stating clear aspirations. To network better, women need to have dialogue with people higher up in the corporate hierarchy, looking not only for mentors, but also for sponsors who can be their advocates.

But here’s the most important: things will only change when men realize that Gender Equality is a win-win. There is a huge emotional cost of not being present at home and establish a close relationship with children.  Today men are losing this opportunity since there is pressure from the society to comply with the conservative role of the family breadwinner. Looking more strategically, the baby boomer generation is retiring. And because at the same time fewer young wage earners are taking their place, the shortage of skilled workers in Switzerland will intensify in the next years. Does Switzerland have an alternative to leverage the talented women in the workforce and bring them to the next level to fill the gap?

 

Author: Gianluca Calani, experienced SCM across different industries, currently Logistics Head in Switzerland for a leading Med-Tech company. Proud husband in a double career couple, father of a future female CEO and D&I Swiss Chapter Lead