Sunday, January 29, 2023

Ladies, be ambitious – Women in Supply Chain

It was a super-hot summer day in Texas in August of 2001.That was when I first stepped into the supply chain career as a Purchasing Specialist after I finished my MBA.  My coworkers were nice and friendly. The assignments were challenging but fun, and my boss was very supportive. I really enjoyed this first career opportunity and spent every day learning all about the supply chain and procurement operations.  One day I realized that there was no female manager in the supply chain team.  My immediate boss was a male, and his boss was also a male. This continued all the way to the CEO.  Is it just coincident, or is it specifically designed this way?  If so, do I even have a chance to step up and advance my career?  I casually started talking with my female coworkers to see if they were interested in pursuing career advancement or if they were happy and content with their current positions.  Most of the responses was the latter: I am ok with where I am, and I don’t think I am qualified to go higher anyway so I would just stay with my current job.  This really shocked me as I blindly thought that it was just natural for anybody, regardless of males or females, to continue pursuing their career growth as years go by.  Well, okay, if that’s the case, I need to come up with a different game plan.  If there are no female role models for my future “to be” person, let’s see if I can be the one.

Fast forward to Spring, 2022, I am still working for the same company but not as the Purchasing Specialist anymore.  Thanks to the company’s ongoing business growth, tremendous support from my boss, numerous opportunities to challenge different projects and assignments, I am working as the Director of Supply Chain Operations supervising six different departments.  Congrats Yuko, you must have been such a great outperforming employee.  Ahem…thank you but this is not all about me.  The supply chain industry is slowly changing.  It is true that traditionally engineering and the supply chain roles have been male-dominated fields, however according to the 2021 Women in Supply Chain Survey by Gartner, the average percentage of women in supply chain roles has increased from 35% to 41% over a five-year period from 2016-2021.There is more good news. Not only did the number of women in supply chain roles go up, but more companies started setting up formal corporate goals to enhance female leaders in their workforce (see figure 1).

Figure 1: Companies with Stated Objectives to Increase Women Leaders

Let’s look at the trend of women leaders by industry segment (see figure 2).  Compared to other industries, clearly the supply chain still has a long way to go to make the objective as formal goals.  However at least 85% say they are setting up some type of objective.

Figure 2: Companies with Stated Objectives to Increase Women Leaders by Industry Segment

Since the late 1970s, women have surpassed men in the number of bachelor’s degrees and master’s degrees in the US.  According to National Center for Education Statistics, women earn 57.7% of bachelor’s degrees and 60.7% of master’s degrees in 2020 – 2021; yet the number of women leaders is not growing as fast as we wish.  This gender statistic is really disheartening, but what breaks my heart the most is when I hear my female coworkers say, “I am not good enough”, or “I don’t think I am qualified anyway”, or “I’ll just stick with my current position”.  For the last 20 years of my supply chain professional career, I have seen so many women who were smart, sophisticated, hard-working, caring, and compassionate.  Those are all essential attributes to be a great leader.  According to a Business Case for Women by the McKinsey Quarterly, internal research at Hewlett-Packard showed that women apply for open jobs only if they think they meet 100 percent of the criteria listed, whereas men respond to the posting if they feel they meet 60 percent of the requirements.

Ladies, be confident.  Be ambitious.  You are far better than who you think you are.  If you want to grow and be a professional in the supply chain field, now is the time to take that first step.  There is a lot of statistical data to prove that diversity will promote more talent, energy, and productivity in the workplace.  Let’s work together to make this trend go forward.

2021 Women in Supply Chain Research by AWESOME and Gartner
AWE060421_2021GartnerReport.pdf (

National Center for Education Statistics
Degrees conferred by degree-granting institutions, by level of degree and sex of student: Selected years, 1869-70 through 2021-22

A business case for women by the McKinsey Quarterly
file://localhost/Users/sarahvergara/Documents/pdf-lite/womenmatterpdf.htm (

Biography:Yuko Kitamura – Director of Supply Chain Operations, Hitachi High-Tech America
Yuko has been a supply chain professional in the semiconductor spare parts operation for over 20 years in Dallas TX.  She is also a founder of a non-profit organization called DJCW (Dallas Japanese Career Women) and is passionately working to network, inspire and empower women’s career growth and leadership.