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Business colleagues in conference room during meeting
Business colleagues in conference meeting room during presentation

Women make up 40 percent of the workforce in supply chain organizations, yet only 15 percent of these firms have female representation at the executive levels, recent research shows.

To help understand this disparity, the latest white paper from the Global Supply Chain Institute in the Haslam College of Business at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, reports on the experiences of women supply chain professionals just entering the workforce. The paper, Young Professional Women’s Perspectives on Supply Chain Diversity and Inclusion, is based on 14 in-depth interviews conducted over several years. It assesses impediments interviewees encountered that hampered their advancement, as well as opportunities they see in moving toward a gender-neutral workplace.

“A 2017 study by the Boston Consulting Group found that organizations with more diverse management teams generate higher revenue because they embrace innovation,” Diane Mollenkopf, a supply chain professor in the Haslam College of Business and the paper’s author, said. “Our Supply Chain Forum partners who find success following best practices pursue ambitious diversity goals. Likewise, to achieve better profitability and productivity, other supply chain organizations should establish practices that encourage the hiring and promotion of women and minorities.”

Covering such topics as the transition from college to business, the “perfection trap” women face in school and work, and their struggle to gain respect in some male-dominated organizations, the paper maps out steps supply chain organizations can take to nurture a culture of gender neutrality and diversity:

  • establishing an environment in which leadership recognizes issues such as inherent bias and espouses a mission supportive of gender neutrality and increased diversity
  • creating mentoring/coaching programs to ease the entrance to the business world, bolster networking opportunities, and provide role models for career advancement
  • providing flexible work policies that emphasize work–life balance and maximize growth opportunities

“The relevance of this research cannot be overstated,” Mary Long, managing director of the Supply Chain Forum and contributing editor on the paper, said. “A recent study shows that the loss of a single midcareer supply chain professional can cost a company two to three times their salary. Supply chain leaders should learn from the issues identified here to prevent costly losses of female supply chain managers in the future.”

To help apply such learnings, the paper includes a framework to guide individuals and organizations toward fostering better working environments, development opportunities, and ultimately more diverse organizational leadership. This framework is adapted from one created by AWESOME (Achieving Women’s Excellence in Supply Chain Operations, Management, and Education).

Sponsored by Ryder System Inc., a leader in commercial fleet management, dedicated transportation, and supply chain solutions, Young Professional Women’s Perspectives on Supply Chain Diversity and Inclusion is the first in the GSCI’s “People in Supply Chain” white paper series. In addition to Long, Ted Stank, professor of supply chain management in the college, served as a contributing editor on the paper.



Amy Blakely (, 865-974-5034)

Michelle Painter (, 865-974-8925)​