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Male leaders point to flexibility, sponsorship, and eliminating unconscious bias as key strategies for advancing women

Members of the men’s supply chain leaders panel at the 2015 AWESOME Symposium began their discussion, entitled “Collaboration in Action,” agreeing that advancing women leaders has become a business priority. Their companies are approaching the imperative from a number of directions.

men-panelModerator of the discussion was (at left in photo) Courtney Billington, VP – Supply Chain, Pharma, Johnson & Johnson. Panelists were (left to right) Sean McCartney, SVP, Supply Chain and Operations, Chico’s; Jason Reiman, VP, Global Logistics, The Hershey Company; Mike Duffy, President, Medical Products, Cardinal Health; and Remko Van Hoek, SVP, Sourcing and Procurement, The Walt Disney Company.

Including more women among top leadership, panelists said, makes sense for a number of reasons, including relevance — because their companies are striving to connect with their customers, a large percentage of whom are women. One panelist added that his company sees diversity of viewpoints as a path to creativity and innovation. In the supply chain field, especially, where there is a contest for the best talent, women have increasingly impressive talent and skills to bring to the table.

One of the strategies being used to attract, promote and retain women leaders is establishing greater flexibility. In one panelist’s opinion, “’Equal is the enemy of flexible,” because too often, instead of looking at the particular needs of an individual, a company can take the “easy” way and deny any flexible arrangement in the name of treating everyone equally. He prefers the idea of treating everyone fairly.

As an example of how flexibility can work, one panelist said he was able to assure a woman who wanted to take a year off after having a baby that she would have a position when she returned. He said she was an excellent leader and it was in the company’s best interest to provide her that opportunity.

Panelists also gave examples of how important they view sponsorship for advancing women. In one case, a woman wanted to move into other areas of the company, and the sponsor helped her chart a path, moving through a series of opportunities that rounded out her skills. It involved a tremendous amount of trust he said. She had to feel confident that he was putting her in situations she could handle, and he had to trust that she would do well. And she did.

As one panelists said, “A sponsor’s going to take an active vested interest in your career and really help you navigate the political maze that still exists in most corporations.”

In the area of unconscious bias, one of the panelist’s companies is actually providing training to recognize and eliminate bias. “That has really helped as we talk about people and talent and promotions to avoid filtering people for opportunities based on assumptions, For example, ‘She has a young family. She’s not going to want to move.’ Well, did you ask her? No. Or ‘She doesn’t want to move because she has a spouse that works.’ Did you ask her? Once people are aware of those biases, they can be eliminated.”

The 2015 Symposium marked the third year a panel of male leaders has participated in the event.

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