Advocacy and Mentorship Can Help Champion Women in Leadership

April 02, 2024
By Sue Doerfler

It’s an exciting time for women in supply management: Any woman should be able to see herself as potentially pursuing a career in every supply chain career path, said Karen Jordan, chief supply chain officer at PepsiCo Beverages North America.

Still, there are opportunities for women to overcome challenges and become more strongly represented in supply management leadership, said Chiara Laudani, senior vice president, global brand cluster value chain, at the Estée Lauder Companies. She and Jordan were among the panelists during the March 27 Reuters webinar on how to champion female leadership across the end-to-end supply chain.

Capitalizing on their skill sets can help women move past the broken rung of career advancement and break the glass ceiling, panelists said.

Calling the broken rung the first barrier and the glass ceiling the second, panelist Sarah Ricketts, senior vice president — procurement at Rolls-Royce, called attention to McKinsey & Company’s Women in the Workplace 2022 report, which found that for every 100 men who are promoted from entry level to manager, only 87 women get promoted. “So, although we're (making improvement), it's still not where it needs to be,” she said.

‘Really Important’ Skills for Women

Ricketts recommends women should focus on three skills:

  • Being bold and courageous. When men are assertive, it’s considered a good thing, she said, while when women are assertive, it can be perceived as overbearing. “That is something we need to get past,” she said. “I think we all have a responsibility for calling that kind of thing out, but also rising above it and being confident with who you are.”
  • Authenticity — knowing yourself, being your own authentic self and showing your vulnerabilities. “Vulnerabilities historically have been seen as a weakness,” Ricketts said. “I see that as a real strength and it promotes some trust in the team. And it helps foster relationships.”
  • Emotional intelligence. “Women are generally strong at building teams, developing relationships, collaboration and building networks,” she says. “That’s a great strength; we should be really proud of it and celebrate it.”

“While (these) aren’t historically seen as the biggest skills needed to be a leader. I see them all as really important,” Ricketts said.

Panelist Veena Warikoo, vice president, global technical operations at AstraZeneca, added that a skill set that women need to develop more is self advocacy. “It’s something that doesn’t come to us naturally because we are doers,” she said. “We strategize and expect follow-through.”

It’s important to step back and make sure you are advocating for yourself, she said. “But here’s the caution,” she added. “I think it’s easy — when the tables aren’t balanced, when there isn’t enough equity — for us to get distracted by all the noise and feel you are being undermined.”

Women tend to want to fix the situation, but Warikoo said: “Don’t. Don’t let somebody else bring the worst out of you so you are distracted from where you need to go. Advocate for yourself.”

Developing Mentor Relationships

A great mentor believes in you, and makes you believe in yourself and your potential, Warikoo said. For a mentor-mentee relationship to work, there has to be intellectual compatibility and respect for each other, she said.

Laudani said that the biggest lesson she learned from a mentor was that the relationship was a win-win situation: Both the mentor and mentee learn from each other, and sometimes, the relationship transforms into friendship.

“While the mentor invests time and offers advice, there is a way also to give back to your mentor,” Laudani said. “There are things we can learn not just from people more senior or at the same level as us, but also from the younger generation. And this is the time for us as well to give back because we are learning how they think and what is valuable to the younger generation.”

Warikoo mentioned that it is important to distinguish between a mentor and a sponsor: A mentor is somebody who nurtures you, and offers advice, she said. Sponsorship is different.

Sponsors typically have a seat at the table and can be instrumental in your career progression, Jordan said. She added that she is certain one of her promotions occurred due to sponsorship. She heard an executive speak at a meeting and introduced herself, telling him she wanted to earn his sponsorship.

“I took it on almost like a business proposal,” she said. “I did my resume and told him the scope of my role. … I told him, ‘I know you have a voice at this table, but I want to introduce myself (so you) have confidence that if my name comes up (for a promotion), you can speak about who I am.’ ”

He offered her mentorship and council, but was also willing, to advocate for her. “Ultimately I did get that big promotion to vice president,” Jordan said.

(Image credit: Getty Images/Ismagilov)

About the Author

Sue Doerfler

About the Author

As Senior Writer for Inside Supply Management® magazine, I cover topics, trends and issues relating to supply chain management.