Women in Supply Chain: Rules of the Road to Help You Navigate a Career in a Complex Industry

Like many individuals working in supply chain roles today, I got here by accident. Fresh out of college with a background in public relations, I responded to an advertisement in a newspaper and got my first job in transportation, as Manager of Public Relations for a less-than-truckload carrier. I have since had the opportunity to learn about multiple modes of transportation and the digital solutions that will continue to make our industry exciting with companies like FedEx, Penske, Kenco Logistics, and Mercury Gate.

From my first job through today, I have felt fortunate to work in such a dynamic industry. Supply chain management touches every aspect of our lives. It’s not about trucks and warehouses, but the food we eat, the clothes we wear, and the medical supplies that reach healthcare facilities. The women and men on the “front-line” — drivers, warehouse associates, logistics planners truly are unsung heroes.

Women in supply chain roles

In the early 1990s, when I began my career, women working in supply chain were fewer than today. My approach has always been to be the best you can — regardless of gender — and pay it forward by spending time with anyone new to the industry.

That’s why I would like to share some of the “rules of the road” that I have learned in my 30 plus years as a woman working in the supply chain industry.

Go where the action is

To promote a company or its products, you must have a first-hand understanding of how and why they work. And the best way to learn is to leave your desk behind and go where the action is. The first week I worked in transportation, I spent a day riding with a truck driver, worked on a loading dock and assisted with billing.

Later, as I began promoting supply chain technology, I made it a point to learn as much as possible about how to use the technology. I also value the time I have spent with customers – not in corporate meeting rooms, but in their operations. What better way to learn about pain points, practical applications of digital solutions, and best practices?

Today, the technology in supply chain is evolving so rapidly.  As more investment enters the space, all of our tricks of the trade are taking that leap into the 21st century. This is what’s so exciting about digital solutions like my current company, Emerge.  By reinventing freight procurement in truckload, Emerge is bringing tech-enabled connectivity to a space predominantly controlled by manual spreadsheets and emails.  This is exciting, new and drives innovation in our industry

Make connections and cast your net wide

I have been fortunate to have had several mentors during my career and their leadership has set an example I work to follow. You can also make connections with peers by participating in associations like the former Sales and Marketing Council operated by the American Trucking Association.

Since my career has been focused on public relations, I have also developed relationships with industry journalists. Their views, as neutral parties, have helped me maintain an outside-in perspective and stay abreast of upcoming trends. However, some of the connections I value most are the ones I have developed with truck drivers, warehouse associates, and others who are on the front line every day. Getting to tell their stories is one of the most rewarding parts of any job I have had in the industry.

Communicate, communicate, communicate

In virtually any job, success is often determined by the ability to communicate with others. In this aspect of my career, I have often relied on the skills I was taught in journalism school. Get the facts, prioritize the most critical information first, and focus on telling the story succinctly and in a way that anyone can understand. And most importantly, learn how to listen. It is amazing how your perspectives may change when you engage in active listening, with people across your organization and industry.

Be an agent for positive change

I have always been a “glass half full” person. Don’t get distracted by negativity and focusing on aspects of a situation that you cannot directly impact. Instead, look for ways to drive positive change in all the avenues available to you – education, mentoring those just entering the industry and by being active in programs to support diversity and inclusion.

This Women in Supply Chain feature was made possible by our sponsor, Emerge. As a company focused on empowering and growing meaningful supply chain relationships, Emerge is proud to sponsor Women in Supply Chain. Through its freight procurement platform, Emerge offers solutions that enhance the spot and contract procurement process, enabling shippers and carriers to make more strategic decisions. Learn more about Emerge here.

About the Author

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Debra N. Phillips is Manager of Marketing for Emerge. She began her career in transportation in 1989 as Manager of Public Relations for Carolina Freight Carriers. Throughout her career, she has held leadership positions in companies including FedEx Freight, Penske, and MercuryGate. She has a solid track record of competitively positioning products, services, and technologies to enhance reputation and brand, and accelerate revenue growth.

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