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Empowering Women in Supply Chain: Undergraduate Program Helps Pave the Way for More Women To Enter the Field

Majority of students in undergraduate supply chain management program are women

By Andrea Anderson | Photography by Paul L. Newby II

April 8, 2024

Undergraduate supply chain management student Breanna Schneider
Undergraduate supply chain management student Breanna Schneider talks with Professor Emeritus Jack Nevin about her internship at Grainger during the Executive Advisory Board meeting at the Wisconsin Institute of Discovery on Thursday, Sept. 28, 2023.

Breanna Schneider (BBA ’24) has experienced something not all other women pursuing a supply chain management degree have: a program where the majority of students are women. 

This year, 60% of students in the Wisconsin School of Business undergraduate supply chain management degree program are women. The major has continued to grow the percentage of women enrolled. Two years ago it was 56% female. 

Schneider says she didn’t think anything about the number of women in her classes until she went to an all-women’s supply chain conference in 2023 and shared WSB’s statistics. 

People were shocked, she says, and some students from other universities told her they have maybe two other women in their classes. 

“They were just mind blown because that’s not prevalent everywhere else,” Schneider says. “I walked into a classroom after I got back and looked around. It was like, ‘Wow, there is something really special here.’ Because not everyone else gets this. This is vastly different from a lot of other universities around the nation.”

Schneider says there is a strong sense of community within the program.

“It doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from,” she says. “It’s just a matter of everyone having the same passion for supply chain and helping each other learn and grow together.

A commitment to a supply chain education and career

WSB students attend a job shadow event at Kohler
Undergraduate WSB finance and supply chain students participate in the job shadow event at Kohler Co. on Thursday, January 19, 2023 in Kohler, Wisc. Before starting their day at Kohler headquarters, they participated in a self-guided tour of the Kohler Design Center.

WSB has been a leader in supply chain management education for decades. 

In 1991, the school established the Grainger Center for Supply Chain Management and began developing some of the nation’s first educational programs in the discipline. Before the undergraduate supply chain major was established in 2020, there was a certificate. The school also offers an MS in Supply Chain Management and a supply chain management specialization within the Wisconsin Full-Time MBA Program. All are top-ranked programs. 

The Grainger Center supports the school’s supply chain offerings through industry connections, networking and outreach events, applied-learning opportunities, and advisory boards. In each, there is a focus on ensuring women are well represented. 

“If students see more women in their classes and the industry, they’re going to feel more welcomed and they’re going to want to be involved,” says Blake Bishop, assistant director of the Grainger Center for Supply Chain Management

The industry is a male-dominated field, but the number of women in the industry is rising.

Women make up around 41% of the supply chain workforce compared to 35% in 2016, according to the 2023 “Women in Supply Chain Survey” by Gartner, a technology research and consulting firm that releases an annual report tracking the number of women in the field. 

“It doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from. It’s just a matter of everyone having the same passion for supply chain and helping each other learn and grow together.”

—Breanna Schneider (BBA ’24)

Bishop says the school’s strong partnerships with two all-women professional supply chain organizations play a key role in addressing the gender disparity that exists in supply chain education and the profession. 

Those two organizations AWESOME—Achieving Women’s Excellence in Supply Chain Operations, Management, and Education—and WISE—Women Impacting Supply Chain Excellence—raise awareness of supply chain management as a career and help female students make national connections. Proving to be so impactful, a UW–Madison WISE chapter started at WSB this spring with Schneider’s help.

‘I could be her’

Knowing some barriers for women include a lack of representation in supply chain and awareness surrounding the variety of supply chain careers, numerous women sit on the Grainger Center’s advisory boards and six out of nine undergraduate student board of directors members are women.

Emeritus Executive Advisory Board member Claudia Knowlton-Chike spent 40 years in supply chain management. 

She started her career as a packaging engineer at IBM in 1982 and retired as the senior director of global logistics at Google in 2022. Throughout her career she advocated—and still does—for women and underrepresented groups to have more seats at the table, where she was often the only woman in a leadership position. 

She says supply chain is “a great place for women to be” and women excel with their crucial skills in collaboration, communication, problem-solving, and multi-tasking. Plus, there are a variety of opportunities that match people’s professional goals and interests. 

Grainger Center Emeritus Executive Advisory Board member Claudia Knowlton-Chike
Grainger Center Emeritus Executive Advisory Board member Claudia Knowlton-Chike.

Job growth in supply chain is expected to rise 28%, faster than the average occupation, through 2031, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

While Knowlton-Chike acknowledges the industry has a ways to go in terms of gender equity and equality, she wouldn’t change her career choice. 

“It is a very fulfilling career; and if you’re a person that gets things done, you’re somebody that someone is always going to want on their team,” Knowlton-Chike says.

Yvette Henry, a member of the Grainger Center’s Executive Advisory Board, also encourages women to pursue a career in supply chain management. 

Henry began her career in material planning in the auto industry in the 1990s and is currently senior vice president of strategic sourcing at Regal Rexnord, a global manufacturer of electric motors and power transmission products. She has grown her expertise and skills working in various industries.

Henry says her experience as a woman in supply chain has been gratifying, and there tends to be more gender diversity in certain industries, such as personal care, health care, and automotive. 

“For me, as a woman of color, there’s an intersectionality where I may be the only person of color, I may be the only woman, I may be both,” Henry says. “I think it’s important that everyone has a level of respect for one another.”

She also sees the importance of representation. A pivotal moment for Henry’s career came during her time doing purchasing at Ford Motor Company. 

“I saw all kinds of women: Asian women, Indian women, Black women in leadership roles,” Henry says. “That was the first time I had a woman who was a woman of color as my boss and was really able to visualize, ‘Wow, I could be her at some point in time.’”

Grainger Center Executive Advisory Board member Yvette Henry
Grainger Center Executive Advisory Board member Yvette Henry, senior vice president of strategic sourcing at Regal Rexnord, at the Grainger Center Executive Advisory Board meeting on Thursday, September 29, 2022, at the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery.

Like WSB, Henry and Knowlton-Chike see the value in mentorship and being a member of professional organizations. Mentors can be advocates, and organizations bring awareness to what career options exist while providing connections and training. 

“Having mentorship really can make a difference in women’s ability to be successful in supply chain,” Henry says. “Having that support and the ability to connect with other women as a peer group or as a mentor helps build your confidence because you need to be confident in these roles.”

As a former member of the national WISE advisory board, Schneider has heard stories of how women have overcome difficult situations. 

“I feel and see something different at the Wisconsin School of Business,” Schneider says. “You have that sense of empowerment now because of this community behind you.”

Having that WSB community is one reason why she’s excited for her future. After graduating in the spring, she will be a supply chain rotational development program analyst at Grainger in Chicago.