On International Women’s Day, Ivanka Janssen, together with Supply Chain Media, will launch the ‘Women in Supply Chain Management Executive Club’, with a roster of headline speakers at an event in Liberty Global’s offices in Schiphol, in the Netherlands.

Originally published March 2017

Hosted by Anita Arts, managing director of global supply chain at Liberty Global, the event will bring together a network of senior female supply chain executives for the first time.

Janssen, who is vice president for supply chain in Europe, Eastern Europe and sub-Saharan Africa at PepsiCo, says the industry has been lacking a women’s network: “We have a lot of male networks,” she says, “but I couldn’t find any dedicated network where you bring female supply chain professionals together to start talking.”

She is passionate about the responsibility of those senior women to act as beacons, guiding younger women on to a similar path. And she is passionate about networking – in 2010 she set up a LinkedIn group called the ‘Female Leaders in Supply Chain Network’, which aims to increase the number of women in senior supply chain positions and now has hundreds of members.

“We need to start talking about being role models for younger female talents,” says Janssen, “to motivate those young women to start being involved in the supply chain. Sometimes I just get the feeling that females are still not doing enough to support other females.”

Janssen joined PepsiCo last year, having spent nearly six years at Diageo, most recently as director of global sales and operational excellence. Before that, she worked at Philip Morris for 12 years, following a Master’s degree in logistics from the University of Oxford and an MBA from INSEAD in New York.

“To be honest I don’t know how I got into supply chain,” says Janssen, recalling her first job as a management trainee for Europe Combined Terminals, managing a container terminal at the port in Rotterdam. “I think my parents said I should go into supply chain and logistics, because they saw it as the future, working at the crossover between the commercial part of a business and the consumer side. I’m not going to say that their opinion had a huge influence over me, but they have certainly been proved right.”

Throughout her career, she has become used to being one of few senior women around the meeting room tables. “Being in supply chain and operations means being in a very male-dominated area. But I’ve learned that women have a different view of things, and they make things happen in a different way. You might not always be part of the old boy’s network, so you have to be very persistent and really believe in yourself, without trying to become part of the club, stay close to your own core believes.

She says that PepsiCo has a strong focus on gender diversity in operations, and so she has kicked off a programme within the company, too. It’s called ‘Women in Supply Chain’, and is focused on creating a platform for young talent that is female.

“We are talking to these high-potential young women, who have not yet decided where they want to excel in their careers, and we are trying to make operations an interesting place for them,” says Janssen. “We are trying to break down the perception that operations is male-dominated, and you have to have an engineering degree. I don’t have a technical background, but I’m managing a huge manufacturing footprint right now. Okay, I may not understand all the details of the machines, but I don’t think that’s necessary, as long as you are interested and willing to learn.”

While at Diageo, Janssen took a sidestep and spent four years in global sales. She says she learned a huge amount, but she was keen to return to operations, and so the biggest lesson was to stay working in an area you are excited about.

“I thought sales was a good opportunity for me to see the other side of the business, to be close to where the company earns the money, and to make myself an all-rounder. It gave me a much better understanding, and being back in operations, I can now also talk the language of the commercial side, which they appreciate,” she says.

The growing importance of supply chain professionals within major multinationals has given her a buzz as she has developed her career: “We are at a really interesting moment,” she says, “because supply chain is getting more and more important, and becoming less of a supporting function and more of a function that influences top-line growth of companies. Everything is now related to supply chain logistics, and the way we get things into customer’s fridges or living rooms is the way we succeed as businesses.”

It is not easy finding the talent to fill key roles on the supply side, she says, which is a challenge she puts down to two things – first, those that make it to more senior roles within the supply chain tend to stick around, so the turnover of talent is low; and second, in certain parts of the world there’s just a shortage of people willing to work in supply chain operations. Instead, Janssen says, young people want to become coders and designers, not work in ‘old-fashioned manufacturing’ jobs. “That’s a concern going forward,” she says.

But the bigger concern is getting the female half of the population interested in operations and manufacturing roles, so as to broaden that talent pool. On 8 March, in Schiphol, there will be presentations about ‘Gender diversity, organisational structures and supply chain challenges’, and about ‘How to sell yourself’.

Janssen says it’s not easy to succeed as a female, but it’s certainly possible: “For younger, talented females starting their careers in operations, there are certainly hurdles,” she says. “One is that all your colleagues are guys, and they often have a heavily technical background, so you might not talk the same language and you might feel that you don’t have the same say as they do.”

However, “I’m really encouraging females even without technical backgrounds not to be hindered by that,” says Janssen, “because success in the supply chain is about your ability to manage, to shape the future, and to bring in creativity.”

Chuck in a healthy dose of passion, too, and it’s not hard to see why Janssen herself has done so well.

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