Half of the human population is female. More than half of all university students in the United States are female. Around a third of all MBA students, including those concentrating on supply chain studies, are female. And yet, when SCM World did a manual count of top supply chain executives in Fortune 500 companies, we found only 22 women among 320 businesses that had a true supply chain function. The numbers tell a story of winnowing down a talent pool to the point where nearly all diversity in gender terms is gone by the time careers in supply chain reach their peak. So what?

The problem is not really about fairness, but about value—value for shareholders, customers and society as a whole that could be created with greater gender balance in the increasingly critical supply chain function across industries. Supply chain as a discipline is suddenly crystallizing out of a series of silo functions, including purchasing, manufacturing, distribution and planning.

SCM World research on the essential skills required for success in supply chain points to high demand for competence in not only these classic skills but also such softer managerial skills as change management and performance management (Figure 1). Top supply chain executives in 2014 must be both technically proficient in operations management and also savvy as business leaders. Diversity in ability clearly trumps deep, narrow expertise in adding value to business.

To understand whether the evident lack of gender diversity matters to business results, we surveyed 147 supply chain executives across industries in mid-2013 (Figure 2). The results were telling. Both men and women who responded agreed with the statement that “the natural skillsets of women differ from men.”

More important, and by an overwhelming majority, both genders also agreed that “women’s different skillsets [are] advantageous for supply chain management.” The near consensus seems to be that the diversity of skills possible with better gender balance in companies’ supply chain functions would be good for business (Figure 3).