Supply chain is a male-dominated area, with women making up just 7% of workers – and even fewer in senior roles. Meet the resourceful women shaking up the sector

Supply chain is a fast-moving business with lots of shifting parts and frequent unexpected challenges. Brexit, Covid, the war in Ukraine and the Red Sea conflict have all massively affected the flow of goods around the world.

The supply chain workforce therefore needs to be adaptable, resourceful, and quick on its feet. In theory, it’s an industry in which women should thrive, argues Emma Verkaik, CEO of the Association for Contract Manufacturing, Packing, Fulfilment & Logistics (BCMPA): “Supply chain is all about providing solutions, and women are really good solutionists.”

Yet female representation in supply chain is appallingly low. Women represent just 7% of the logistics sector workforce and make up less than a third of c-suite roles in supply chain companies, as per a 2023 Gartner survey. Overall, men hold 75%-80% of jobs in the supply chain, according to HR business LHH.

Not all areas of supply chain are equal, though. The big retailers in particular have been leading the charge in making those roles more appealing to women, says logistics consultant Ruth Waring.

“Some potential clients would assume my male colleague was the CEO”

Julianne Ponan, founder and CEO, Creative Nature

“A lot of people in supply chain operations are women because they tend to be very good at multitasking and just keeping all the plates spinning,” she says. Indeed, many of the top supply chain roles in British grocery are now occupied by women – Meinir Childs at Sainsbury’s, Lauren Lepley at Morrisons and Alison Maffin at Waitrose, for instance.

Verkaik concedes there are also “quite a lot more women involved” in areas like logistics and fulfilment than when she started 20 years ago. Some sectors are still lagging, though. Manufacturing has long been “a massive male bastion”, Verkaik argues. And if you look further down the supply chain, jobs in haulage and warehousing are still overwhelmingly male-dominated. In the UK, only about 1%-2% of lorry drivers are female, according to the Department for Transport.

Those areas are less likely to see change because there’s “lingering discrimination”, Waring says. “The worst part is that it’s not among managers but amongst their peers.”

A female-friendly workplace culture should “permeate through to every level of the business”, she says. “If you’ve still got girly calendars up in your warehouse, a woman’s not going to want to work there.”

food supplier supply chain fresh

It’s also important to tackle the misconception that the category doesn’t offer flexibility. That’s why big companies like Wincanton, Oakland International and Maersk are advertising flexible shift patterns, trialling workplace childcare facilities, and offering the same pay rates irrespective of gender.

Showcasing plentiful career progression opportunities across supply chain is also vital. “Whether you work as a driver or in warehouse admin, you can become a transport manager or finance director,” Waring says. But this must happen via increased campaigning, better education and more creative recruitment practices that reach out to different communities like mum groups.

The dial is also moving for those trading in global supply chains, says Julianne Ponan, founder and CEO at allergy-friendly baking goods brand Creative Nature, which has become a wildly successful export story.

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Ponan has begun to see more female business owners at international trade shows and more events for women trying to boost their exports, such as this year’s Tavola food & drink fair in Brussels, which featured a women-only exports panel.

That’s not to say it’s easy. Ponan’s brand is trying to break into markets where gender disparity remains an issue. On a recent trip to the UAE, potential clients “would assume my male colleague was the CEO”, she recalls. However, being a female owner has proved an advantage in markets like Australia, India and the US, where retailers are keen to champion diverse voices, she says.

Ultimately, it comes down to raising greater awareness of what supply chain actually entails and making sure those jobs are accessible and appealing – especially as the industry becomes more reliant on tech experts in the journey to net zero.

“There’s a war for talent in logistics, and the best person might currently be a mum with a two-year-old and four-year-old,” says Waring. “It’s about making changes so your business is attractive for the best people.”

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Source: Matthew Hollins

Meinir Childs

Supply chain director, Sainsbury’s

When Childs joined Sainsbury’s as head of supply chain for fresh & frozen in 2019, she brought with her over 20 years of experience at one of the largest fmcg companies in Europe, CCEP. Since moving up to supply chain director at Sainsbury’s, Childs has been instrumental in leading the largest supply chain transformation the company has seen in decades, spearheading the modernisation of its legacy systems.


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Source: Matthew Hollins

Alison Maffin

Supply chain director, Waitrose

Maffin is a Waitrose veteran, having joined as a graduate in 1996. In recent years she has replaced the supermarket’s ordering and replenishment, demand forecasting and stock flow systems – an infamously glitchy software update known for impacting availability. Nevertheless, her ability to return to “strong availability through a global supply chain crisis” saw her promoted to supply chain director this year.


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Source: Matthew Hollins

Lauren Lepley

Group supply chain director, Morrisons

Lepley’s rise to supply chain director began with a regional management role back in 2016. She bagged her current role in 2022, overseeing operations for all Morrisons supermarkets, c-stores, wholesale and online channels. A “dynamic and practical” leader, she has improved product availability by over 5% for three consecutive years and reduced waste by 1.2% since taking up the role.


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Source: Matthew Hollins

Jemma MacGinley-Eaves

Supply chain director, Diageo GB

MacGinley-Eaves has been rising through the Diageo ranks for over 17 years now. She once said: “The best thing you can do for yourself is take a risk.” That’s exactly what she did when she took the supply chain director role in peak Covid (November 2020), and she’s since steered the ship through trade disruption and rocky relations with wholesalers.


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Source: Matthew Hollins

Natalia Cabada

Supply chain excellence director, Pladis

Cabada has been supply chain chief at the McVitie’s maker since July 2021, bringing a wealth of experience from previous roles at Danone, where she worked for 15 years. Cabada says she thrives in challenging environments, as per her LinkedIn profile, and has thus been well placed to lead complex supplier relationships and sudden shifts in production sites as the manufacturer faced inflationary pressures and warehouse job cut rounds.


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Source: Matthew Hollins

Kristen Daihes

VP of global supply chain, Mars

Boasting a wide-ranging CV that covers not just fmcg (P&G and Unilever) but also tech startups, Daihes is often named among supply chain’s most influential women and brought an interesting skillset to one of the top roles at Mars’ global offices when she joined in 2021. This makes her the ideal person to lead the confectionery giant’s current investment aimed at digitising and transforming its global chains.


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Source: Matthew Hollins

Laura Henderson

UK&I supply chain director, McDonald’s

An extensive career in UK grocery, taking in Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Ocado, has led Henderson to the top supply chain role in McDonald’s UK&I operations. She’s responsible for maintaining quality and sustainability across its value chains and is passionate about improving gender equity in the sector, setting up a partnership with Meat Business Women to help attract and retain female talent in the meat industry.


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Source: Matthew Hollins

Rabab Boulos

Chief operating officer, Maersk

Boulos started her career at Maersk in 2003 as a trainee in Egypt. She has since climbed the ladder at the world’s largest container-shipping company, across roles such as head of global ocean customer logistics. But with her February COO promotion, she faces her biggest challenge yet: managing skyrocketing energy, shipping and insurance costs, all while abiding by net zero targets.


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Source: Matthew Hollins

Rachel Gilbey

MD of general merchandise, Wincanton

Gilbey’s Wincanton career spans over 20 years, having joined the British logistics giant as a graduate. But her profile has arguably never been higher than right now, with GXO set to take over Wincanton in a £762m deal. Gilbey is focusing on leading her team through innovation and automation while also being responsible for the operations of a host of high street behemoths from B&Q to ABF’s Primark.


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Source: Matthew Hollins

Clare Bottle

CEO, UK Warehousing Association

Having joined the logistics industry in the 1990s, Bottle has worked across a number of categories, including food & drink – most notably as associate director of warehousing and supply chain for CCEP. As the head of the UKWA, a trade body with over 900 members, and vice-chair of Women in Logistics for the past 15 years, she has been a huge advocate for gender equity in the industry.


The UK end-to-end supply chain serves as the foundation of our grocery retail sector. Robust operations are crucial for ensuring availability, minimising waste and delivering for clients. Amid numerous recent challenges, the resilience and innovation of supply chain and logistics leaders truly stands out. With calls to reduce the UK’s reliance on other nations for our food supply and the announcement of potential shortages, particularly in fresh produce, the exceptional women on our power list are heading up the supply chain battle.

Emily Deer

In the UK grocery sector, exceptional leadership shines through in figures like Meinir Childs, Alison Maffin and Lauren Lepley. Their adeptness in pioneering strategies for availability, waste management, sustainable supply chains and logistics transformation underscores their commitment to fortifying the foundations of their respective retailers.

Within the realm of suppliers and manufacturers, trailblazers like Jemma MacGinley-Eaves, Natalia Cabada, Kristen Daihes, and Laura Henderson exemplify excellence in supply chain management, driving efficiency and reliability.

Meanwhile, champions like Rabab Boulos, Clare Bottle and Rachel Gilbey are breaking barriers and paving the way for greater diversity and inclusion in logistics. From executive positions to hands-on roles, their contributions underscore the indispensable role of women in shaping the future supply chain.

Emily Deer, Director at Newton Europe