Back to Operations Blog

The next frontier for line management – energizing women in Operations

Energizing women in Operations

by Rehana Khanam

Facts and figures abound making the direct link between a more equitable gender balance in executive committees/ boards and bottom line (and top-line) performance. Furthermore, in the most recent McKinsey study on Delivering through Diversity we tested (and confirmed) the hypothesis that having more women in line roles across the organization was closely correlated to financial performance.

I have seen first-hand how bringing more diversity and gender balance into problem solving teams gets impressive results that push the boundaries of performance. So far, we have been speaking about main headlines, yet the story in Operations is far more pervasive. As a woman who has chosen to make her career in this functional area it never ceases to amaze me that there are not more of us advancing up the ranks in the fascinating world of Operations. I’d like to change the perception that these are only “jobs for the boys”.

When I left university with a freshly minted engineering degree at the age of 22, I had the firm belief that organizations that invested sufficiently in the capabilities of their own people and gave them the freedom, coaching and stimulation to spark brilliant ideas and solve problems, would naturally thrive. While I still hold very firmly to this view, I see that just relying on teams in discrete organizations to act independently, will not drive the step-change we are all looking for.

In the past years I asked to be part of an effort with my colleagues here at McKinsey to specifically focus on raising the profile of career opportunities for the next generation of women leaders in Operations (or Ops as we call it here). It is true that this world is often still very male-dominated but I have found a real openness from the teams on the shop-floor as I make my way towards them wearing my safety-boots and high-vis jacket. By drawing on natural attributes in my communication style, my approach is mostly seen as non-threatening and (sometimes) more caring and thoughtful. Some clients have attributed this to my being a woman; I’m not sure but happy it is helping me nevertheless.

The challenges in the Ops world are unprecedented. Businesses are at a new frontier looking to capture the value of digital and analytics across their full value chain - within their own Operations but also across their eco-system of suppliers, distributors and customers. Transformation is the name of the game and if ever there was a need for more women to take the lead in these important line roles, it is now.

We are working to create the next generation of women leaders in Operations. Please do reach out to me if you want to be part of this growing conversation.