INTERVIEWS - TOP 100 WOMEN

AMBER OKOYE

VP Supply Chain & CPO

GENERAL DYNAMICS

Q. How did you decide to pursue a career in supply chain?
Looking back, it is evident to me that my career in supply chain developed organically. You can see from my background that I have my BS in Mechanical Engineering and an MBA in International Business. A contributing reason I pursued my degree in mechanical engineering is (not only because I come from a family of engineers, but) because I believed (and still believe) that it would offer me a broad, fundamental foundation, which would be easily transferrable and applicable to a multitude of disciplines, supply chain included. Developing this knowledge through both academia and acquired experience was essential. 

Additionally, one of my core beliefs for my continued success is “diversification of one’s knowledge-base.” Reflecting on my career, it is evident that I have lived by exactly that — diversification and continuing education. I will not belabor each step of my career, but suffice it to say, my time in development, field (customer-facing), manufacturing, operations and quality engineering roles across aerospace, governmental, commercial & industrial, telecom and healthcare industries has been both pivotal and essential to my skills development. Transitioning from development into manufacturing/ops and onto supplier-facing roles was a natural career progression for me, but most importantly, each role has been a building block for the next. 
Q. What is your greatest career accomplishment?
It has been an honour to be included on the list of the 100 Most Influential Women in Supply Chain. I am humbled by this recognition. Whilst I have so much more to do and many more years to come in pursuit of my goals and contributions to industry, this acknowledgment is fulfilling and validating as a recognition of my career contributions to date. Industry-wide accolades are always amongst the most appreciated. I am happy to be included in the same company of such esteemed peers and intend to keep doing my part to represent women in supply chain with excellence and pay it forward by continuing to support and mentor others along the way.
Q. What contribution have you made to the supply chain industry/ your organization that is most meaningful to you?
I would have to say that my contribution to the development of the Bipolar Artificial Hip Joint Disassembler was one of the most meaningful contributions I have made throughout my career. This was meaningful primarily because this accomplishment occurred early on in my career and the experience helped launch a core passion that has remained with me to this day. Throughout my career and at each company I have had the pleasure to work, I derive great fulfillment in being able to contribute to saving lives, whether it be contributing to the accessibility of vehicles used for medical emergencies or natural disaster evacuations or providing medical devices and instrumentation that improve patient outcomes. To that end, the Bipolar Artificial Hip Joint Disassembler not only accomplished that, but the innovation of this medical device met both end-user (surgeon) and consumer (patient) needs, while accomplishing a multitude of other things, as well.

This innovative device incorporated elements of DFM, DFA (or DFDA, “design for disassembly”, if you will), design for product serviceability and extensive cost savings, which positively impacted end-user scrap, as well as substantial reduction of excessive hospital inventory requirements resulting in vastly improved customer satisfaction. The fact that this experience ignited a career-long passion and allowed me to experience firsthand so many aspects of supply chain was pivotal.
Q. Your thoughts on how the industry has changed for women from the time you started your supply chain journey?
Indeed, since the beginning of my career, the industry has most definitely changed for women. However, it is up for some debate as to whether or not those changes have been positive or remain neutral. From my experience, it is evident that there are many more women in supply chain than there were decades gone by. The fact that the bulk of the roles taken up by women being lower-level positions has not seemingly changed. Though women comprise ~37% of the supply chain field (Gartner, 2018), it is my estimation that is still rather low as compared to the potential of what could be, especially in positions of leadership. Today, there are more women in leadership roles than previous; however, how much diversity is embraced at all levels of an organization varies. I have had the experience of having men as the minority of leadership in supply chain for an OEM I worked for, but have also encountered being one of only a few women in supply chain leadership with others. So, in summary, yes, some progress has been made to improve opportunities for women to establish careers in supply chain. 
Q. What do you think companies can do to make supply chain careers more attractive to women?
Time and time again, I have observed the, for lack of a better term, “burden” of inclusion passed on to those being excluded. The reality of the pursuit of diversity, inclusion and gender balance is that everyone has a role in its success. Data shows that when organizations have higher diversity numbers and more women in leadership those companies’ bottom-lines are positively impacted.

It is often said, “it starts at the top.” Without the buy-in of and commitment from leadership, making supply chain careers more attractive to women will continue to be an uphill battle. There needs to be the existence of an environment where women and others can grow and flourish. How can this be accomplished? It is important that women be provided with the tools and systems that will aid in facilitating each individual to work within an industry and system that embraces the attributes women contribute. Employee Resource Groups and STEM initiatives have important roles to play in this regard.

A best practice I had the pleasure of participating in was Lockheed Martin’s Effective Leadership of Inclusive Teams (ELOIT) program. Its primary focus is to build awareness by engaging participants in a series of compelling experiences that heighten awareness of demographic challenges and equipping participants with the tools to serve as catalysts for change (LM). I believe Lockheed targets all executives for participation in this curriculum. Excellent programs like Lockheed’s demonstrate a commitment to leveling the playing field, so that all leaders are informed and more able to put themselves in others shoes to better understand the varied experience of others and that because of those differences, rather than in spite of them, hopefully more leaders can see the value women and minorities contribute to any organisation.
Q. If you could do one thing to leave your mark on the industry, what would it be?
in 2018, there was a review detailing the reasons there were not more women in the boardrooms of FTSE 350 companies (Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy, May 2018). The reasoning, provided anonymously, as to why more women were not in senior positions, I found to be appalling, because as Amanda Mackenzie (Chief Executive of Business in the Community) stated, “As you read this list of excuses you might think it’s 1918 not 2018” — indeed, Amanda, indeed. Reasons put forth include, women “don’t fit in”, “don’t want the hassle of top jobs”, don’t have “the right credentials... the issues covered are extremely complex”, “we have one woman already... we are done - it is someone else’s turn.”

What is framed as being the case for the masses is more a generalized and biased, yet accepted view of yesteryear rather than true norms of today. It is so disappointing to read the clear, extreme unconscious bias that still exists today as though we are in a time capsule from decades gone by. What is more concerning is the impact these biases, likely founded in deep- seated stereotypes presented as facts, have on women at any point in their career.

If I could do one thing to leave my mark on the industry, it would be to work with women and industry leaders full stop, to change these flagrant misperceptions and pave a way for gender balance and equitable opportunities at all levels.
Q. How would you use this recognition to influence others and how would it impact your career?
It has been such an honour to be included on a list of wonderful, impactful, leaders in supply chain. Should I be further honoured by receiving an award at the 26th March event, I would use this recognition to further expand my reach of influence within not only supply chain, but more broadly, STEM. STEM is something I have always been passionate about and we all know that the numbers of young women and girls embracing math and science have diminished despite the need for such talent in this industry and so many others. Despite the reality that women have made extensive, historic, life-changing contributions to science, technology, engineering and math, there are only ~25-30% of women in the global STEM sector, and 50% of those women transition out in the first 10 years of their careers (Catalyst 2019). Given those statistics, I would love to utilize this platform to focus efforts that stimulate greater interest in STEM over the long-term for young women and girls to combat this global crisis. 

...How would this recognition impact my career?
On the surface, receiving this recognition would positively impact my career. Such great acknowledgement from within the supply chain community is exceedingly appreciated. This distinction would be a welcome validation of my record of achievement. Beyond that, and dare I say equally important, in accordance with my passion of continuing development, being included on the 100 Most Influential Women in Supply Chain list and in responding to these interview questions, I cannot help but further reflect on my career, thus far: skills developed, career progression, skills and experiences still to come. This self- reflection is essential. What it will yield for me is continuing self-development in areas that I would like to further shore up, such as educational development, increasing visibility across industry and mapping out my next career move in order to aid in acquiring new skills and experiences. Additionally, any feedback received by way of this process will undoubtedly prove invaluable to me from a professional and even personal growth perspective.

On a separate note, I would like to thank the GWSCL awards panel and B2G Consulting for their consideration in including me in this process.

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