There are businesspeople, and there are advocates. Then there are the rare folk like Monica R. Truelsch. Truelsch has a demanding day job as director of marketing for logistics software developer TMW Systems, where she's been for 11 years. But she has also become a tireless advocate for expanding career advancement opportunities for women in logistics, not just because it's the right thing to do, but also because the field badly needs an infusion of qualified and knowledgeable professionals to meet the surge in demand for supply chain talent.
Truelsch's résumé is as varied as it gets. She has applied her deep technical knowledge to fields such as chemical handling, engineered materials, artificial intelligence, and industrial laboratory management. She has held positions as product manager, vice president of sales, and general manager. Today, Truelsch is responsible for TMW's corporate messaging, public relations, advertising, and product marketing.
At her behest, TMW sponsored the first "Distinguished Woman in Logistics" award competition, which had been established by the Women in Trucking Association, an advocacy group. The 2015 award was presented in April at the Transportation Intermediaries Association's annual conference in Orlando, Fla., to Kristy Knichel, president of Gibsonia, Pa.-based Knichel Logistics. During the ceremonies, Truelsch delivered an impassioned speech highlighting the growing role of women in the industry and across American business. Her remarks, which true to her technical form were supported by numerous data points, resonated with the attendees throughout the rest of the conference.
Truelsch spoke recently with Mark B. Solomon, executive editor - news, about her career, the outlook for women's advancement in the profession, how prospects have brightened, and where the culture needs to change.
Q: You've described yourself as being the first woman or the only woman in many of the positions you've held. Could you describe some of the experiences associated with that?
A: When I began working in an inside sales position during the early 1980s, it was commonplace to answer the phone and have a man demand to speak to "my boss" because he didn't have time to deal with an administrative person, which I was assumed to be. Typically, I would reply with something like, "I'm sorry, but my boss is out of the office at the moment. Let me just get a few details from you and we can get back to you quickly with the quote you need." This opened the door for me to begin asking highly technical questions about volumetrics, process design, chemical concentrations, and corrosivity, and then suggest a range of materials for the equipment. Before they realized it, we would be engaged in the sort of discussion they assumed I wasn't capable of. For women in all types of male-dominated industries, establishing credibility and competency as fast as possible is essential to our success.
Q: The University of Tennessee (UT) published a paper in April saying 77 percent of organizations surveyed have no budget or "roadmap" for supply chain talent development. Why have companies deprioritized their talent development efforts in a discipline that has become so relevant to their competitive standing?
A: The supply chain discipline has yet to find a consistent place in general business structure. In some companies, it is a subdiscipline of the purchasing or procurement function, where cost is paramount. In other firms, it is part of operations, the final step to getting the company's product to market. Often, the supply chain is a problem child. It is moved to a senior management oversight level to work out kinks and bottlenecks that threaten strategic goals, yet once the problems are addressed, the function is pushed down to lower management levels to be maintained. Until the supply chain function secures a stable role in the business management structure, it will be difficult for companies to prioritize talent acquisition or development for that skill.
Q: Female truck drivers represent only 5 percent of the U.S. commercial driver population. Is this a demographic that companies are beginning to pay attention to? If so, what needs to be done to attract and retain qualified women as drivers?
A: During the last recession, government data showed women made up half of the total work force. That number fluctuates a bit, but we are closer to parity than ever before. With the growing concern about the consequences of a driver shortage on economic growth, the trucking industry needs to figure out a way to tap that segment of the talent pool. Groups like the Women in Trucking Association are driving changes in the industry that affect how women see career opportunities and, by extension, help companies develop recruiting strategies that target women. This includes working with vehicle OEMs to make seating and driving controls better suited for less burly physical specimens, to increase personal security options while resting or sleeping in a truck cab, and to build more automatic transmissions. It also encompasses gender-neutral objectives such as creating a better work-life balance and higher earning potential.
Q: The same UT paper advised companies to hire "for the supply chain," not the specific job, making the point that a supply chain practitioner must master a wide range of complex tasks that affect the entire enterprise. Do you think this level of multitasking requirement presents a robust career path for women?
A: I hate to generalize about one gender or the other's possessing a particular aptitude for certain types of work activity. In modern business, the ability to adapt quickly, to wear many hats, to apply good analytical and decision-making skills, and above all, provide leadership in the face of a broad variety of challenges will mean the difference between success and failure. Because the supply chain responsibility is aligned with multiple functions across the enterprise—functions ranging from engineering to purchasing to operations and even sales—I'd say the career opportunities are as rich and diverse as anyone could hope for.
Q: Your situation is unique in that you are actively promoting opportunities for women in logistics while, at the same time, holding down a high-level corporate job. Has your corporate role helped or hindered your advocacy efforts?
A: I've always been attracted to technical roles because I enjoy those types of challenges. It wasn't because I wanted to blaze a trail for other women. That happened to be a side effect of my career choices, simply making it less unusual to find a competent female in a role where most people had only encountered men. The steady but mostly unremarkable progress of many women in roles previously almost exclusive to men has been going on for decades.
We are generally equal participants at the entry and middle management levels, but the numbers for women in positions of senior business leadership are still woefully below where I'd hoped we'd be at this point. The situation is more balanced in the small-business arena, where women are starting enterprises and are successfully assuming the leadership of family-run businesses. In the corporate world, the shifts occur more slowly. That's why I think pursuing more advocacy roles at this stage of my career is worthwhile to bring us all closer to that tipping point for equality of opportunity.
Q: How will you know that your efforts have succeeded? Are there specific goals that you benchmark yourself against?
A: Among Fortune 500 CEOs, the number of women is smaller than the number of men with the name of "John." When the number of women CEOs matches up more closely with the number of Jims, Bills, and Johns, I'll know that we've finally climbed one of the highest mountains.