A change in mindset. Current societal laws label working mothers as less productive than their male counterparts, typically due to shortening their working hours after having a child. Businesses need to change the perception of motherhood in the workplace; often employers favour individuals who bank more hours in the office and refuse to accept non-traditional working practices. To bridge the wage gap, businesses need to improve their flexible working practices and embrace unconventional hours to accomodate all genders.
As part of my series about “the five things we need to do to close the gender wage gap” I had the pleasure of interviewing Debbie Lentz. Debbie joined Electrocomponents plc, a global multi-channel provider of industrial and electronic products and solutions, as the President of Global Supply Chain in 2017. Debbie is responsible for leading the further development of the Group’s supply chain capability to provide an innovative and sustainable market-leading service for customers and suppliers. RS Components is a trading brand of Electrocomponents plc, a global multi-channel provider of industrial and electronic products and solutions. We offer more than 500,000 industrial and electronics products, sourced from over 2,500 leading suppliers, and provide a wide range of value-added services to over one million customers. With operations in 32 countries, we ship more than 50,000 parcels a day.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the “backstory” that brought you to this career path?
It wasn’t a linear path, that’s for certain! I studied at Pennsylvania State University which, at the time, was the number one programme for the Supply Chain in the USA. In all honesty, I didn’t really know what Supply Chain and Logistics was at this time — but I went for it, and got a degree in it. From there, I secured a customer service based role with a food and beverages manufacturer, which placed a big value on understanding the customer — something that became a significantly important experience for me.
It was a few roles further down the line where I had my biggest and most pivotal career change. To progress in my career, I knew I needed to have project management skills under my belt. I worked out the next position I should go after in order to grow these skills and I was open with my leadership team about my goals. This also included my goals for my family and my desire for them to experience diverse cultures; I was noisy within the company about wanting to work internationally and this led me, my career and my family to Zurich.
Throughout my career, I’ve found it extremely valuable to keep myself in a position where I’m continually learning and networking. Who I have met on my career journey so far has played a key role in me becoming a member of senior management teams and reporting to the CEO of a FTSE 250 business.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began this career? –
I wouldn’t be able to pinpoint one single story that sticks in my mind as there have been so many, however my move to Zurich to lead the Supply Chain organisation for Kraft Europe was one of the most impactful moves of my career and experiencing a different culture was a great experience. My children were able to attend Zurich International School which I feel provided them with an experience they may never have had otherwise.
Not only was it exciting and interesting for me, but my whole family experienced and learned new things, too — all because I took a leap of faith and said yes to a career in a new country.
Can you share a story about the funniest or most interesting mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I first started in Zurich, just there for a week or two, I had pulled my team together that was made of people from multiple countries across Europe. We were discussing a problem we had in Spain and I was asking for urgent focus to fix our challenges. What I didn’t realise, is that I was using American slang — “All Hands on Deck” “Let’s get a SWAT team together and deploy them….”. Thank goodness- One of the members of my team, this one from Germany raised his hand and said quite frankly- “ Debbie I have no idea what you mean when you say “All hands on Deck” and “SWAT team”. It was embarrassing and a great learning. Don’t speak in slang so people can understand!
Ok let’s jump to the main focus of our interview. Even in 2019, women still earn about 80 cents for every dollar a man makes. Can you explain three of the main factors that are causing the wage gap?
Research shows that only 5% of women are within senior positions in the supply chain industry, however, these low statistics are reflected across multiple industries. As senior people tend to get paid more than junior, this has a clear effect on the gender pay gap. However, as one of the 5%, it is achievable!
I believe stereotypes surrounding motherhood is largely to blame for the gender wage gap, as research shows that working mothers earn 75% of what their male counterparts make. The gap appears to be the most prevalent for women in their late 20s to mid-30s, or in other words when lots of women have children. The stigma of parenting has continued to rise — employees will pay more for individuals that will work longer hours and are more likely to stay in an organisation for a long period.
Working mothers often shorten their hours after childbirth or stop work altogether and, this common occurrence labels females as noncommittal and, therefore, less desirable to employers. However, to narrow the gap, changes need to take place in workplaces and social laws that put less of an onus on working hours and more on talent and ability for both men and women.
Over the past five years, we’ve seen large organisations such as The BBC and Virgin Atlantic take the limelight for unequal pay and, as a result, the government made it compulsory for large companies in the UK to publish their differences in pay between their male and female employees. Whilst reporting on these differences is a great step forward in raising awareness for the gender pay gap, more can be done to improve and narrow the gap.
Can you share with our readers what your work is doing to help close the gender wage gap?
The challenge is for businesses to inspire the next generation. We aim to encourage more and more children, particularly girls, towards choosing STEM subjects and pursuing a career in engineering. For example, we have a proactive STEM programme.
In providing educational programmes that help future generations, we are fostering stronger relationships between schools and companies, resulting in courses that deliver the skills required by the industry.
Those already in your teams are crucial players in closing the gender wage gap. In order to ensure we’re developing and training our workforce, especially women to the best of their ability, we’re continuously developing our training schemes and doing all we can to encourage career growth for our employees, especially females.
We’ve also reviewed our hiring efforts to ensure that the employee benefits we provide are attractive to women. A desirable work-life balance is not just a case of offering earlier starts or late finishes, It’s about putting your employees’ needs first — working around schedules, sick children, and school plays. As long as the work is being produced, employees and mothers, in particular, should not be penalised for trying to have both a career and a family.
Can you recommend 5 things that need to be done on a broader societal level to close the gender wage gap. Please share a story or an example for each.
My time spent on the International Women’s Foundation board provided me with insights and inspiration for how the gender pay gap could start to close — it’s really about paving the way for women of the future. However, there is much more that we can do as a society to crack down on it.
- Ensure all companies support childcare or encourage flexitime. The cost of childcare can be extortionate and put a strain on families — the average part-time nursery now costs up to £6,000 a year. Companies should be paying or providing parents with free childcare or subsidising it — this would then take the pressure off parents — particularly new mums — who are taking holiday days as they can’t afford childcare.
- Get more girls into studying STEM subjects. STEM careers often pay better than many other industries — but are dominated by males. We’re only just starting to see females learning that studying STEM subjects are an option for them — this awareness needs to increase even more! If girls and women of all ages continue learning and progressing in those subjects from a young age, we will see an increase in females applying for and leading the way in senior roles in years to come.
- Promote women into managerial and executive roles. Females can often lack the confidence to apply or look into managerial and executive roles. A study by Harvard Business Review revealed that, of the 57 female CEOs they interviewed, two-thirds said they didn’t realise they could be CEO until someone else told them. It’s important that women within your organisation are receiving the right career development in order to progress. By investing in a stronger internal mentoring and support programmes you could spark long-term goals amongst the female employees you already have. Companies need to put a strong focus on recruiting and retaining women in senior and critical roles in order to start bridging the gender pay gap.
- Enforce paternity leave. In Sweden, fathers are entitled to 90 days paternity leave, compared to 2 weeks in the UK. If you make the workforce friendlier to parenthood and allow fathers to take longer paternity leave, mothers will have an opportunity to return to work sooner.
- A change in mindset. Current societal laws label working mothers as less productive than their male counterparts, typically due to shortening their working hours after having a child. Businesses need to change the perception of motherhood in the workplace; often employers favour individuals who bank more hours in the office and refuse to accept non-traditional working practices. To bridge the wage gap, businesses need to improve their flexible working practices and embrace unconventional hours to accomodate all genders.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
The value of mentoring is a significant one, for me. If everyone mentors at least one person to help them develop, build their confidence and reach their potential, the impact would be phenomenal.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favourite quote is “As you rise, you must lift”. It ties in well with my answer above, as it essentially is all about paying it forward. For me, it’s about helping other women reach their career potential.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this, especially if we tag them.
If I could go back in time, it would be Martin Luther-King. He was such an inspirational leader who stood by his beliefs and ultimately changed the United States. I’ve always been so inspired by his ‘I have a dream’ speech.
Thank you for all of these great insights!