Gathering in person for the first time in two years, the women leaders of AWESOME (Achieving Women’s Excellence in Supply Chain Operations, Management, and Education) celebrated their resilience and resourcefulness in dealing with the global pandemic and looked forward to the new possibilities awaiting in a changed world when they gathered in Chicago at AWESOME’s 9th Annual Symposium, May 11-13, 2022.

“What an incredible job women in supply chain have done!” noted AWESOME Founder Ann M. Drake in her remarks. “You faced up to and handled unprecedented challenges, over and over again. While the pandemic didn’t create the issues we’re now seeing in the global supply chain, it absolutely exposed them. And that understanding has finally propelled supply chain management—and leadership—from the backroom to the boardroom.”

Understanding the paradigm shifts brought on by new economic and social forces was a recurring theme of the conference. As she opened the gathering, AWESOME CEO Michelle Dilley affirmed, “The pandemic changed us as individuals, as families, as businesses and as a society. We had to completely reimagine how we communicate and engage with our teams, suppliers, customers, and partners.”

Panelists and speakers continued the dialogue. An opening panel discussion on “Igniting Powerful Progress Through Authentic and Adaptive Leadership” explored the need to alchemize leadership styles from the near-constant crisis management mode of recent years into sustainable change management. Another panel discussion asked male executives to share about the challenges and progress they’ve seen as the industry addresses systemic bias and barriers to advancement for women and persons of color. Finally, a presentation by research and consulting firm Gartner surveyed recent strides made by women moving up in supply chain leadership nationally while recognizing historic difficulties.

Speakers acknowledged, too, that crisis can bring opportunity as well as disruption. The new possibilities emerging in a world that has been profoundly affected by the pandemic and by emerging technologies were also discussed.

“We are now beginning to heal and grow in ways that we never even considered before,” Dilley noted. One outcome, she added, is that AWESOME’s members are now “among the most powerful people in the world because you’re leading the supply chains that keep the businesses, the global economy and everyone’s lives moving.” Executives from McDonald’s Corporation (which helped host and sponsor the symposium) discussed some of the non-traditional ways they helped the fast-food giant survive and thrive not just during the pandemic but in a rapidly evolving business environment. Another panel discussion explored how digitalizing supply chains is helping some companies transform their decision-making and responsiveness by rendering it more real-time and data driven.

Finally, another highlight of the symposium was presentation of the AWESOME Legendary Leadership (ALL) Award, given annually to women in senior leadership roles who have achieved extraordinary professional excellence and success while also advancing opportunities for women. The 2022 ALL Awards celebrated two executives who’ve been trailblazers in STEM careers—Monica Wooden, co-founder and former CEO of MercuryGate international, a software industry leader, and Celeste Volz Ford, Board Chair and founder of Stellar Solutions, Inc. and founder of Stellar Ventures, a venture capital firm investing in space technology.

“You’re seeing a dream of mine partly realized as we celebrate two women leaders from the tech side of supply chain,” noted Drake in presenting the awards. “Getting more women into STEM careers—and seeing women soar in those careers—is near and dear to my heart. My dream will be fully realized when it’s routine to meet technology executives as brilliant as these two on our stage and in our industry.” Both Wooden and Ford led STEM enterprises in which women comprised 40 percent or more of staff. (The industry average for women in engineering and technology firms is 20 percent or less.) Drake underlined the enormous contribution both women had made in blazing trails and in opening doors for other women to follow in their footsteps.

“I founded AWESOME nine years ago because I wanted to see women advance and transform the future of supply chain leadership,” said Drake. “Yes, we are still dealing with truckloads of uncertainty. We will be for a long while—probably forever. But these uncertainties are also possibilities; they’re signs of rebirth and renewed activity. Out of all the changes we’re going through will come a new way of being, thinking, living, working. These are hard-earned victories. But today it’s possible to hope again, to think forward again.”