After attending the Strategic Marketplace Initiative (SMI) meeting this year, a particular session stood out to me: women in supply chain. It prompted good conversation and forward thinking. As a result, I reached out to one of the attendees, Laurel Junk, chief supply chain and procurement officer at Kaiser Permanente.
Q. Laurel, tell me about yourself. What is your background?
A. When I graduated from high school, supply chain, as a degree and as a truly recognized profession, didn’t exist. I loved math and, as a result, got a degree in computer science. My first job out of college was with Eli Lilly and Company as a computer scientist. This is when I realized that while I loved technology, I loved the business side of things even more.
From there, I got my MBA at Duke in marketing and finance. After my MBA, I worked a few different jobs and made my way to what was, at the time, called materials management and found the place I love. For me, supply chain is an amazing field because it is analytical, process and technology driven, and team oriented. You have to coordinate cross functionally with marketing, research and development, finance, manufacturing, human resources, legal, etc., in order to meet the needs of your customers and patients. This has always appealed to me, and hence I call myself a supply chain “geek”.
Q. What are some challenges you face in your day-to-day work life?
A. I find that the challenges I face are similar to those others face in leadership positions. Specifically, time management is a challenge. There always seems to be more to do than hours in a day to do it. Figuring out how to balance that and where to spend my time is always a challenge.
Additionally, developing the right teams in order to keep the workforce aligned, motivated, and moving in the right direction has become a key ingredient for success. One of the things that I’m passionate about at Kaiser Permanente is the fact that we have diversity ingrained in our DNA and have since our inception 70 years ago. Our company consists of 75% women and is 60% diverse across 180,000 employees. This is significant as we value the power of diversity and what it can bring to our business, but it also mirrors the diversity of our customers and our patients. How can we best serve our customers if we don’t somewhat mirror the diversity they represent?
When thinking about the diversity of experience and thought process, case studies have told us that the more diversity you can bring to problem solving, the better solutions you will come up with. This is why diversity is one of the major qualities we focus on to develop the right teams. We truly want to make sure that we don’t let a good idea go unheard.
Q. Who have been your biggest mentors?
A. Interestingly enough as I look back on my career, some of my biggest mentors have been men. However, this probably isn’t super surprising given the fields in which I’ve worked – many of them traditionally male-dominated. I’ve found that my biggest mentors and advocates were willing to share their perspective, and most importantly, they saw potential in me, believed in me, and challenged me, especially early on in my career.
One mentor I remember in particular was my supervisor, Dave, at Eli Lilly. I was fresh out of college as a computer scientist. We had a United Way drive at Lilly and one of my colleagues was chosen to speak about the United Way program in front of an auditorium of 300-400 people in upper-level management. My colleague, who was going to give the speech, was unable to attend last minute and Dave suggested that I do it. As an introvert, I froze at the idea of getting in front of such a large group. However, Dave walked me through it and believed I could do it. To this day, I remember that moment, walking out on stage, getting through it, and getting great reviews afterward. What that day meant to me in terms of self-esteem, confidence, and risk taking went a long way for me personally and professionally.
As I move further along in my career, I often reflect about the impact those people had on me and my opportunity to make sure I have that impact on others coming up the ranks.
Additionally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my parents. I’ve been blessed from an early age to have parents that encouraged me to do whatever I wanted. When I was seven years old, all I wanted to be was the quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings. For Christmas that year, my favorite present was a helmet and shoulder pads. Luckily, I figured out early on that being the quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings was a dead-end career path (the Vikings have yet to win a Super Bowl), but nonetheless my parents encouraged my dream instead of thinking about what may have been more gender-appropriate.
Q. How do you balance your work and personal life?
A. I like to think of this as work and home balance as your personal life never really stops at work and your work life never really stops at home. I focus on how to balance in those specific locations: home and work. I’ve found that drawing boundaries is also important so I’m not doing work all the time.
I believe your work and personal lives ebb and flow; I don’t think striving for a 50/50 split every day should be the target. It’s about finding the right balance to be sure you’re not neglecting work or home life over time. For leaders who are very driven in their aspirations especially, sometimes having the courage to make a sacrifice for your home life is important to achieve better balance. I try to remember that at the end of the day, it won’t be your work title on your tombstone, it will be beloved mother, daughter, brother, or sister.
Q. What were some questions people asked you after the SMI women in supply chain panel?
A. Women who are in the early stages of their careers are the ones who approached me the most. They were interested to hear about my career path, risks, and focuses. They were also encouraged to see so many female role models.
In addition, I was impressed at the number of men who showed up to the SMI women in supply chain session. I believe that this really speaks to our industry and certainly those who attended. The fathers who have daughters that were interested in talking to me after the panel also stuck with me. These fathers asked for advice on how they could encourage and support their daughters in their career paths.
In the end, you have to love what you do. This is a key quality for every leader. Your passion is what draws people in and I think women have a natural capability to really show that.
I suggested to Laurel during our conversation that we all overlap with supply chain in one way or another. She responded with, “The world doesn’t know it yet perhaps, but supply chain controls the world.” Thank you Laurel for your insight and leadership in our supply chain field.