IWD: What more can be done to address gender imbalance in logistics?

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March 8 marks International Women’s Day (IWD). For the supply chain sector, this past year has brought some positive change in regard to a more gendered balanced workforce. Last June, a Gartner study, which surveyed 223 supply chain organisations from February through March 2021, found 41% of the supply chain workforce were female, up 2% from 2020.

However, there’s still a way to go. Men currently hold around 70-85% of jobs in supply chain management. The Gartner study points out that retaining midcareer women and progressing them to senior roles is one of the biggest problems facing the industry.

Is enough being done to address these issues? Emma Murray, chief executive officer and founder of UK-based Meantime Communications, and co-founder of Women in Aviation and Logistics thinks not enough is being done yet.

“Things are improving for sure, but we still don’t do enough to celebrate success and showcase role models to encourage the next generation of leaders. Often efforts feel disjointed and that is a shame.

“This is a fantastic industry with so many opportunities. If we pull together, we can make a change. I have complete faith we can achieve this if we work together.”

Clare Bottle, CEO of the UK Warehousing Association, agrees that even though IWD raises awareness of these issues, the industry needs to think beyond just a single day.

She says: “I think we need to be more imaginative about where we recruit from, to overcome all kinds of stigma and bias and tackle the labour crisis in our sector.

“As well as recruitment, it’s really important that the industry is actively retaining and developing talent throughout women’s entire careers, and providing the right support at each life stage,” adds Sharon Davies, vice president of regulatory and public affairs for DHL Express Europe, who was recently made MBE for logistics services.

“DHL has a programme to support the advancement of women in the business. It focuses on three main areas – connecting, inspiring and developing – and includes a range of initiatives from mentoring to career workshops,” she explains. Aviation and logistics is certainly not short of female experts but it is sad to see there are still panels at conferences with little diversity. But Patricia, Odida, cargo optimisation, pricing and revenue manager at Kenya-based Astral Aviation is optimistic that this is not done deliberately. She says: “I want to believe it is because women are still fewer than men in aviation logistics and those who are there lack visibility, meaning the people planning the conferences may not be aware of their expertise.

“When more women in the aviation industry are given visibility for their achievements it will encourage more women to consider logistics as a career.”

Davies also agrees visibility is important. “Candidates need to see other successful women in the roles they’re aspiring to.

“Equally important is for women who have established their careers to spend time talking to others at different stages of their career paths. Whether that’s at industry events, formal mentoring, or just taking a moment to catch up over a

coffee, sharing experiences and advice can be incredibly rewarding for both parties,” she explains.

With this in mind, Women in Aviation and Logistics, which Murray launched with Céline Hourcade, founder and managing director of the aviation and logistics transformation program, Change Horizon, recently created a database of female professionals able to speak at industry events. The organisation has also established a mentorship scheme for young female logisticians.

An unlikely path?

Odida and Bottle both agree that logistics was not an industry they would have imagined themselves working in when at school.

“I had never thought of working in the aviation sector while I was in school as I did not know much about it, apart from that there are pilots and flight attendants,” says Odida. “I wanted to be a teacher but ended up applying for vacant customer service position in the cargo section of the national carrier and liked it and from then on, I never looked back.”

Bottle says:“When I was at school I wanted to be a writer. Now I realise the ability to write well is an asset in almost every job. It’s a shame logistics is still not really talked about in schools, or perhaps more young people would choose it.”

What advice would you give to someone considering a career in aviation and logistics?

Bottle: This is a great career option for people who enjoy working with others and problem solving. There are plenty of opportunities for progression too – go for it! And please join The Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport’s Women in Logistics organisation too.

Murray: I would give everybody the same advice. Logistics keeps the world moving, without it, as we all just found out, everything from a trip to the bathroom to getting a COVID jab becomes difficult. It’s a privilege to be part of this world and it’s exciting, global, and absolutely full of opportunity. Go for it!

Odida: The aviation sector is big, and has many facets and it is an interesting sector to be in. It requires passion and is satisfying when you like it. It is an exciting career worth thinking of and worth joining. I would encourage more women to look at what area they have a passion in and to consider pursuing.

Davies: Go for it! This is such a broad and stimulating industry to be a part of. For anyone who’s not sure how to get started, try talking to people already in the industry, in my experience people are often very willing to lend their support or share their insights.