#Ergonsays: Women in logistics

November 27, 2020 | Hazel Leung

Gender inequality in the workplace has been a long-standing issue, and there is no exception when it comes to the logistics and supply chain management industry. Similar to the STEM industry, the logistics space has traditionally been dominated by men. Physical strength and heavy lifting are attributes typically associated with the industry, therefore limiting the number of females within the workforce. In today’s world, we see processes being mechanised and the need for actual physical labour lessening, but there is still the commonly held belief that women are not appropriate for logistics positions, or unconscious bias against women pursuing these positions.

Of course, that is not the case within all firms. According to a survey carried out by advisory firm Gartner Research in 2018 (source), the percentage of women working within the supply chain industry increased from 2016. However, the percentage increase through the years 2016 to 2018 is minor. Although the figures of women in various seniority levels outperform figures in other industries, such as finance or IT, the percentage of women in the workforce was low, to begin with. This brings into question the actual progress of the logistics sector.  We spoke with three extraordinary women in the field: Inna Kuznetsova, CEO of 1010data; Yvette Pang, MD of GEODIS Japan; and Anne-Sophie Zerlang Karlsen, currently head of AP Moller-Maersk’s new freight logistics service Twill. Each leader shared valuable insights into their views on workplace diversity, their experiences as women in the field, and the advice they would give to individuals either interested in logistics and supply chain management or are currently working in the industry.

Diversity, or lack thereof, is the biggest visible issue.

The lack of diversity within the logistics industry does not exclusively pertain to the lack of female employees, but rather the lack of opportunities and support individuals receive. However, it is often the case that women are not given equal opportunities and instead are placed in line jobs that don’t offer strong opportunities for promotion. Ignoring the need for diversity disregards human empathy; in the current age of rapid market activity and digitalisation, this proves to be an important quality as the industry still very much depends on human connection and interaction.

A diverse workforce yields countless benefits, and the logistics industry is no exception. Looking back on her experience, Inna understands that customers and clients are diverse, and do not resonate with homogenous teams from the logistics side. Embracing behavioural and attributable differences secures a solution of higher quality as different experiences and skills are pooled together. Innovation is also a key trend in the field but cannot be incorporated into organisations well without diversified capabilities pushing these transformations.

It is important to consider all steps in the recruitment and retention processes to incorporate change and diversity. For Yvette, all individuals should be given a chance at the starting line in order to assess one’s potential opportunities. This may be at the education level, where individuals are introduced to the industry and learn about potential career pathways. It should be made clear that anyone with interest should be able to pursue more information or learn the necessary skills for working in the industry. Anne-Sophie considers that the language and vocabulary used should be objective, as to not create a divide between the expectations, responsibilities or future prospects of men and women. From education stems the start of one’s career, which may come in the form of internships or extended study. Firms have the power to offer equal opportunities to students or young people, as a way of discarding outdated and biased views towards gender in this field. This leads to an individual’s career post-study, where they will join organisations and likely work their way up the hierarchical structure. Inna notes the importance of addressing the glass ceiling present at each level:

making sure women are retained and given the equal opportunity for necessary training to advance in their careers. 

As more women enter the industry, the norm is changed to be more accommodative of new ideas. At every level women need support; this is to encourage them to take advantage of opportunities as competent employees, especially since women have historically been hindered from advancing within the field. Anne-Sophie asserts that senior leaders have the responsibility to challenge unconscious bias, as well as champion mentorship programmes for female employees. Mentors do not necessarily have to be women, as assessing situations from an alternate point of view can strengthen one’s critical thinking and problem-solving skills; having said that, it is beneficial for female employees to be mentored by women in leadership roles so that they have relevant role models to look up towards.  There are several organisations advocating for equal opportunity within the logistics industry. One of them is The Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (CILT), who devised the Women in Logistics and Transport programme (WiLAT) in 2013, which aims to promote and empower women within the sector (source). WiLAT operates local groups within twenty-two countries and focuses on the four aspects of Leadership, Mentorship, Entrepreneurship and Empowerment. They provide local support through holding networking events, allowing women in the industry to pursue new opportunities. Hong Kong’s branch of WiLAT utilises Hua Mulan, a female warrior from Chinese history, as an organisational symbol to depict women in the field facing and rising up to challenges (source).

Another organisation pushing for change is AWESOME, an acronym for “achieving women’s excellence in supply chain operations, management and education”. Founded at the beginning of 2013, Ann Drake of DSC Logistics at the time launched the organisation after becoming the first woman to receive the Distinguished Service Award from the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals body (source). Like WiLAT, AWESOME focuses on engaging and empowering employees in senior supply chain positions. Their achievements include establishing partnerships with thirty-two universities to create future supply chain leader scholarships, as well as collaborating with Gartner on their Women in Supply Chain study. While AWESOME’s current scope is limited to the US, their activities and influence within US firms have the potential to spread to their global counterparts. From Yvette’s observations, even in a traditionally male-dominated culture such as Japan, the younger generation is more open-minded to diversity and inclusivity. She expresses that while women may not be as assertive or decisive as men, women should be visionaries and make clear the goals that will guide them through challenges. Anne-Sophie and Inna echo these sentiments, as bravery and confidence are required to face cultural and social norms alongside developing a fulfilling career.

Incorporating diversity and inclusion in the workplace is something to be celebrated and taken seriously. The logistics and supply chain management industry has, in the past, overlooked these factors in favour of abiding by traditional beliefs. As organisations move forward in the fast-paced, ever-changing field, diversity and inclusion are needed for survival and success.

Contributors

Inna Kuznetsova
Inna Kuznetsova is the CEO of market intelligence and data analytics firm 1010data, currently based in New York, USA. Her past positions include President and COO of Inttra, and COO of Ceva Logistics.

Yvette Pang
Yvette Pang is the Managing Director for GEODIS Japan. Having been with the company for fifteen years, she started her journey at GEODIS in the sales division. Her career has taken her to various locations in Asia, including China and Hong Kong.

Anne-Sophie Zerlang Karlsen
With seventeen years of logistics industry experience in her resume, Anne-Sophie Zerlang Karlsen now heads AP Moller-Maersk’s startup Twill. Before embarking on this journey in August 2019, Anne-Sophie was positioned in various commercial roles and was last working as the Head of Global Reefer Solutions for Maersk.

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