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Women: Logistics Most Wanted

Who runs the world? Girls? Beyoncé may think so, but the numbers don’t back up her song. Not yet, at least. March 8th is International Women’s Day – and indeed the whole month of March is a month to celebrate women and the accomplishments they have made. In many parts of the world, women are running things. But in even more parts  - including the US, women haven’t quite caught up to male counterparts.

The logistics industry: what is still missing

The number of women graduating from college and entering the business world is growing. The global field of logistics is also growing. So why aren’t we seeing more women in logistics? Out of the estimated 125 million people working in logistics, only 1% to 2% are women. Be it freight, operations, procurement or logistics, a 2012 study by the Van Horne Institute titled Women in Supply Chain found that women are presently underrepresented within the industry. In the UK and US, the numbers of women in the logistics and transportation sector are still dismally low. The UK has 1.5 million logistics jobs and only a quarter of these positions are filled by women.  The male-dominated logistics arena needs more women. Logistics is not just warehouse work or loading and unloading cargo – and even those typically masculine jobs can be done by women. There is more to the industry than just moving and lifting.

The mainstream perception of logistics careers is that the field primarily involves moving and lifting, and therefore it is more suitable for men. This is a hard view to change. And it does not stop only at perception – women experience this bias when they enter their job. For example, much of the commonly used safety gear is only produced in large sizes. Women also feel this very real bias when there are too few female co-workers in the workplace. It is unavoidable that they sometimes feel disconnected, as it can be difficult to engage your coworkers through daily conversations or activities when you are a sole woman in a male-dominant environment.

Logistics is for men, yet it is also for women

If you think about it, women should be a natural fit in the complex, fast-paced logistics fields. Overseeing common familial challenges often touch on the same tricky areas that pose challenges in the workplace: managing time, budgeting money, thinking quickly, and ensuring that different personalities smoothly work together. Women are natural problem solvers – and that shows in the workplace. Canada’s supply chain management sector feels the same way. Supply chain logistics is big business in places like British Columbia and Alberta, Canada. One problem they have: not enough workers. Older employees are retiring, and new positions are opening daily. To curb the job vacancies, the supply chain sector is looking to women.

Logistics keeps the world moving – it touches every industry and business sector across the globe from fashion to technology. And while it is true that the logistics and transportation arena is dominated by men, the industry is actively working towards curating a more diverse workforce, especially by attracting women to the field. Not only do companies in logistics need to hire more women, they need to hire more women in positions where they are visible and powerful. This will encourage even more women to apply to jobs in this sector.

When an array of female logistics professionals were surveyed, 83% believed that there was plenty of room to grow their careers. Despite this perceived abundance of space for women to grow logistics careers, there are still too few women in positions of power.  If only more logistics companies were actively and aggressively recruiting women. DHL, one of the world-class logistics companies, is hoping to fill 30% of high-level positions with women. DHL is also creating a working environment that allows women to flourish, including schedule flexibility which is often necessary to balance career and family.

Another high point for women in the logistics field is the existence Women In Logistics And Transport, or WiLAT. WiLAT was launched three years ago to support women in the logistics and transportation industry by CILT (The Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transportation). This CILT offshoot hopes to promote the logistics industry to females, encouraging diversity within the field, as well as to offer mentorship and promote the status of women who are currently working in logistics. In the first year, they gained 1600 members from 14 countries. While there is not a WiLAT group active in the United States, the need for one is great.

Women in logistics: Why not? Why not more? 

One logistics-related area where women have made incredible progress is transportation and supply chain management. Like logistics, this sector is male-dominated, but recent years have seen an increase in women in senior management positions. Women are also entering the supply chain and transportation field in high numbers. Truck drivers are typically thought of as men, but the trucking industry has nearly 170,000 women drivers.

“The supply chain and logistics arena is a place where there are a lot of existing problems,” said Ellen Voie – president and CEO of Women in Trucking, an American non-profit group. “Women are problem-solvers. We have traditionally had to deal with family budgets and evaluating risk and reward in our family lives, so when it comes to bringing value to employers, we can draw from that discipline and experience.”

Globally, more and more women are educated and ready to become part of the logistics field. Not only a part of the field, but to wield real power in senior positions. Companies that try to support women with mentorship, flexibility, and addressing the needs of this population of workers are ones that will retain more women, and thus reap the benefits of a larger pool of qualified, educated employees.

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