Women in Supply Chain and Logistics: Closing the Gender Gap

Woman in warehouse scanning barcode on a package

Research shows that women don’t get the same advancement opportunities and pay as their male counterparts in the world of supply chain and logistics. Many in the industry are looking to change this.

But first, what exactly needs to be changed? Women in shipping and logistics face a range of challenges and barriers to success, including:

  • Lack of women in leadership positions acting as role models and mentors
  • Company cultures that do not foster career development for women or make women feel like outsiders
  • Preconceptions of woman as overly passionate and emotional, unable to make smart decisions under pressure
  • Verbal and sexual harassment in the workplace
  • Pay inequality (according to a 2017 Logistics Management survey, the average male respondent earned 46% more than his than female counterparts)

Gartner’s third annual "Women in Supply Chain Survey" found that “Things have largely remained flat,” with low female representation in leadership roles. However, the proportion of women in C-suite roles did improve, from 2016’s 7% to 14% in 2018, although this was down from 15% in 2017.

“We’re still in a place where women account for, on average, 37% or 38% of the average supply chain organization,” Gartner Research Vice President Dana Stiffler told Logistics Management. “Then, as you go through the different levels of leadership, that percentage kind of drops off.”

Having more women in supply chain and logistics roles, however, can offer companies a great competitive advantage. An Australian report on workplace gender equality cited the following benefits:

  • Better organizational performance
  • Boosted company reputation
  • Ability to better attract talent and retain employees
  • Improved productivity and economic growth on a national scale

“Diversity in backgrounds, gender, cultures, perspectives, and experiences is a fundamental prerequisite for sustainable business success,” says Sabine Mueller. CEO of DHL Consulting. Yet, “At Deutsche Post DHL Group, women make up 35 percent of the total workforce but are confined to only 15 percent of the board of directors.”

How to Attract Women to Supply Chain and Logistics

So, what are companies doing to address the gender imbalance in the logistics sphere?

Educating Kids About Opportunities in Logistics

To attract more women to industry, young women and girls must know what opportunities are out there in the first place, allowing them to gain the knowledge and hands-on experience they need to weigh their options for the future. This means reaching kids in high school, middle school, and even as early as grade school, showing them the various opportunities available for an exciting career in logistics.

As more and more women begin to think of these roles as real options, the industry gender gap will begin to close. “If we get more women in [supply chain and logistics] roles, the bias against women doing those jobs will go away,” Carolyn Glynn, senior manager of international freight at Igloo Products, told American Shipper.

Focusing on Inclusive Hiring Efforts

In many companies, enterprise-level human resources efforts to achieve greater diversity and more inclusive work environments are being augmented by specific initiatives aimed at attracting female candidates, according to Gartner. The survey found that 60% of supply chain organizations with goals to increase female representation had “targeted initiatives to recruit, develop, retain and/or advance women in supply chain” — up from 44% in 2017.

To widen the talent pool, these companies are creating women-focused talent retention programs, providing female mentors to employees, and working to counter unintentional biases by including more women in the hiring process itself.

Reimagining Workplace Roles

Historically, men were hired for hands-on work, while women were put in administrative office roles. Men would gain more and more responsibility over time, and move up within a company. Women, however, would typically continue to work behind the scenes. Even today, women are more likely to be in compliance roles.

Many still believe that all logistics jobs involve grueling manual labor in dirty, dangerous conditions. But, according to CEO Magazine, “There has never been a better time for women to enter the field. … New and emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and robotics have automated many manual roles, transforming logistics into a cutting-edge and competitive sector.”

Plus, because supply chain and logistics are involved in a huge range of industries — from technology and electronics to textiles and food and beverage — female problem-solvers have many opportunities to find the right fit for their specific career goals.

Increasing Women’s Visibility in Supply Chain and Logistics

Gartner’s respondents suggested that one of the best ways to recruit, retain, and advance women in industry is to increase the visibility of female leaders. Yet getting women into leadership roles in the first place has been a slow process.

In an editorial in The Guardian, Melanie Hall, DHL Supply Chain vice president of life sciences, says, “The logistics industry is working to make changes to attract a more diverse workforce but, in doing so, it's important that there is a focus on hiring women in positions where they have visibility to inspire and encourage other women into the industry.”

Removing opportunities for bias (intentional or unintentional) in the hiring process can serve as a great first step. As Nancy Nix, current executive director emeritus for AWESOME (Achieving Women’s Excellence in Supply Chain Operations, Management & Education) noted, “When you take a name off a resume and can’t discern whether the candidate is male or female, you get a far higher rate of selection of the female candidates.”

Promoting Women’s Success Stories

Respondents also said that sharing women’s success stories is critical for changing the industry as a whole.

The Women in Trucking (WIT) Association, for instance, offers an annual Distinguished Women in Logistics Award to celebrate the achievements of women employed in the North American transportation industry. WIT also maintains a "Top Women to Watch in Transportation" list. The 2019 list identified “53 women who stand out as top performers in a field of highly qualified nominees,” said Brian Everett, publisher of WIT’s Redefining the Road magazine.

Meanwhile, McKinsey suggests that women’s participation in the economy could increase global annual GDP by $28 trillion by 2025. In fact, a McKinsey Global Institute report states “advancing women’s equality can add $12 trillion to global growth.”

Looking Ahead

Through these strategies, supply chain and logistics organizations can do their part to close the industry's gender gap, boosting inclusivity in the workplace while maintaining a competitive edge in today’s ever-shifting industrial landscape.

Image Credit: Monkey Business Images / Shutterstock.com

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