CEO Insider

Women in logistics – the pioneering companies closing the gender equality gap

Shikha Kothari, HR Lead - India at KlearNow
Shikha Kothari, HR Lead - India at KlearNow

Until recently, logistics and supply chain management were professions that happened quietly, behind the scenes. The Covid-19 pandemic highlighted just how crucial these disciplines are to the smooth running of commerce and healthcare.

When we picture supply chain management and logistics professionals, we probably picture a somewhat skewed view of the workforce. Women have long been underrepresented in logistics and supply chain management, but there are some positive signs of change emerging.

Gartner’s 2020 Women in Supply Chain Survey found that 17% of senior positions (CSCOs) were occupied by women. This clearly isn’t enough, but it is a rise of 6% compared to 2019 and the highest rate since 2016.

Change is happening, but not quickly enough for many talented women working within the sector. Rather than wait years for the industry as a whole to catch up, some innovative organisations are taking matters into their own hands. Here’s 5 ways that’s happening.

  1. Adopt neutral language
    Quite often, the soft discrimination that excludes women from entire sectors, let alone senior leadership roles within those sectors, starts at the recruitment level. It’s been illegal for decades in most western countries to directly specify a preference for men or women in a job advert. But those preferences can be revealed indirectly through careless language.Numerous studies have been conducted into how language used during the hiring process can indirectly and unconsciously create barriers to advancement for women. Words and phrases that typically resonate more with men than women. A study out of Harvard University identified that words such as ‘dominant’ and ‘leader’ were off putting to women as they are typically socialised from a young age not to associate with those qualities.
  2. Embrace motherhood
    One of the key reasons women are under-represented in senior positions is the motherhood penalty; women take career breaks to raise children – often at an age where their career progression would be accelerating – and find themselves left behind their male counterparts. Organisations can put simple structures and policies in place to counteract the often unintentional bias that underpins this problem. One company doing this is the Silicon-Valley based startup KlearNow, currently making waves in the industry with the world’s first AI-driven, 100% digital customs business network platform. Its C-suite contains 38% female executives, more than double the average across the sector.This includes Shikha Kothari, HR Lead for the company in India. She joined KlearNow when its India office opened in 2018, bringing with her over 14 years of hardcore HR experience. Shikha is also a dedicated mother to 10-year-old Purab, while the professional world is her second home. Shikha highlights a situation commonly faced by women in senior level positions, where there’s a delicate balance to be found between family and professional life:

    “As a working mother, having support of your colleagues and management is the key to your success and with supportive leadership and strong corporate values which KlearNow demonstrates, I am proud to be associated with. Working with a team of passionate individuals, who are always helping each other to grow, everyday ends up giving you a sense of achievement. You feel valued each day & that makes you work harder the next day.”

  3. Embrace female expertise
    Until women are represented equally at all leadership levels in the supply chain sector, organisations will have to work with the fact that oftentimes women will be a lone presence in some scenarios. That doesn’t mean they aren’t the expert in those scenarios, despite being outnumbered by their male counterparts.KlearNow’s Senior Director of Compliance and one of their first hires, Angela Aaron, offers a refreshing insight on her experience within a more progressive workplace culture than the industry is generally known for. She explains:

    “KlearNow is a company where you can bring your whole self to work, sharing your talents and driving collaborative results.  I’ve been in plenty of rooms where I was the only woman there, but that realization came to me observantly, and proudly, as no one else ever made me feel that way or that coincidence was apparent to anyone else but me.  In fact, within the first six weeks of my being hired, I had one of the company’s advisors tell an all hands whiteboarding meeting full of engineers to give me the floor because I was the “expert in the room”.

  4. Challenge cultural perceptions
    Problems often persist simply because unresolved issues are perceived as the norm. Challenging cultural perceptions can have a material impact on gender representation in all so-called ‘male’ industries. On its blog, European logistics operator FERCAM discusses how fairness, inclusiveness and a commitment to gender diversity are an integral part of its ethos and company culture. The firm advocates a policy of valuing diverse perspectives, as well as people, saying that “listening and organizational skills, empathy and communication, patience and stress management, or knowledge of languages, to name but a few” represent “qualities that are simply impossible to ascribe to one gender rather than another” but are often overlooked as being valuable in the sector.It also has the stats to back this up, as FERCAM Austria has a female employment rate of over 53% and in some of its branches, the proportion of women in management positions is over 80%.

    And in FERCAM Italy’s ‘Great Place to Work’ survey, 72% of respondents said that they believed employees were treated impartially, regardless of characteristics such as gender.

  5. Close the ‘knowing-doing gap’
    While companies like KlearNow, FERCAM and many others are leading the charge towards more diverse, inclusive boards within logistics, there’s clearly more work to be done. But what is holding up progress?In 2018, an independent report was commissioned by the UK Government entitled ‘FTSE women leaders: Hampton-Alexander review’. It examined the progress of women in FTSE 100 boards, including in logistics organisations. There was some positive progress, partially thanks to the UK making gender pay gap reporting mandatory in 2017, but there was also a drop in the number of female CEOs at FTSE 350 companies.

    The review highlighted a problem which logistics and supply chain leaders would do well to take notice of. This is the ‘knowing-doing gap’, or a gap between having positive intentions and setting and achieving clear, tangible goals. This was explained in the report by McKinsey & Company’s Dominic Barton: “Most executives know how strong the empirical evidence is that proves the link between fostering more diverse mindsets and achieving superior financial performance. But progress is still too slow. Achieving real change requires committed leadership at the top and sustained effort to shift mindsets and correct hidden biases across the organisation. Purpose driven companies that create value for society as well as for shareholders build from a foundation of diversity and inclusion.”

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