Bridging the gender divide in Indian logistics

Traditionally, the Indian Logistics sector has been associated with manual work, unsafe working conditions and many long and tough hours on the road, delivering goods across the length and breadth of the country. Dominated by an all-male workforce, women have been largely ignored with a misconception that they were not suited for ‘moving boxes’ or doing intense physical work. As a result, there is a considerable difference in the ratio of men/women working in the logistics sector in India. Only 15% of the total workforce (directly/indirectly) is represented by women compared to the global average of 30%.

However, with the changing face of the Indian logistics industry dominated by mechanisation and automation, many companies have started encouraging young girls and women to come forward and be part of their workforce at all managerial levels.

Managing Warehouse and Transportation Operations

The e-commerce giants such as Amazon and Flipkart have been frontrunners in initiating several all-women delivery stations in various parts of the country. This initiative has created job opportunities and entrepreneurship opportunities for women as they hold an advantage of leveraging the local knowledge and language of the community and building social networks. These companies offer technical and organisational support to run last-mile delivery operations and ensure a safe workplace through periodic feedback mechanisms and a 24/7 helpline with frequent tracking and tracing.

In manufacturing and 3PL operations, women are becoming an integral part of warehouse operations. The job roles range from blue collared (forklift operators, sorters, packers) and white collared (control tower analysts, data entry operators etc). It is now common to find women working in warehouses with automated MHEs (Material Handling Equipment) and CNC machines. Even loading and unloading of boxes have become automated, leading to the engagement of women in these activities. Organisations such as Mahindra Logistics, Delhivery have introduced a second career programme, Udaan, for women who wish to re-join the workforce after taking a career break for personal reasons  It is very encouraging to witness the reintegration of women when they come back to pursue corporate growth all over again.

In transportation job roles, women are playing a dynamic role, handling trucks and doing deliveries for short-haul cargo. One can see a woman driving a truck in South India as a common day practise nowadays. Long-haul deliveries are still a challenge for them, given the tough road conditions, lack of sanitation facilities and physical safety tools on Indian roads.

Logistics Leadership

In India, the role of women in logistics is not restricted to blue/white collared jobs. Women are aggressively taking up leadership roles at the senior and mid-management level not only to manage the trucking business such as Reema transport but have climbed the corporate ladders to become senior directors in many 3PL organisations such as Ecom Express, Gati and Safeexpress. Women have a natural ability to multitask and organise- two qualities that are prized in the field of logistics and supply chain management as this field requires managing the physical flow of goods through multimodal systems, understanding documentation process, data analytics and networking with multiple entities in the supply chain. Women bring certain sensitivity and a voice of reason in tough situations and they can handle complexity and uncertainty in a calm manner.

Logistics Education and Upskilling

Many new initiatives have been launched to encourage women to pursue higher and skilled education in this sector. CII Institute of Logistics, the logistics centre of excellence of Confederation of Indian Industries, has launched a women-led, women-managed initiative called WLL (Women Logistics Leadership) to empower women with knowledge and skills, on International Womens’ Day, March 8th 2021 with a belief that workplace gender diversity is important for better customer service and greater profitability. The mission of WLL is to provide educational support to girl students interested in logistics and career enhancement opportunities for women in logistics. The multi-fold objectives of this initiative are:

  • Empowerment of blue collared women in the Logistics sector for entrepreneurship
  • Creation of a Pan-India network of logistics women professionals for information sharing, career development and mentorship
  • Upskill and upgrade girls/women in this sector with advanced processes and technologies for their fast-track career advancement
  • Connect Indian Logistics companies, interested in promoting gender diversity and equality, on a single platform to work towards a common goal of women upliftment and empowerment

CII Institute of Logistics has also instituted a yearly scholarship for girl students who wish to pursue postgraduate education in supply chain analytics and management.

To conclude, we have seen women breaking the proverbial glass ceiling, playing an important role in financial services, engineering and armed services-areas that have been hitherto considered a male bastion. In logistics also the scenario is changing with the industry welcoming gender diversity. Although change is in a nascent stage, it will get acceleration with the support of the industry. To have ‘’voice” and ‘wings”, women themselves need to overcome challenges and come forward as a powerful force to enrich and lead the sector. There is no doubt Women in India have the potential to break gender stereotypes and challenge the patriarchal structure that still exists in some parts of the country and logistics should not remain an exception. However, to survive and thrive in this field, one must be ready to upskill and upgrade as the sector is evolving at a very fast pace. One must also have self-motivated priorities, be highly proactive and always maintain extraordinary business ethics and standards to create a trailblazing path. Equipped with the right skills and attitude, women can make a gigantic contribution to change the face of the Indian logistics sector industry in years to come.

This article has been authored by Dr. Anita Kumar, Director CII School of Logistics, Amity University

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