Women In Supply Chains Punching Above Their Weight Class

As we celebrate International Women’s Day in March, it’s imperative to shine a spotlight on the remarkable contributions and challenges faced by women in the supply chain industry. Despite progress in gender equality across various sectors, the supply chain still grapples with gender disparities and the underrepresentation of women in key roles. This article delves into some critical aspects, underscoring the importance of fostering inclusivity and empowering women in this dynamic field.

Facilitating the seamless movement of goods across borders and continents for centuries, the logistics and supply chain industry stands as a critical pillar of global commerce. Even though the industry, worldwide, has been conventionally male-driven and male-dominant, women have increasingly emerged as instrumental agents of change, driving innovation, efficiency, and sustainability within this dynamic ecosystem.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) have emerged as crucial factors propelling the advancement of numerous companies in the sector. In 2021, approximately 74% of companies made DEI a priority in their new employee hiring processes. As per a report by Gartner, women made up around 41% of the supply chain workforce in 2021. Out of this 41%, around 15% of women were in the top echelons of the companies.

Over the years and making significant strides in the industry, women have left an indelible mark on its evolution and growth. From pioneering entrepreneurs to trailblazing executives, women have excelled across various domains, including transportation, warehousing, procurement, and distribution. Female visionaries exemplify the diverse talents and leadership prowess of women in driving organizational success and shaping industry trends.

Women bring a unique perspective and skill set to supply chain management, leveraging their inherent strengths in communication, collaboration, and problem-solving. By harnessing data analytics, technology, and strategic foresight, women leaders have spearheaded initiatives to optimize supply chain processes, enhance visibility and transparency, and mitigate risks.

Their innovative approaches have led to cost savings, operational efficiencies, and greater resilience in the face of disruptions, positioning companies for sustainable growth and competitive advantage.

Women in the field of supply chain logistics possess a rich and diverse skill set that seamlessly aligns with the dynamic nature of this sector. Attributes such as effective communication, meticulous attention to detail, and adept multitasking abilities are just a few examples of the fundamental yet invaluable qualities that women bring to the table. By acknowledging and harnessing these proficiencies, the supply chain industry can not only navigate complexities and uncertainties but also thrive amidst them.

Furthermore, recent global crises have starkly emphasized the imperative of building resilient supply chains. Women’s active participation in decision-making processes and leadership positions empowers organizations to approach risk mitigation and contingency planning from diverse perspectives. This inclusivity fosters a comprehensive approach to addressing challenges, bolstering the supply chain’s resilience against disruptions and ensuring uninterrupted operations.

Embracing and empowering women within the sector presents a solution by tapping into a vast pool of skilled professionals. By promoting diverse representation, the industry not only bridges critical skill gaps across various supply chain functions but also ensures its continued evolution and competitiveness in the global marketplace.

Despite their undeniable contributions, women continue to encounter barriers to entry and advancement within the logistics and supply chain workforce. Gender stereotypes, unconscious bias, and systemic inequalities persist, hindering women’s access to opportunities, mentorship, and leadership roles. The traditionally male-dominated nature of the industry further exacerbates these challenges, creating a pervasive culture of exclusion and underrepresentation.

Years ago, a distraught Alice Williams – an aspiring Royal Air Force member – was told, “You’re too short to be a pilot”, before it was added that she “didn’t weigh enough”.

Williams, now the Vice President of US Services Excellence at Schneider Electric, was told she was too short and light to be a pilot when she was younger. This was her first experience of feeling like the world wasn’t designed for her. Instead, she pursued a career as an engineer in the British Army, maintaining tanks. Williams attributes the low representation of women in STEM roles in both military and civilian life to such situations where women face challenges due to their physical attributes.

Never let anyone tell you that the world is ‘not designed’ for you..

In an era defined by digital transformation and Industry 4.0, the demand for skilled professionals in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields is on the rise. However, women remain underrepresented in STEM roles, posing a significant barrier to innovation and progress in the supply chain industry.

Bridging this gender gap requires concerted efforts to attract, retain, and advance women in STEM disciplines through targeted recruitment strategies, inclusive workplace cultures, and ongoing professional development initiatives.

Latha Narayan (Director Commercial APAC, Australasia and ISC, Etihad Cargo) discussed opportunities for women in STEM roles in logistics, strategies to encourage women in technology careers, and the impact of technology on logistics’ future. She stressed the need for clear career paths and support programs as women’s patience, sharpness, and multitasking abilities are crucial for seamless technology implementation.

Reshma Zaheer (Chief Operating Officer, TT Logistics & Cargo) discussed the opportunities for women in STEM roles in the logistics sector. She highlighted the growing demand for skilled professionals in data analytics, automation, and AI. She suggested that organizations should actively promote gender diversity in leadership positions and collaborate with educational institutions to cultivate a pipeline of talented female professionals in STEM fields.

In today’s rapidly evolving supply chain landscape, achieving work-life balance remains a formidable challenge for professionals, particularly women, and more so for those who also play the role of primary caregivers. Flexible work hours, remote work options, and supportive policies are crucial for cultivating an inclusive work environment where women can thrive without sacrificing their personal commitments.

While the traditional notions of rigid schedules and on-site presence prevail in many organizations, forward-thinking companies are embracing innovative approaches to accommodate the diverse needs of their workforce.

Efforts to promote work-life integration extend beyond mere policies; they entail fostering a culture of trust, respect, and empowerment. By leveraging technology and digital platforms, companies can facilitate seamless collaboration and communication, enabling employees to fulfill their responsibilities effectively while enjoying greater flexibility.

Niharika Jalan (Founder & Chief Growth Officer, Indicold) emphasizes the significance of seamless work-life integration, accepting the occasional dropping of the ball, and seeking assistance at work and home. She involves her child in her work life to foster empathy and support. Companies need to encourage female employees to seek assistance and implement suggestions for a better work-life balance.

Sonia Nair (VP and Head of Customer Service, BlueDart Express) manages work-life integration in the fast-paced logistics industry. She prioritizes seamless work integration, extends beyond work hours, and relies on self-reliance and family support. Sonia advocates for organizational policies like EAPs and remote work options for better work-life balance. Despite challenges, she emphasizes teamwork and personal pursuits for fulfillment.

Mentorship and support networks are pivotal in nurturing talent and fostering professional growth, especially for women in male-dominated industries like supply chain and logistics.

Establishing formal mentorship programs and affinity groups can provide invaluable guidance, encouragement, and advocacy for women at various stages of their careers. These initiatives create safe spaces for sharing experiences, seeking advice, and building meaningful connections, thereby empowering women to overcome barriers and seize opportunities for advancement.

Effective mentorship goes beyond conventional mentor-mentee relationships; it involves sponsorship, advocacy, and allyship. Male allies and senior leaders have a crucial role to play in championing diversity and inclusion initiatives, amplifying women’s voices, and advocating for equitable opportunities. By cultivating a supportive ecosystem where women feel valued, heard, and empowered, organizations can unlock the full potential of their workforce and drive sustainable business growth.

Sakshi Gupta (Country Manager – India, Air Logistics Group) shared her insights on the transformative power of mentorship and the importance of support networks for women in the logistics industry. Reflecting on her own journey, Sakshi emphasized the profound impact mentorship has had on her professional growth. She also said that through sisterhood and collective empowerment, women in logistics can overcome challenges, uplift each other, and drive meaningful progress in the industry.

Seema Narera (Vertical Head for FMCG – India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Maersk) provided valuable insights into the role of mentorship in her professional growth and the importance of establishing effective mentorship programs within organizations. She emphasized the need for a diverse pool of mentors, clear career goals, regular check-ins, and cross-cultural mentorship opportunities to foster a supportive and inclusive environment for women in the industry.

This is an abridged version of the original article published in the March 2024 issue of Logistics Insider magazine. To read the complete article, click here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *