Women in logistics
ALSC Global conference
Pushing for greater parity in the supply chain
An inclusive and diverse workforce that provides career opportunities for women is more important than ever as the logistics sector struggles to retain and recruit talent to improve performance. Hazel Southwell reports from a special session at this year’s ALSC Global conference focused on women in logistics
The automotive logistics sector continues to be dominated by men, from frontline operations to senior management. There are any number of reasons why fewer women are represented, including the often tough working environment, unqual distribution of resources or managerial lack of advocacy. There is also the often unchallenged stereotype that that is just how it is.
Women can be put off by a lack of standards in the conditions they have to compete in or they can simply be unaware that there are opportunities for them in the first place. The image of the sector needs improving and so does the active encouragement of female talent. Better communication is at the heart of the problem.
Four women, one each from Nissan, IAC Group, Ryder and Amazon, took to the stage at last month’s meeting in Detroit to discuss their experiences in the workplace and what needs to be done to promote more women to supply chain and logistics roles.
Mauryo Jones, vice-president of safety, health and security at logistics provider Ryder, said that to understand the barriers to women working in logistics, you have to study the fundamentals.
Truck drivers and maintenance technicians are the backbone of the transport industry, according to Jones, but recruiting and retaining women in those roles at a time when there is a serious driver shortage is made problematic by the physical nature and the ergonomics of the job, which can discourage women certain roles.
“I don't know how many of you have ever tried to raise or lower a landing gear or unlatch a fifth wheel but it's tough,” said Jones. “It's tough for a man. So when you are trying to recruit women into this industry, we need to take a look at… what are we doing to make it easier from a physical standpoint for women.”
Jones said that making sure there were more automatic transmissions in the fleet would be one way of helping to recruit and retain female drivers in the logistics sector.
Ryder not only provides trucking but also maintenance and repair facilities, which Jones said had to be looked at not just in terms of recruiting women into specialised roles but making sure the facilities they work in or that support their work are up to standard.
According to Jones, surveys the company has carried out reveal that the restrooms made available to drivers are ‘disgusting’.
“We have female drivers and they don't want to use our restrooms, we have rental and maintenance operators that don't want to use our restrooms,” Jones acknowledged. “Something as simple as making sure you have accommodation in the restrooms and the facilities for women, that makes a big difference.”
Jones said taking care of those two areas – ergonomics, and hygiene and safety – really helps when trying to recruit and retain female talent in the transport and logistics sector.
Building the knowledge
Kathy Crawley, general manager of transportation at Amazon, said that one of the most important things to recruiting women was actually making them aware of opportunities within transport and logistics.
“We have programmes where we are sending associates that have the opportunity to get their CDL [commercial driver licence] paid for by Amazon, then they'll come back and utilise those skills,” said Crawley, providing an example of how Amazon bridges qualification gaps. However, she echoed Jones to say that making sure women could work on an equal level was essential and that included providing equitable resources, including personal protective equipment (PPE) that fits.
“They're complaining that their gloves don't fit or we require steel-toe shoes,” notes Crawley. “So what are the options for females with steel-toe shoes that are available?”
Crawley said it came down to “making sure that there's the same equal opportunity for resources provided to them.”
Amazon reaches out to Girl Scout events to make sure that young women get information about the roles they could pursue in the transport sector and are aware of the opportunities, in trucking or beyond.
In a gender-imbalanced industry Crawley said that knowledge was essential. “If you're leading a group, especially in the transport industry, it is more male dominated,” she said. “[If] you're the only female leading a team of males they'll respect you if you know your space.”
That means sharing the same information, and having the same level of knowledge and expertise.
Think of the whole supply chain
Kelly Bysouth, chief supply chain officer at IAC Group, said that opportunities to promote women in logistics went well beyond one’s own company.
“I've spent a lot of time in the past promoting women-owned businesses within our supply base,” she said. “The more women you can help advocate and give opportunities, whether it's in your own company, in your own team or potentially out there in the supply base, [the better].”
Bysouth said giving women-owned businesses the opportunity to be at the table, to quote on significant projects, is incredibly important.
“I've been part of some external resource groups that promote women-owned businesses, so I think everybody can, within their own company, try to give women-owned businesses opportunities,” said Bysouth.
Women might be less likely to put themselves forwards for promotion or increased responsibilities, said JS Bolton, director of finished vehicle logistics, and supply chain systems and strategy at Nissan North America. It is therefore important to make them confident to do so.
Bolton recounted a time when her department was posting for a promotion.
“Let’s say there were 30 supervisors in the pool and any of them could be eligible for this promotion,” she said. “Now, we knew based on their performance who the top five were, and those were the ones we were really hoping would apply.”
According to Bolton two of the top five were women but they did not raise their hand when asked about promotion.
“Why is that?” asked Bolton. “Is it the confidence versus arrogance?”
She went on to say that observing the pattern gave an opportunity to find out what the barriers were to those supervisors applying.
“When we went and talked to some of them they said, ‘oh, well, I don't know that I have enough experience. Maybe in a couple years I'll feel more comfortable.’”
Being able to talk directly to the employees and highlight they were amongst the strongest candidates, Bolton said, was crucial to understanding the issue. However, it also raised the opportunity to look at the candidates’ direct managers and query whether they were encouraging everyone equally.
“Maybe the way you encourage people is different and needs to be specific to that person's personality, and their leadership style, and their perception of themselves,” Bolton pointed out.
A time for talent
The automotive supply chain continues to suffer disruption from different directions but what that has done is to put supply chain logistics in the limelight and in the headlines. That is a good place for it to be, generating interest as a subject and attracting a younger generation of women who want to find out more.
“In the last few months I’ve had people coming to me unprompted… [saying] they really want to explore supply chain and asking me to tell them more about it,” said Bysouth. “[It includes] people who are at Michigan State University and have not chosen their major, and who are thinking about supply chain. That would never have happened in the past.”
Bolton agreed, adding there was never a dull moment in supply chain and it was in definite need of fresh talent and recommending the sector to that new generation was a priority.
There is also the point that supply chain has a range of areas and opportunities that will be of interest to wider scope of people.
“If technology is your thing, most supply chain companies are going to become technology companies offering supply chain and logistics,” said Jones. “If you are in a functional group like HR, accounting or safety, supply chain has that too, it has vast opportunities.”
That diversity of function makes supply chain different to other parts of the automotive industry and it requires a greater diversity of talent to meet its needs, which bodes well for a younger generation of both sexes.
When you are trying to recruit women into this industry, we need to take a look at… what are we doing to make it easier from a physical standpoint for women
Mauryo Jones, Ryder
If you're leading a group, especially in the transport industry, it is more male dominated. [If] you're the only female leading a team of males they'll respect you if you know your space
Kathy Crawley, Amazon
Maybe the way you encourage people is different and needs to be specific to that person's personality, and their leadership style, and their perception of themselves
JS Bolton, Nissan North America
The more women you can help advocate and give opportunities, whether it's in your own company, in your own team or potentially out there in the supply base, [the better]
Kelly Bysouth, IAC Group