Despite growing interest in the logistics industry, women still encounter obstacles on their way, such as pay equity, gender bias, or lack of career and advancement opportunities. However, researchers assure that for companies looking to ease supply-chain pressures, putting more women in logistics planning should improve efficiency (1).
In this interview, Alexandra Olvera, Global Commercial Leader at CEVA Logistics, and Maria Villablanca, Co-founder and CEO of The Future Insights Network, share their professional opinion on how women nowadays can dive into the logistics world, what challenges they face, and what can help them to gain trust and credibility in a traditionally masculine sector.
Globally, Covid-19 has dealt a striking blow to recent gains for women in the workforce. According to Oxfam International, an international development organization against poverty, the Covid-19 crisis cost women worldwide at least $800 billion in lost income in 2020-and that is even a “conservative estimate”, as it does not include wages lost by the millions of women working in the informal economy who have been sent home or whose hours and wages have been drastically cut (2).
Across the globe, women have been more likely to drop out, and “fewer women than men will regain employment during the Covid-19 recovery”, says the International Labour Organization in its policy brief released in July 2021 (3). Overall, there will be “13 million fewer women in employment in 2021 compared to 2019, while men’s employment will have recovered to 2019 levels”.
Therefore, workforce gender diversity will be key to the post-Covid business recovery. CSCOs remain committed to gender diversity, but new data suggests they will need to double down on goal setting, leadership inclusion and career-pathing for women, especially at senior ranks of the organization.
Maria Villablanca: Alexandra, what are the challenges and biggest misconceptions around women in logistics?
Alexandra Olvera: There's still a lot of pay equity gap. The logistics industry has been male-dominated for quite a long time, and it remains so in many people's perception. Thus, for example, in logistics and transport, women make up only 23% of employees in Europe and Central Asia (4).
In addition, women's role in the family and in some cultures – being a homestay mother, which of course, is "by nature" – is a persistent cultural and sector bias.
However, being 20 years in this industry, I have seen things change. Operational jobs, for instance, have been more accessible to women over the years, and overall, increased flexible working hours have helped attract more women.
Maria Villablanca: Do companies need to embrace something more sustainable regarding diversity initiatives rather than just hiring more women?
Alexandra Olvera: I'm against quotas and more inclined to sustainable diversity initiatives like making sure when hiring, for example, that you have a diverse group to choose from. This is more a diversity and inclusion type of topic at some point than just women. Those types of initiatives would help not only women but all diverse groups to advance.
People in a team are like pieces of a puzzle: all have different sizes and shapes, but when well-placed together and complemented one another, they build something big and great.
The more diverse your team is, the much better and more exciting ideas you have and the more remarkable things you deliver (5). The important thing to remember - everyone has something to learn from.
Maria Villablanca: What do you think is valuable about the logistics industry today and what the industry has to offer women?
Alexandra Olvera: Logistics brings a very diverse number of roles: you can work in a warehouse, in operations, in management… There's a wide range of jobs that you can do. The industry has much more visibility than before, and the quality that customers and the end-customer expect from logistics requires much expertise.
Then, there's also the flexibility for different types of roles that were discovered owing to the COVID crisis: after COVID, everyone realized that in logistics, it is possible to deliver great work while being at home.
Globalization also played a role in the transformation of logistics perception.
If before, the industry was seen as very operational, requiring much physical work, now it turned out there is much planning, analytics… It also opened the eyes of many people and inspired them, "how do things get to my house every day, and where do they come from?" all those questions were answered, and it opened a whole world of new possibilities for both men and women.
Maria Villablanca: What are some of the critical issues that women in the logistics industry will be facing in the next five years? And what advice would you give women in this industry?
Alexandra Olvera: According to a Gartner survey, the percentage of women in middle management has been increasing in the past year (first-line manager & supervisor, senior manager, and director levels) (6). Honestly, it's positive news because we will see these women moving into more significant roles in the future.
Nevertheless, women only occupy 21% of the supply chain's vice president- and senior director-level positions (a dip from 2021). It is not enough, but it is going to change.
Companies are looking for women; they must show that they are increasing the number of women in the workforce. We have to take advantage of that. Keep up the excellent work, and the opportunity will come for everyone.
Women are often much more self-conscious about themselves, which hinders a lot of them from really advancing. If you want to say something, say it because many other people will do it while you're remaining silent. If you don't get yourself noticed, it's tough to move forward. Surround yourself with people who can give you advice and push you to be a little more aggressive and vocal about your ideas.