This is a topic very close to my heart. As a female in two very male dominated industries – supply chain/logistics AND recruitment, I feel very passionately about flying the flag for women in my profession.

I have seen many articles and conversations about the subject of the glass ceiling in logistics for the female gender and the over-all conclusion appears that many women feel that there IS a glass ceiling and much less opportunity to progress within their chosen profession than their male counterparts.

After interviewing only my 3rd female, senior level supply chain professional since the New Year, I decided to really give this situation some thought to try to understand WHY there are many fewer females in Head Of or Director level roles in supply chain and logistics.

Traditional Logistics – Up until fairly recently there were certain industries / vocations that were considered either man’s work or women’s work. The stereotype twenty years ago that girls want to grow up to be Nurses and boys to work as Engineers is now very outdated to most, but it’s legacy does still live on in some businesses. Logistics definitely comes under the former stereotype of being a “man’s job” and still to this day this view point can be found in the culture of some warehouse operations. Granted, the page 3 girls plastered on the walls may have disappeared for the main. But, I have witnessed on occasion women with more talent being overlooked for opportunities, with an extreme case where I was asked by one company owner how old the woman was as he was concerned she was going to go and have children in the next 12 months and he would have to pay maternity!! I did try my best to handle my response to that in a professional manner but I confess that the air turned blue when I got in my car to go back to the office!

Numbers game – Possibly due to the lingering perception of point one, it is a fact that far fewer women than men enter into a profession in Logistics and Supply Chain in the first place. Obviously then, it stands to reason that if the ratio of men to women in entry level positions is heavily-weighted to the male of the species, that as you move up the career ladder this ratio will still apply.
Biology – I preface this by saying that I am possibly the biggest feminist I know (to the chagrin of my other half sometimes) but I am also pragmatic and, having had 2 kids myself, do believe that for most women having kids brings with it a reassessment of what is important and a need to have a work / life balance. I have a number of male counterparts who I worked with earlier in my career who reached Director level before me – not because they were better than me, but because they hadn’t taken 2 years out to have a family. Yes there are some families where the woman goes out to work and the stay at home parent is the Dad, but on the whole it is the Mother who puts her career to one side in order to raise a family. There is nothing wrong with that but it does play a part as to why there are less women at senior level in any industry, not just supply chain and logistics.

Lack of applications – As much as I believe that there is a tangible element of sexism still occurring in our industry, I do also think there is some culpability on behalf of the women in logistics and supply chain. To put that into context – I advertise all of my roles on various platforms, including groups for women in the supply chain and logistics sphere. I see many conversations on these sites regarding the frustrations felt by women who believe they are being over looked for promotion or missed out on a new job, but that has to be tempered with the fact that out of the 40 or so jobs I posted in one year, I received 4 applications. Indeed, when I advertise on ANY platform, the ratio of male to female applicants can be as much as 40:1. Now I appreciate that part of this is down to point 2 above, however I also feel there is much more inertia on the part of women to push their careers forward. To my mind there are (broadly speaking) 2 main reasons for this. The first reasons harks back to the “traditional logistics” stereotype. I feel that some women believe that it is not worth applying for roles as they think it would be a pointless exercise and their application would be overlooked if there is someone with very similar experience and skills also applying and who also happens to be male. (Not a view I agree with particularly but I have heard of this happening). Secondly, it has become apparent to me that men and women view a job description in very different ways. A man will look at a job specification and highlight all the things he CAN do, and apply for the role on the basis that he may tick 70% of the boxes. A woman will look at the same job description and look at all the things they CANNOT do and NOT apply because they don’t tick 30% of the boxes. Now this I know comes across as a sweeping generalisation – something I am always very wary of, but I personally cannot come up with any other explanation as to the lack of applications I get from women and I know you are out there as we are connected on LinkedIn! Your thoughts on this would be welcome!

So, these are the main reasons why I feel there may be restrictions in place to women achieving the upper echelons in business. So, more importantly, what can we do about it?

Improve the talent pipeline – We need to get more women into logistics. We need to raise awareness to young talent at college / university as to what an amazing career in logistics and supply chain can be. If more females take entry level roles, it stands to reason that there will be more females climbing the career ladder. Secondly, equalling out the gender ratios can only help eradicate any sexism still lingering in the industry, which again will assist in creating equality in promotion.

Help to Stamp Out Sexism – I do appreciate that sexism in the workplace is a rare occurrence these days and most professionals of both sexes are accepting, progressive individuals who judge people on their skills and experience, not their gender, however sexism DOES still exist. I have experienced first-hand and I know my experiences are not unique. It can feel like a scary thing to do to stand up to those who display sexist behaviour but there are procedures in place and help available to assist anyone experiencing this type of discrimination. At the risk of sounding like a self-help guru, if you don’t bring it to the attention of those who can do something about it, it will never get better, not just for you but for your successors.

Positive Mental Attitude – Cheesy maybe, but true! A lot of what you achieve is down to your mind-set. This probably applies more to us ladies who are in male-dominant environment because we have to feel confident in our ability to push ourselves to move forward in what can sometimes feel like a hostile environment because of our minority status. I welcome any application from people of any colour, race, religion or gender and if there are question marks around your suitability for an opportunity, this is something I will be happy to discuss with you and either put to bed any fears OR suggest alternative roles and solutions to assist you in your job search. Thing is though, unless you put yourself in the race you have no chance of winning so if you do want that next step – get in touch!

This is one in a series of blogs designed to raise the profile of recruitment and make all parties involved in a recruitment process stop and think about how they can improve it. To read others in the series please visit our website