Research referenced in the 2009 Women in Supply Chain report demonstrates that improving the proportion of women leads to higher financial returns for logistics companies. This insight was supported by the PWC Transportation & Logistics 2030 report, which stated that companies with the most women board directors outperformed those with the least by 16% in return on sales, and by 26% in return on invested capital.
These studies make a compelling business case for gender diversity and inclusion, which in previous decades has been largely ignored and under-appreciated among the higher echelons of business leadership.
The transport and logistics industry is typically described as a ‘non-traditional’ employment pathway for women. This prevailing view, documented in the 2015 South Australian Freight Council (SAFC) report, is supported by a perception that because the majority of employees in this industry are men, most work in this industry is stereotypically ‘masculine.’
Moreover, in the transport and logistics industry, women are predominately employed in support functions and occupy managerial roles in the areas of finance, information technology, communications, human resources, business development, procurement, and quality and risk management.
Men, on the other hand, are predominantly employed in the technical, operational and ‘physical’ roles.
Encouragingly, several market developments are creating viable opportunities to include women in ‘non-traditional’ roles in the local and global industry. These include advances in technology such as automatic gearboxes and hydraulic lifting equipment, the retirement of existing workers, increasing levels of education and improved technical training among new entrants in the workforce.
Barriers to inclusion
As it stands, the number of women in the transport and logistics industry remains low. According to the PWC Transportation & Logistics 2030 global report, the number of women participating in the industry is as low as 20% to 30%. In addition, fewer than 10% of employees in management positions are women.
Another major hurdle to consider is that within road transportation, there is a dearth of skilled drivers. This shortage is amplified when it comes to female drivers, who are even harder to find due to historical biases and the often-unfavourable working conditions including time away from family, safety issues in long-haul routes, sleeping alone in the truck at night at rest stops with no security, and sometimes having to load and offload goods from trucks.
There are other practical reasons why it remains difficult for women to be employed in the industry beyond road transportation. For one, some training and accommodation facilities are not designed to accommodate women. In addition, the safety of women (and all employees) travelling across long distances cannot be guaranteed in any circumstances, despite the preventative measures that companies put in place.
Furthermore, the existing opportunities for more women to work in the industry are often thwarted by the attitudes and behaviours of many men who maintain unfair gender discrimination practices in the workplace. These practices perpetuate barriers to entry for women.
The importance of workplace culture cannot be overemphasised. A KPMG Women’s Leadership Study states that today’s most successful enterprises are those that bring diverse perspectives and experiences to each new challenge, and that along with being the right thing to do, diversity and inclusion lead to strategic advantage.
It is therefore critical to foster a workplace culture whereby constructive dialogue about the importance and benefits of diversity and inclusion can take place between men and women. In our view, changes in culture require strong leadership and a clearly articulated strategy that is supported by commitment and demonstrable action. Simply employing more women in the industry is not enough – cultural and structural barriers must be removed.
Therefore the Barloworld Group has implemented several initiatives to attract, train, mentor and coach and employ women in transport and logistics. “For example, we have established a professional driver learnership for 40 women within Barloworld Transport, a business unit of Barloworld Logistics. The programme supports 45 women who are currently completing the National Certificate in Professional Driving. The participants come from all walks of life – most of them were unemployed, many had never driven a vehicle before,” says Shirley Duma,Director: Human Resources, Barloworld Logistics.
To date, 18 participants now have a Code 14 licence, while others are able to successfully manoeuvre and reverse a truck around the yard, with some already starting on-road training. Notably, Barloworld Transport has also been successful in recruiting and employing female crane operators.
The road ahead
Developments in technology, shifting demographic patterns and customer requirements play an important role, whereby the industry can actively leverage emerging opportunities to attract and employ women.
To be clear, paving the road ahead for women in transport and logistics comes loaded with challenges and opportunities. Indeed, transforming the image of the industry, gender stereotypes and unfair workplace practices is not an easy task. However, with strong leadership commitment and action, it is possible to gradually remove barriers that prevent the broader participation of women in the industry.
“Looking forward, the inclusion of women in the transport and logistics industry is not only a business imperative, but is increasingly part of a global push to promote inclusive and sustainable economic development,” Shirley concludes.