Where are all the women? Warehouse management needs you

The news that UKWA (United Kingdom Warehousing Association) has appointed a new female Board Chair, Nicola Ridges-Jones, who understands the contribution the supply chain and logistics industry makes to online business, represents a huge win on many levels. 

It sends a very powerful message to young people everywhere but especially to women, highlighting the career potential of the industry and its many opportunities. 

Gone are the days when the warehouse was a cost centre managed by an ex-army officer. At that time, warehousing and logistics wasn’t actively regarded as a career choice or profession. It was something you ‘fell into’ whereas now it’s recognised as a strategic business function. The trouble is, that’s not widely understood yet and especially among women.

Nicola Ridges-Jones summed the situation up perfectly when she commented: “Logistics and warehousing represent the new face of retail as consumers purchase more goods online…going forward, we’re going to need more warehousing and more people, but we’re going to have to think in a different way, taking into consideration environmental factors, shopping trends and digital developments. These are very exciting times….”

Indeed they are. In 2017, e-retail commerce sales worldwide amounted to $2.3 trillion and e-retail revenues are projected to grow to $4.88 trillion by 2021 (Statista). This is just B2C. B2B ecommerce is a $23.9 trillion market, almost six times larger than B2C ecommerce and getting the right goods to the consumer, at the right time, for the right price, remains a top challenge and growth inhibitor. 

New research from Accenture into 1,350 companies corroborates this, finding that 75% of companies are missing out on growth opportunities because their supply chain is not optimised. It found that just 22% of companies are shifting their supply chain strategy "from driving cost efficiencies to powering growth opportunities and achieving competitive agility.”

The global supply chain industry is facing a growing skills shortage to recruit the workers it needs to achieve the strategic growth opportunities outlined by Accenture. One solution is to recruit far greater numbers of women into professional supply chain managerial and director level roles. Currently there are 78,000 women working as managers and directors in the supply chain globally compared with 412,000 men, according to Accenture.

That’s just 16% of the total. So why aren’t more people (and especially women) thinking about a career in supply chain? The trouble with the industry is its legacy stigma and the belief that it’s not a real profession.  Women are primarily working at lower levels in warehouses, on picking lines or in packing, but they don’t seem to be rising up in their organisations.  Too few have senior management or leadership positions and the graph from Gartner illustrates this.

Why aren’t there more women in logistics?

As a software company, Indigo employs well over the industry average number of women compared to the national average in the software development sector of 25 per cent. Clearly there is more to do, but we are proud of our company’s commitment to gender diversity, particularly within the supply chain consulting division, where 50% of our highly experienced supply chain consultants are female and have specialist university degrees. 

We are doing our bit, but how can the industry as a whole attract more female talent? The STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) sector has worked hard to raise its profile as an exciting professional pathway and engineering in particular is attracting high levels of outstanding female graduates. Now the supply chain sector needs to do the same. 

Having role models like Nicola Ridges Jones, Hilary Devey CBE, access to networking groups like the CILT’s (Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport) Women in Logistics and specialist degree courses at undergraduate and postgraduate level, will have a big impact. Companies in the sector can also play their part, providing career advice and work experience opportunities. Sixth forms and schools also have a part to play, by forging links with industry. In the past Indigo has offered week long coding workshops for school children to introduce them to software development careers during the holidays. 

By including modules on supply chain management within business related degree courses, graduates can begin to appreciate what an interesting career the industry offers and the often highly complex challenges to be solved. Some sectors are already attracting a higher proportion of women – food, fashion and homewares – being the obvious examples, but other verticals have just as many opportunities. 

In the many years of implementing warehouse management systems (WMS) software, there have been very few women involved with client-side software implementation projects in a decision-making role within warehousing, logistics or transport.  Although there has been female representation from IT, Finance, Purchasing, Manufacturing, and particularly good representation in the apparel sector, the proportions in other sectors are very low. Indigo’s own experience is corroborated by this research published by Gartner, as shown below, which highlights how few women are in working in the sector as a whole and numbers entering the industry are also relatively static. 

Women have such a lot to contribute to the supply chain sector, with so many soft skills that make them ideally suited to working in warehouse management - a profession that requires high attention to detail and excellent communicators. They are good at multi-tasking, innovative and creative, natural organisers and they tend to be very pragmatic about problem solving – all essential skills. 

The whole industry needs to be working harder to remove the stigma of working in a warehouse and educate young people – whether they are male or female - that it is a rewarding and challenging profession that’s full of opportunities. 

Authors

Catherine Thornley, Jacky Farrington, Diane Wilson and Emmy-Lou Catli are all Indigo Software warehousing and logistics professionals and have made a career of working in the supply chain industry, with over 60 years of experience in the supply chain industry between them.

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