In Praise of Female Initiative

By Jim Davidson

In many ways the logistics industry is the final frontier for women. If they can pilot the space shuttle, they can be captains of industry.

It is with a sense of its pressing importance that I reflect on this issue's theme of women in supply chain management.

My response to the subject comes in the form of a twofold question. At a time when skilled workers are increasingly in short supply, how do we go about attracting qualified personnel into our industry? Specifically, how do we draw more female professionals?

It is no secret that ours is a very competitive industry. Recruiting and retaining people who are highly trained and motivated in the processes of shipping goods globally is a constant challenge - a battle for talent that we don't always win. Given that our industry is male dominated (and with chauvinistic attitudes still prevalent) it is additionally challenging to recruit and retain women.

Often the best man for the job is a woman. Women represent a gold mine of skills and experience - an underdeveloped talent pool - and they need to know how much they are needed and appreciated in the logistics industry.

When it comes to seeking solutions to industry wide (wo)manpower shortages, there is strength in numbers. In June 2006 the Logistics Institute's Board of Directors formally recognized the importance of recruiting and retaining more women in supply chain management. A task force was created to explore options and create opportunities for women employed in the Canadian logistics industry. What better way to attract more women to the industry than to encourage the ones already present?

After much consideration a mission was adopted to create processes and programs to attract, support and retain women in the logistics sector and assist these women in furthering their professional careers. A year of careful planning led to the launch of a national initiative early in May 2007.

By way of background, over six hundred people (predominantly women) gathered in cities across Canada as part of the initial launch. In Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa and Halifax participants shared their knowledge and experiences in networking sessions and facilitated discussion groups. The results of these sessions further led to the development of specific objectives to guide the Women in Logistics (WIL) Initiative. (To learn more about this community dialogue please visit www.womeninlogistics.com and read the Facilitated Feedback Summary.)

The WIL Initiative is all about building capacity for women, thereby creating a more skilled and efficient industry. Guided by the responses of the attendees at the national launch, senior managers can now evaluate their own corporate culture and whether their organizations are truly enabling the advancement of female employees. The following objectives of the WIL Initiative can be considered as realistic guidelines:

There are a number of ways companies can participate in the Women in Logistics Initiative. I suggest you begin by sharing information about the Initiative with everyone within your organization. Let the communication go beyond your immediate reach with a link from your company's website to www.womeninlogistics.com Encourage individuals to participate in WIL events and support their continued professional development through participation in relevant programs. You may be in a position to recommend women within the industry who can be role models, mentors or keynote speakers for future events, as WIL will continually showcase women who are leading the way for others. You may also consider how best to contribute to the future creation and development of WIL programs and to offer financial assistance through event sponsorship.

In many ways the logistics industry is the final frontier for women. If they can pilot the space shuttle, they can be captains of industry. They just need to be given inspiration, a fair chance and the tools to succeed.

A Human Resources consultant (who just happens to be a woman) recently shared with me the statistic that in hiring situations male candidates are still chosen over female candidates 80% of the time. I think this is a reflection of the predominantly male attitude that women are not committed to remaining in the workforce as long as their male counterparts. Seems they are forced to give up career aspirations in favor of child rearing or elder care. There is certainly truth here. Women are the ones who are compelled to better balance work and family issues. All the more reason for the WIL Initiative to be given the mandate to support women in the workplace and hopefully find solutions we're all seeking.

As Chair of the Logistics Institute's Board of Directors I welcome the changes women can bring to our industry. I extend a personal invitation to your company to get more involved in this important initiative. Contact any of us on the Logistics Institute Board of Directors or any of the representatives listed on the WIL website.