A recent RetailX roundtable discussion, sponsored by Bis Henderson Recruitment, focused on diversity in the supply chain.
Event attendees included representatives from retailers Harrods, B&Q, the Post Office and RS Components, as well as logistics companies Carousel Logistics, Hoyer and AEB. Several worked in HR or in the diversity teams in their organisations.
Chaired by RetailX CEO Ian Jindal, the event discussed how more under-represented groups in logistics, particularly women, could be brought into the industry and recruited for senior leadership positions.
The session began by looking at how women are under-represented in logistics – Gartner data indicates that women represent only 14% of high-level executives within the supply chain. This is despite the advantages of having more mixed gender ratios – according to Catalyst, Fortune 500 companies with more women achieve higher returns on equity.
This statement drew out the first comment of the roundtable - one attendee argued that it needed to be made clear that hiring more women was not simply a moral imperative but also a business one.
The discussion moved onto why this might be, with culture coming up as a major issue. One attendee shared the personal story of attending a conference. She was having a conversation with a male colleague, when another male executive came up and asked the colleague whether he had hired a new secretary.
Attitudes like this could be contributing to an overall lack of interest in the sector amongst women. As one participant pointed out, these problems extend into hiring processes, as ultimately hiring comes down to an interview and the interview panel may be dominated by men who may have a particular idea of the candidate they want to hire in mind.
Some of the industry responses amount to band-aid solutions. One participant highlighted another problem with current recruitment practices: how many logistics companies looking to change their gender ratios simply target, or poach, talented staff at competitors for hiring. This approach tends to simply shift problems elsewhere and doesn’t address the overall imbalance within the industry.
Another participant highlighted how outsourcing could disguise problems; an organisation might have a small head office with a relatively diverse team but then contract a large part of its work out, meaning the own organisation may look good on paper but the outsourced organisations where most of the work takes place may not be sustainable.
The discussion moved onto ways of remedying the problem. On the interview point, two attendees said that if a team had no women on it, women should be brought in from different areas of the business to provide a female perspective.
Some attendees who were themselves female executives in the supply chain were critical of the idea of positive discrimination, arguing that this would be demeaning to the women who were hired. However, one participant, who headed up diversity at her organisation, said that if a shortlist of job candidates was submitted to her by HR without featuring a woman she sent it back.
This brought the discussion onto solving perhaps the biggest problem: women not wanting to work in logistics. As several attendees said, sometimes there simply isn’t any interest from women in the sector. Solving this challenge was paired with making the path attractive to young people.
A participant said that there needed to be a clearer pitch on where this career could take people and an indication that it would be future-proofed against technological changes.
Sharing stories about their own experience, several attendees mentioned the importance of strong mentorship, both in providing a strong example and in offering day-to-day guidance. They said they wished to carry that on themselves, as such mentoring would be vital
However, one participant cautioned that interventions need to be made earlier: to ensure there is a pipeline of women applying to get into logistics, they need to be encouraged to get into STEM subjects at school and university.