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INTERVIEW Matches Caroline Whitley: “We need to create space for everyone”


The vital role women play in the retail supply chain will be a key discussion at this year’s DeliveryX World, with speakers from Matches, Charlotte Tilbury, Asda and Lego joining the must see panel.

Ahead of this packed session, held on 12 October 2023 in London’s Bishopgate, Caroline Whitley, fulfilment director of Matches sat down with DeliveryX to share her experiences.

Q: Have you witnessed the role of women in the retail supply chain evolve? But also is there more work to be done?
I have seen a big change since I started in logistics in 2008. On my first day I was given a tour of the warehouse, shown inbound and returns but not dispatch – because that was ‘a man’s world’. That genuinely happened! About 10 years later, I was managing the opening of a warehouse in Europe and there was a topless calendar up in the middle of the admin area. Luckily as the customer I could ask for it to be removed, but how many females working there had to just suck it up!

We have definitely progressed and preconceptions and assumptions are a bit less in your face but they are still there.

It also depends who you’re comparing that to, because in my view, and naturally having a higher population of women in the workforce, I would say retail is streets ahead. I imagine in other industries there is still a mountain to climb.

Q: What can women in this industry do to shape the sector as a whole, make it more inviting?
In a previous place of work I had an amazing female boss, Sarah Booth, now logistics director UK&I at Martin Brower. She had very high expectations but was a fierce advocate for her team and pushed me to be better in many ways. I had a challenging health issue and her support during that time was life changing, I learned so much from her approach, she put me first. I believe that you should strive to be the manager you wish you had.

We need to create a space where there’s room for everyone’s whole self, I want to work in and encourage an environment where we know what your kid/cat/partner is called and what makes you happy.

Earlier in my career, I was reticent to talk about my daughter, or just generally anything that made me human, because I didn’t want any assumptions made about how far I could progress or how competent I was going to be.

It’s horrible to think people could still feel like that. Someone’s unique circumstances influence how you can support them, that is not just for encouraging women to succeed, it is for everyone.

Q: Has the hybrid working model, working from home, more flexibility been beneficial to women in these roles?
I would say in Logistics, we have been working from different locations, customer bases and on trains for many years so it was less of a transition but certainly in retail it has absolutely propelled us forward in facilitating the technology and the normalcy of working outside of the office. In accepting people’s circumstances and enabling them to be more flexible and honour their other commitments it has affected women disproportionately for the better.

It evened the playing field generally, for men with parental responsibilities, people going through big life events, anyone that’s caring for a parent or whatever the circumstances are. You just have more choice and more autonomy about when and how you work.

I do think it did bring about some negative elements, I think the perception that people are just immediately available to answer questions has never really diminished post lockdown and I think there are elements of any job that benefit from collaboration.

As an industry we also have to be cognisant of people working in stores and DC’s and looking after customers and ensure that flexible approach flows through wherever it’s practical. Hopefully it will naturally mean that we do have a more diverse workforce because we’re not excluding anyone.

Registration for the Creating A Benchmark – Women In Supply Chain panel, and all sessions, is available now here.

You can also see the full programme which includes the likes of Mattel, JustEat, Boden, Joseph Joseph and Mars.

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