As part of International Women’s Day 2022, Shelley Harris, commercial director at pallet pool provider IPP, shares her experiences of the logistics industry and how she has forged a successful career in the sector
Having worked at IPP for over ten years and progressing from manager to director, it’s only upon reflection that I can see how far the industry has come in terms of representation. Yet, helping more women reach leadership positions still needs to be a priority.
While the logistics sector is not as male-dominated as it once was, in fact 39% of women now occupy a full-time supply chain role, according to Gartner statistics, there is progress still to be made. This imbalance in representation isn’t limited to just one sector either, with just 27% of director job positions at FTSE250 companies held by women.
Despite this disparity, I’ve always understood the importance of both self-confidence and a go-getting attitude, a mindset that has helped to establish the position I now occupy within IPP. Of course, bias and inequality are hurdles that many women often still face, which is why as individuals and businesses we need to help drive the same choices, freedoms and benefits for all.
The link between transparency and opportunity
Working for IPP, where just over half of the total workforce are women, it is both encouraging and rewarding to be helping bridge the gender gap in our industry. Our business is part of the Faber Group, which is strategically led by our female CEO, Ingrid Faber.
When I moved to IPP in 2011, I came with a developed corporate global transport understanding and specific knowledge on pallet provision. I had worked across many supply chains and encountered all different types of people and skillsets. My merit was based on my experience and skill – not my gender – and I was given an opportunity by IPP to help develop new ideas when the business was still in its infancy.
Together, with our teams, we introduced robust processes to support our customers and business growth, while positioning IPP as a sustainable option within the supply chain. Today, as a pallet pooling business, we help to increase the recyclable and circular nature of our pallets, whilst the timber we use is both sustainable and certified by industry bodies such as the Forest Stewardship Council and Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification. At all stages in these processes, this has involved developing corporate relationships with manufacturers, retailers and suppliers, ensuring they are on-board with our green vision for the sector, whilst delivering innovative new solutions for the supply chain that positively impact our environment.
Maximising supply chain efficiency
I have worked with so many ambitious and creative women during my time at IPP – thanks to my varied role, which includes new business development, customer retention, relationship management, supply chain optimisation and sales management. Throughout this time, I have learnt just how important a sense of collaboration is – a practise which has enabled IPP to form partnerships with some of the largest FMCG brands in operation today, as well as our skilled partners who work tirelessly throughout the supply chain to bring products to market.
The key thing to remember with logistics is that changes in society impacts the work we do. Our workforce needs to reflect the diverse and different perspectives of a modern world. Some of the most significant changes during the last two decades, such as technology improving supply chain asset visibility, and an increased focus on sustainable business operations, could not have been achieved without diversity and collaboration.
More than ever before, consumers are interested in where their products come from and the route they take. My job has evolved because of this and maintaining relationships with cost conscious businesses is an everyday challenge. It is no longer only straightforward one-way deliveries that need to be organised, it’s complex systems that squeeze out all potential collaboration and efficiency gains.
A change for the future
It’s long overdue, but attitudes towards the logistics sector have started to change. The integration of technology through the Internet of Things (IoT), introducing serialised assets and developing systems to improve our service offerings have been helped by wider collaboration. Additionally, the pandemic shone a light on the essential work carried out by supply chains, especially in the FMCG industry. This has helped to introduce more people to the sector and will hopefully increase interest among young people in the future.
Logistics is less likely to carry the unrepresentative image of male delivery drivers that led many to misunderstand the huge number of different roles available. Sustainability, policy management, operations, supplier relations – these are all huge categories within the logistics trade, each with its own unique skill set that can benefit people from all backgrounds, genders and cultures. Hiring too, should always be based on attitude and ability rather than gender.
For the logistics sector to grow and increase innovation, it’s essential that we continue to attract women not just in leadership roles, but across all levels. While we are proud of the diversity at IPP, as a business we realise the responsibility we have within the sector and aim to influence our peers to pursue the same level of inclusion.