International Women’s Day: Embracing diversity and inclusion in supply chain and transportation

International Women’s Day is an important fixture in the global calendar.

Around the world, it offers the opportunity to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women, while at the same time raising awareness of diversity and inclusion (D&I).

Of course, commemorations are important. However, the spotlight must also be shone on the need to advance progress further, with few events offering a better chance for reflection.

Looking at supply chain, logistics and transportation, steps are being taken in the right direction regarding gender equity. Indeed, growing awareness and organisational campaigns have had a positive impact on the role and presence of women in these sectors – so much so, that Gartner estimates women now make up 41% of the supply chain workforce, with a little over a quarter (26%) of supply chain C-suite roles filled by female leaders.

Statistics such as these show the gap has narrowed significantly. However, other research and studies come to different conclusions and suggest that far more needs to be done. For example, a report published by Heidrick & Struggles International finds that the supply chain function has the lowest share of women in leadership roles at just 13%.

In the case of transport, meanwhile, the imbalance is similarly stark. Indeed, according to the European Commission, currently little over one in five (22%) of transport workers are women.

Leveraging diversity to address the talent gap

While it can be difficult to discern the true size of the gender gap in these sectors, the fact of the matter is that supply chain and transportation remain heavily male-dominated.

Striving to eliminate the gender gap in these areas is undoubtedly the right thing to do. However, it should not be viewed as an obligation, but rather a significant opportunity.

At present, our profession is faced with the issue of mounting skills shortages. In the case of supply chain, a recent survey from MHI revealed that attracting and retaining qualified workers is the leading challenge in the eyes of supply chain executives, cited by 57%.

Increasing female representation will naturally go a long way in helping to resolve this. Simply put, with more people available in the supply chain, logistics and transportation talent pools, more gaps can be filled, regardless of gender.

Consider truck drivers as an example. Across 36 countries, analysis from IRU shows that there are more than three million unfilled truck driver jobs at present – a shortage that’s expected to worsen significantly. Indeed, without the necessary action to attract and retain drivers more effectively, it is anticipated that over seven million truck driver positions could be unfilled by 2028.

At the same time, IRU reveals that just 6% of truck drivers across these same 36 countries are women. With the current three million employment gap representing 7% of total positions, a relatively moderate percentage increase in the prevalence of women in such positions would go a long way in addressing the overall shortage.

The business case for D&I in supply chain

Of course, addressing the gender balance should by no means be pursued in the aim of simply solving skills shortages, or because it is the right thing to do. Equally, there is a significant business case that underlines how enhancing workplace diversity makes strong financial sense.

Here, we outline three of the key business benefits of making a concerted effort towards enhancing D&I strategies.

#1 – Productivity and innovation

Research from both the OECD and MSCI shows that having women in leadership positions can help to boost overall company productivity.

With greater diversity comes a broader range of ideas, perspectives, insights and approaches, which can in turn inspire innovation among team members. Equally, diverse workplaces can help to boost employee motivation and happiness, leading to more productive, creative and engaged workers.

#2 – Greater profitability

It is only natural that productivity and innovation improvements should drive higher profits. In fact, the World Economic Forum’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion report reveals that diverse workforces enjoy 19% more revenue from innovation.

Evidence from McKinsey also shows that gender diversity has a direct impact on the bottom line. Indeed, one report from the organisation highlights that those companies excelling in the field of gender diversity are 25% more likely to experience above-average profitability.

#3 – Attracting and retaining talent

We must also reiterate the fact that diversity is a powerful recruiting tool – something that the supply chain sector is in desperate need of. For example, research from Glassdoor found that 76% of employees and jobseekers view a diverse workforce as important when evaluating companies and job offers.

It’s also vital in retaining key talent. An inclusive workplace culture can help to enhance views on internal opportunities and overall morale, helping to avoid the costly consequences of high employee churn.

Diversity and inclusion are needed now more than ever

Diversity and inclusion strategies will undoubtedly play a key role in shaping the fortunes of the supply chain, logistics and transportation sectors in the coming years.

With these industries set to face stormy seas in relation to talent and technology, firms must consider the ways in which they can attract and sustain a happy workforce to remain stable during periods of significant change.

International Women’s Day, embodying the theme of ‘Inspire Inclusion’ in 2024, serves as a perfect reminder of the role that gender equity and diversity can play in helping organisations to achieve that stability.

Yes, businesses must continue to keep their finger on the pulse of technological change. Yet they must not do so at the expense of their people and talent practices.

The merits are clear. By focusing on attracting and retaining women within key supply chain and transportation positions, existing talent gaps can be bridged alongside the creation of a broader pool of innovation and creativity.