Where are women in logistics? A look at the industry’s gender balance

woman in high vis in warehouse

However much we might hope, the conversation around gender equality in the UK will not be finished any time soon. Women are making substantial progress entering the workforce, with 72.7% of adult women in work. This is an increase from 52.8% in 1971 and is rapidly approaching the 80.1% of adult men in employment.

Many women are still under-employed, with 38% of women in part-time work, compared with 10% of men. We also have significant issues around the gender pay gap, with the average woman earning 40% less than the average man. While the gender pay gap is gradually reducing, this suggests that we have a long way to go.

While it can be helpful to look at the national picture, there is enormous variability between regions of the UK, ethnicities, and age groups. Different industries also have dramatically different gender profiles.

The logistics industry is a prime example of an area that has traditionally been strongly male-dominated. With the current challenges to recruitment within the logistics sector, many employers are keen to explore and recruit this previously under-represented group of workers.

Understanding how many women work in logistics, the barriers they face entering the industry, and how they experience the workplace will be essential to successful logistics recruitment.

Women in logistics

The first step to improving female recruitment in logistics is correctly understanding where we’re starting. There’s a general perception that women are almost entirely absent from the logistics industry, but how accurate is that perception?

Globally, this impression is shockingly accurate. In 2017, only 2% of workers in logistics were female. Thankfully, the picture is a little different in the UK. 19% of workers in transport and storage were female.

Although the UK is doing dramatically better at attracting women into logistics than the global average, this is (obviously) not even close to reflecting that women make up slightly more than 50% of the population. This isn’t an ideal situation, but it offers a considerable opportunity for logistics recruiters to attract female workers.

HGV drivers

Lately, there has been a great deal of enthusiasm over the rising number of female truckers and HGV drivers in the UK. While this is a good sign, it is worth remembering that we are still talking about an incredibly low number. Women currently comprise just 0.7% of qualified HGV drivers across the country. There’s still a long way to go.

Warehouse workers

For those in warehousing, there is a much better gender balance. Although there is still plenty of work to be done, the 34% of female warehouse workers represent a substantial proportion of the workforce.

Leaders

Gender diversity comes with substantial benefits for companies, especially when they have diverse leadership teams. 

Although precise numbers are difficult to find, research from the US suggests that just 11% of logistics and supply chain leaders are female. Even more optimistic estimates of 17% are far below the levels needed for maximum profitability.

How do women experience the logistics industry?

One of the largest barriers to increasing gender diversity lies in the make-up of leadership. The people trying to improve conditions for women are likely to be men. It’s essential to make sure that women’s voices are heard and that logistics companies make the changes their female workers want.

So, what are some of the significant concerns and experiences of the women currently working in logistics?

Awareness of stigma

The women who have already chosen to work in logistics typically don’t feel a strong sense of stigma around their work, but they are aware that they’ve taken an ‘unusual’ path. They recognise that it’s unlikely that substantial numbers of women will follow in their footsteps without significant change.

Scarcity of opportunity

For those women who have chosen to work in logistics, the scarcity of significant development opportunities is a genuine concern. While many are happy with the roles they are currently performing, it’s also important to know that there is somewhere they can go when they’re ready to move on. If those opportunities don’t exist within the industry, they will eventually need to look elsewhere — taking their skills and experience with them.

Satisfaction and confidence

Women working in logistics report that they feel strong and empowered by their career choice. Just like the men they work alongside, they thrive on the combination of physical exertion, planning, problem-solving, communication, and adaptability that their roles require.

Concern around facilities

There is a growing recognition across the industry that facilities for logistics workers, particularly those involved in long-distance road haulage, are profoundly inadequate. The facilities for women are even more concerning.

The national discussion about the shortage of HGV drivers across the country gave the general public a better understanding of the challenges logistics workers face in terms of long hours, poor hygiene facilities, and a lack of safe places to spend the night.

There are particular concerns around toilet facilities and safe parking for women in logistics spending the night in their vehicles. Female workers, in particular, are keen to see facilities in the UK upgraded urgently. 

The growing availability of equipment

Some women working in logistics want to be seen as ‘just one of the boys’. For others, it’s essential to keep their femininity front and centre. Whichever camp a particular employee falls into, they benefit from an increasing range of equipment suited to their needs.

For many years, women in logistics have had to choose between ill-fitting equipment aimed at male workers or ‘female’ equipment modified according to the “shrink it and pink it” principle. As the proportion of female workers in more physical industries increases, more and more PPE explicitly designed for women’s needs is available.

The availability of well-fitting equipment is still patchy, but there has been significant movement in the right direction. 

Overcoming stereotypes

Women working in logistics often have to overcome stereotypes on two fronts. Outside of the workplace or their direct team members, they actively challenge people’s stereotypes of how  HGV drivers or warehouse workers look. Within the workplace, they are challenging stereotypical expectations of women’s abilities.

The women currently working in logistics are mostly willing to shoulder this burden — but for how long? Being the drivers of change can be exhausting, and we can’t expect them to carry the weight of changing our whole industry. As employers and recruiters, we need to step up and help.

Incredible teams

However, one of the biggest take-aways from investigating how women in logistics view their industry is immensely positive. Far from feeling isolated, women in the logistics sector almost universally praise their workplace’s support, teamwork, and camaraderie. They may be helping to overcome gender stereotypes at work, but they typically feel respected by the men they work alongside.

There are significant practical and cultural changes needed if the logistics industry will recruit substantial numbers of women to work in this challenging sector. However, we are learning from our current trailblazers that we should preserve many existing, positive cultures.

What can recruiters do to close the gender gap in logistics?

If we are going to attract more female workers into the logistics industry and close the gender gap, the sector will have to pull together.

We will have to make concerted efforts to improve facilities across the country to keep all of our workers healthy and safe, especially women.

We will have to demand PPE and equipment specifically designed for women’s bodies to ensure that we are providing the kind of protection they need. The availability of this equipment will only increase if we demand it.

While these practical steps, and more, are essential to creating an excellent workplace for our female colleagues, recruiters are also vital to driving change. Here are some of the key steps recruiters can take to close the gender gap in logistics.

Engage in outreach aimed at women

The logistics industry is rarely an obvious choice for young women preparing to enter the world of work. As recruiters, we need to engage in focused outreach to ensure more women consider working in the logistics sector.

This might mean working with schools, colleges, and even universities to give young women the chance to ask questions about logistics and the kinds of careers available.

Focus on women with related skills

While much of the focus will be on recruiting young women into the industry, it’s important to consider potential workers with related skills.

As recruiters, we must consider what we want our new staff to achieve and who might already have experiences or abilities that will enable them to excel. Women who are leaving the military, for example, may have training and skills that will translate well into logistics.

Address your gender pay gap

Women want to be paid the same as their male counterparts, and rightly so. If you have two people in comparable positions, their pay must be broadly aligned, regardless of gender.

Paying your male and female workers the same goes a long way towards convincing women they will be valued and respected in the workplace. Being transparent about your pay scales and gender pay gap will further increase their confidence and comfort.

Address your gender gap across the board… literally

Young women who are ready to start their careers want to know that they will have the opportunity to shine. They want to be sure that their skills and abilities will be rewarded. If they can’t see any women in high-ranking positions, they will assume (possibly correctly) that their success will be limited.

Rather than focusing exclusively on lower-level positions, consider the gender balance of your board members. If you have an all-male board, this is likely to cost you profit and recruits. Increasing diversity in your senior team will often speed up changes throughout the company.

Work with gender-inclusive partners

There are some great organisations for companies dedicated to improving their gender gap. Consider teaming up with Women in Transport or CILT’s Women in Logistics & Transport project.

Not only do these projects and organisations actively help you make progress, but they also give a clear sign to potential recruits that you are serious about making your workplace an inclusive space for women.

Think about your marketing

If you want to attract more women into your organisation, you need to market to women. Ensure that you include pictures of women (and people of colour, etc.) in your promotional materials and not just those aimed at recruitment. Potential new hires will look at your website and materials prepared for potential customers, so keep recruitment in mind across your branding.

Logistics is so much more than moving goods and lifting boxes. Showcase the skills you are looking for, and help women see themselves fulfilling those needs.

The logistics industry is facing a difficult time, and recruiting more women will help ease the skills shortage and allow companies to thrive. Closing the gender gap is an opportunity. Can you afford to miss it?

Get in touch with the crooton team to learn more about changing your logistics recruitment strategy. 

And to read more about the shortage of HGV drivers, the impact of Brexit on the logistics industry, and how to reduce bias when you’re ready to interview female logistics candidates, head to our blog.