Australia’s leading supply chain companies work to break down stereotypes, build diversity and grow their workforce

With a looming talent shortage – where demand for supply chain professionals is expected to outstrip supply by six to one – and essential new skillsets, the nation’s supply chain and logistics networks are facing a period of mega change.

Needing many more staff and many different types of skills, some of Australia’s largest supply chain companies have come together to address the reasons behind a lack of diversity in the fast-growing supply chain and logistics sector.

Dr Hermione Parsons, Industry Professor and Director of Deakin University’s Centre for Supply Chain and Logistics (CSCL), said the sector is typically characterised by an ageing and largely male workforce, and the COVID-19 pandemic has shone a spotlight on the importance of the sector, and new research shows some of the barriers faced by women when it comes to recruitment and retention.

“If you think back six, eight or even 12 months ago, the sector was hardly recognised as important in our society. Now, supply chain is something that the community understands so clearly,” Dr Parsons said.

“The under-representation of women in the supply chain and logistics workforce” report, developed by CSCL, is informed by extensive interviews with more than 100 women in the sector, making it the most comprehensive study of this issue in Australia to date.

The research reveals the sector has an image problem, with stereotypical views of male truck drivers and dirty warehouses that discourages many women from applying, and a boys’ club reputation that typically holds women back in their careers.

“Worryingly, many of the women talked of experiencing some level of intimidation, bullying and discrimination, with some also raising concerns about how cases of sexual harassment were handled within their companies,” Dr Parsons said.

“The difficulty of managing a high-pressure job with long hours, while meeting the demands of family life, also came up either as an immediate concern or as a worry for the future.

“When 50 per cent of the population is ignored, there is a very serious business issue for a rapidly growing sector, but there are also marvellous opportunities for women in the supply chain and logistics world. As one of the interviewees said – ‘talent doesn’t have a gender, a race or an age’.

Belinda Flynn, General Manager, Safety, Health and Sustainability at QUBE and Co-Chair of the “Wayfinder: Supply Chain Careers for Women” initiative, which funded the research, agrees.

“Diversity of thinking and people is now widely recognised as a key success indicator for all businesses,” Ms Flynn said.

“It makes good business sense and is a powerful recruitment tool, especially for millennials – male and female – who look for a strong record on diversity and strong company values when they seek a job.”

As a long-time advocate for women in the supply chain and logistics sector and Co-Chair of Wayfinder, Dr Parsons was especially heartened by the interviewees’ clear passion for their careers in supply chain and logistics.

“They see it as a career with enormous opportunity and a huge range of roles,” Dr Parsons said. “They loved their work. They valued the opportunity to make a difference: ‘I love that I make a difference, that I add value’ – and the enormous variety in their day-to-day role: ‘nothing in my work ever gets old or boring. There’s never a groundhog day’.”

Dr Parsons said the next challenge is converting the 24 practical recommendations outlined in the report into action to achieve real change for the sector, for companies, and for women seeking a career in supply chain.

“From developing the digital Supply Chain Career Map to information packs for schools and universities, to avoiding gender-specific language in job ads and position descriptions, to implementing training programs that address issues of company culture, to encouraging women to connect with groups like Wayfinder and the Supply Chain and Logistics Association of Australia (SCLAA), there are plenty of ways we can begin to improve recruitment and retention of women in this booming sector,” she said.

“The under-representation of women in the supply chain and logistics workforce” report was prepared for the 15 major companies that sponsor the Wayfinder: Supply Chain Careers for Women initiative and Food Innovation Australia Limited (FIAL), a national partner of Wayfinder: Supply Chain Careers for Women.

Dr Mirjana Prica, Managing Director at FIAL, said FIAL was delighted to be able to support the project.

“Establishing a sustainable pipeline of women in supply chain roles will make for more innovative and more effective supply chains, and the more effective our supply chains, the more productive and competitive our Australian food and agribusiness will be,” she said.

The Wayfinder companies are: QUBE, Woolworths, Nestle, ARTC, Toll, Lion, Pacific National, DP World Australia, Coles, Patrick, Coca Cola Amatil, Viva Energy, and Stanley Black and Decker. The Wayfinder National Partner is Australia’s Food and Agribusiness Growth Centre (trading as FIAL) and the Wayfinder associates are Linx Cargo Care Group, VicTrack and NSW Ports.

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