Diversity of thinking is the future of our workplace
This piece was originally published in SHD Logistics magazine.
The logistics industry is changing fast. New technology, shifting customer expectations, and innovative business models are combining to bring fresh challenges and huge opportunities for the sector. One area where our industry has been slower to evolve, however, is in the make-up of our teams and boardrooms.
Barely a quarter of the 1.5 million people working in the logistics industry are female, according to the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES), while BAME [Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic] representation is also lower than it should be. The picture has definitely improved since I stepped into my first role more than a decade ago, but we still have a long way to go, and it’s an issue that companies in this sector should place high on their agendas. From my own experience, I’ve learned that the potential reward for diversity is not just a more balanced workforce. With diversity of people comes diversity of thinking and this undoubtedly leads to better results for any business.
There have been a number of prominent studies that have shown that companies with more female leaders – including board members, managers and supervisors – see improved performance. In 2009, one report titled Women in Supply Chain, found that firms with a higher number of women in prominent leadership roles saw greater productivity, safety standards and financial returns. Supporting this argument, the PWC Transportation Report noted significantly better results from businesses in the sector with the greatest number of female directors, versus those with the least.
Diversity of thinking has not always been easy to come by in logistics, especially when it comes to gender. One of the biggest challenges for the sector has been attracting women into roles. This is largely down to the traditional stereotype of logistics as heavy lifting and driving vehicles across the country. However, advances in technology and changing practises have made the sector far more accessible to all. Modern logistics has also evolved to encompass a wider range of roles, from business development to customer facing positions.
We are seeing the impact of these changes with a gradual shift in the make-up of the industry, but if we are to really balance the scales and benefit from the diversity of thinking that this will bring, then we need businesses to showcase and celebrate the diversity that they do have. I know that as a woman who often found herself in male-dominated work environments when I was starting out at Leidos, it was hugely important for me to have visible female role models to look up to and learn from.
Business in our sector must also promote career and training opportunities to the widest possible pool of talent. A huge part of this must be through education; creating and driving awareness of opportunities in the logistics sector for people of all ages and backgrounds. Businesses should invest in training programmes – such as graduate schemes and military veteran programmes to help individuals starting off in the industry develop skills and expertise.
We strongly value diversity here at Leidos and have set out ambitious targets over the last few years to improve this across the business, which has paid dividends on several projects already. This philosophy was at the heart of our preparation for a bid to the Ministry of Defence’s (MoD) LCST contract, where the nature of the project required us to build a team based on a variety of different skillsets.
This was led by my mentor, Barbara Doornink, a former 1-star U.S. Army General. Over the course of the project we began to realise more and more that this formed a room of individuals with different knowledge bases, perspectives to problem-solving and strategy, and creative ideas. This collaborative team – working together for over a year and a half – launched an impressive bid which won the £13 billion contract and, ultimately, proved how effective a diverse approach can be to succeed in business.
To stay competitive and relevant, organisations must constantly self-examine, grow, and evolve. The LCST approach has given us the blueprint for diversity of thinking and I believe it is an approach all businesses can apply.