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Women entering logistics

The field of logistics or supply chain management, has consistently been a male dominated area of expertise for different reasons. There are significant travel implications that come with the career of a logistician as well as the traditional stereotypes that correlate logistics to engineering and other male dominated disciplines. This pattern of gender bias within logistics has left a gap in the ability of organisations to provide the highest standard of service to beneficiaries.

Further challenges

While women experience the barriers to entering the profession, once there, they face other challenges. There are significant cultural and environmental hurdles which put women in a back-seat position to men. In many areas where humanitarian disasters strike it is not acceptable for women to interact with men, or even work outside of the home. These cultural struggles impact how logisticians deliver care to beneficiaries and how they interact with the local population.

A great example of this complex issue comes through in Tabinda Syed’s story from Afghanistan

“We were working in highly conservative and difficult to operate in tribal area on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan. I was the only female in a group of ten or more. I was inexperienced and young but full of enthusiasm and keen to learn and work. … Not many were willing to train a woman and many cultural taboos hindered my interactions at various levels.

“Asking too many questions was not on…I was seen as not belonging and the men felt no justification to treat me as a colleague. However, something that everyone walking in to that office soon noticed was that the place looked clean and highly organised … A proper filing system was introduced; regular reporting became a norm and office decorum improved considerably. Within six months I ended up being the in charge of the Logistics base. It was not a smooth crossing however it proved critical in preparing me for the challenges ahead.”

Gender differences

That statement might seem trivial but there are many instances when the sensitivities that women bring to the table provide a significant impact to overall care. For example, there are situations where male logisticians are handing out one sanitary napkin at a time to women. Not only is this embarrassing for many women but there is also an inconvenience of having to come back over and over again. There are instances where men will be providing undergarments and asking sizes to women who are not even permitted to look men in the eye let alone share private information. Or worse, in that situation, the men will pass out items that will not fit and will not be used.

The examples touch on cultural sensitivities, increased humiliation for beneficiaries, and improper use of donor funds that are observed when gender differences are not considered.

The global population is more female then male and the majority of surviving beneficiaries in humanitarian crisis are women and children. Women are often the primary caregivers for those children. While the recipients of aid are dominated by women and children those that provide it do not share the same diversity of gender.

Supporting women in logistics

To support the development of young women and the humanitarian logistics sector as a whole WISE (women institute for supply chain excellence) was established. WISE is a non-profit organisation dedicated to making a positive impact in the lives of those affected by war and natural disasters globally by broadening the scope of logistics and supply-chain expertise for women and thus a diverse perspective to work in the humanitarian field.

WISE aspires to provide long-term and sustainable support to aid workers; particularly female logisticians enabling them to help women beneficiaries build their lives with dignity. Humanitarian programmes need a diverse workforce to fully comprehend the varying requirements and aspirations of the beneficiaries they serve. WISE accomplishes this by encouraging:

  • Participation and equal opportunity for women
  • Education and Development
  • Establishment of a Mentoring Programme

If you would like more information about the WISE organisation visit their website.

About the Author

  • About Melanie Miller: Melanie Miller is a Manager in Accenture's Supply Chain Management Practice. Melanie has led multiple engagements for Humanitarian organisations, Professional Services clients as well as chemicals and utility clients. The primary focus of these engagements was improving the Supply Chain function through diagnostics, procurement technology implementation, supplier management, logistics strategy, strategic sourcing, and contract management. These engagements covered all phases of the project, from diagnostic through implementation.

Melanie Miller

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