This month marked International Women’s Day, so what better article to write than one for the ladies in logistics?

Women’s Vote Act in 1928; Abortion Act 1967; The Equal Pay Act and Sex Discrimination Act 1975; Parliament’s first female Prime Minister 1979: this is just a handful of pinnacle turning points for women and gender equality throughout history. Gender equality has come a long way, yet there is still more progress to be made. 

Freight is one of the most male-dominated industries in the world. Women in Transport’s findings from Department for Transport (DfT) prove this.

“Women are severely under-represented in the freight sector. The whole industry, including warehousing and office roles, is around 92-94% male. Gender balance among drivers is almost non-existent; the workforce is 99% white male, with an average age of 54.” 

Figures like these in this day and age are surprising. You tend to assume these gender figures would be more evenly weighted on both ends of the see-saw. As a young woman working in the freight and logistics industry myself, I can’t help but notice the shortage of women I come across, especially during freight and logistics events. 

Women in Transport voice that the sector has an estimated driver shortage of 45,000. “It relies to a large extent on EU nationals working in the UK to make up its workforce. Encouraging more women into the logistics sector would help address the driver shortage.” 

Before I worked in this industry, I had no idea what freight was, let alone did it ever occur to me that every item of food, clothes and furniture has most likely been involved in freight at some point. It wasn’t something I ever learned about in school, and it’s highly unlikely I would have every scrolled past a logistics post on Instagram. This has made me question whether young adolescents (or perhaps even genders) are exposed to industries that are outside of the educational curriculum and traditional gender norms. Despite the nature of freight being a 24/7 industry, perhaps the logistics sector hasn’t fully embraced flexible working to the extent that it could have, meaning that it could appeal to a much wider audience, particularly females.

Interested in whether recruitment would hold any significant figures regarding gender and the industry, I asked freight forwarding recruitment manager at Headford Growth USA, Lewis Bunn, whether he had any findings.

Spend half an hour with any of our consultants while they email and call clients and candidates across the UK & US and you’ll see an abundance of male names with the odd female name thrown in.

While I don’t have any official statistics to hand, our database is a fairly accurate representation of the makeup of the market as we make a point of adding to it every freight & logistics professional that we come across. I can see that 36% of the placements Headford made into freight forwarders across the US and the UK in 2018 were female.

I can also see that less than 15% of UK based freight forwarding professionals at Director level or above on our database are female, and it tends to be less the further north you go.

It’s impossible to say why this is and could be down to numerous factors such as industry bias; fewer women staying in the industry long enough to move into more senior roles; fewer women actually wanting to take the helm in such a male dominated industry or any number of other factors. Whatever it is, it doesn’t seem right and it’s certainly far from representative of the general population.

That being said, I can positively say that we have seen, certainly over the past five years, a steady increase of not only female applicants, but also more female applicants making it through to interview stage and ultimately taking positions. There does seem to be a correlation between increasing numbers of women in larger, more corporate forwarders, leaving behind the smaller, family run businesses, but I don’t believe this is a conscious decision by the smaller companies; more a drive by the larger corporations to be more inclusive, and looking to take advantage of the many bonuses that come with more women in business.

With all the above said, the freight and logistics industry seems to be moving in the right direction. Working in logistics can be an attractive industry to dive into as salaries in the industry are higher than in traditionally female dominated sectors, such as hospitality and hairdressing, which could be used to encourage more women to the sector.

Organisations such as Women in Logistics, CILT International and S.H.E. Trucking support and celebrate women in the logistics industry. Whether the role is behind the wheel trucking, freight forwarding or in the back office, the sense of community for women in logistics is definitely something to raise a glass to.

Rachel Jefferies, Editor, FORWARDER magazine