The materials handling industry is changing. With a wide variety of career opportunities open to anyone with the right qualifications and attitude, companies in the sector are working hard to address the historical gender imbalance.
And although the strides might be small, things are surely moving in the right direction for the materials handling industry. In the 2 years between 2016 and 2018, women in CSCO/EVP/SVP and CPO positions grew by 7%, and women in supply chain workforces by 2%.
Why is this important? Materials handling is a vital part of business success, and managing it well brings improved efficiencies, increased productivity and a positive difference to both the reputation and the bottom line. And that’s something that anyone with the right training can do – men and women.
So it’s not surprising that businesses and industry organisations are making a concerted effort to let women know about the opportunities in materials handling, and it’s great to see increasing numbers of women joining and succeeding in the industry – in every discipline from equipment sales to project management; supply chain management to warehouse logistics.
Hear from the experts
We wanted to share some stories with you, so we spoke to three women working with us right now. Find out how they got into the industry and what advice they’d give to women thinking about a career in materials handling today.
Bridget Westra, Manager Customer Relations
“I worked for an earth moving company and when they closed down in Almere (The Netherlands), there was a golden opportunity to work for Cat Lift Trucks. I felt, with my experience with earth moving, I would fit well into the forklift business.
There were challenges – at the beginning, in the industry, it feels like you are not taken seriously because of the stereotypes labelled to women; it seems you need to prove yourself before they have confidence in you (the impression is given “it’s a man’s world”). But materials handling, especially nowadays is a very diverse, interesting and exciting business. It is also a very competitive industry, which keeps you on your toes pushing a continuous development of products and services that make a difference for so many people every day.
Imagine the world without logistics! When I go to the supermarket for example and I see so many products in the shelves, I like to think that I am contributing a little bit to delivering those goods.”
When we ask Bridget if she has any advice for a woman considering a career in the industry, she says “do not hesitate, take the plunge and be very confident as you will find it well worthwhile”.
Hannie van Schaik, Sales Operations Manager
Our colleague Hannie already had experience of working in an industry typically regarded as a man’s world.
She said: “I had sold my share of an indoor kart track I had started up and started a career with Cat Lift Trucks in the Treasury department. So the materials handling industry was not a conscious decision as such, more of a natural progression.
I don’t want to generalise, but I have not had any particular challenges since I joined the industry. I like driving lift trucks and the warehouse range. I think that if you are a woman and you want to work in this industry, you should go for it and make sure you bring a great sense of humour.
My general point of view is that the best person should do the job, regardless of the gender. I do notice a predominantly male culture in higher management levels. It should be easy to involve more women and use each other’s qualities to strengthen the company. Product and technical knowledge areas are also mostly men. One option to improve things may be to work more closely with the schools to promote this industry to girls (but other genders not to be excluded), including apprenticeships.”
Monica Escutia, Manager Corporate and Marketing Communications
In a different department, Monica explains how she got into materials handling: “When I moved to The Netherlands, I got a job as a forklift parts representative. It had nothing to do with my journalistic background but it was a great challenge to get outside my comfort zone in many ways: language, culture and industry. When the opportunity came to go back to my roots as a communicator, I did not think it twice. I brought my 4-year experience in the forklifts industry to my new position in the Marketing Communications department at Cat Lift Trucks. Logistics has been a world predominantly for men but as a woman, I have never felt that I was not in the right place. It is a dynamic industry where a person is measured more and more by knowledge and not gender.
We have trainees, mostly girls, joining the company during their summer holidays. I am proud to see that young people are interested in materials handling positions and want to learn more about us. Women before us set the first steps; we continue their work today and need to make sure that the future has the best-prepared professionals in our industry. “
Encouraging women into the industry
It’s great to see groups and forums forming across the globe, encouraging women to pursue a career in materials handling. In the UK, the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport hosts a Women in Logistics forum, whose mission is to: “Attract, retain and support women working in logistics and promote the broader diversity agenda and provide opportunities for the logistics industry, and other key stakeholders, to support women working in the sector and identify and address the challenges to recruitment and retention.”
The forum currently has more than 4,000 members across the UK, hosts regular events and issues challenging and useful reports on the role of women in the industry. It highlights the industry’s movement towards a more equal gender balance, and the promotion of women to higher, more senior roles.
And, in an industry where it’s increasingly more important that you can deliver an outstanding service to your customer than what gender you are, there are more opportunities for women to shine. A passion for doing things well, organisation and attention to detail, an analytical approach and an understanding of the often-complex supply chain – local, national and international – are the keys to a successful career in materials handling.
As more women join the industry and are promoted to senior positions, the visibility of women in these roles will increase, which will in turn should encourage new, smart and enthusiastic women to join this exciting and thriving industry. Materials handling is a diverse industry that once you are in, it grows on you no matter who and what you are.