Why women can excel in the logistics sector…
Alpha Global Distribution’s Wendy Pallatt discusses the role of women in haulage and how technology has changed the landscape.
“My name’s Wendy. I work for Alpha Global Distribution where I’m the General Manager. Yes – that’s right, you heard me correctly – I’m the General Manager. But it’s such a male dominated industry that in the early days, many customers walking into our office would often confuse me for the head of admin, or even a secretary. It was always the same. “Can I help you”, I’d say and more often than not response was, “Can I speak to the Transport Manager?” “That’s me,” I’d reply. Some were embarrassed by their mistake, while others thought I was joking and would walk straight past me. It was quite frustrating at the time – and while things have got better – I still believe that women have to work harder than men to prove themselves in this industry.
But that’s such a shame because women are extremely well suited to this sector. One of the most highly-prized skills, for example, is the ability to multi-task. They say women are better at it than men. I should know. I’m one of the few women who has made a successful career from moving goods. I’ve been doing it for over 35 years now and I wish there was more of us. But the sad truth is that it’s still very much a man’s world. Of the 1.5 million people who work in logistics in this country, less than a quarter of them are women.[i]
However if you don’t believe me, just do a Google search and you’ll find scientific study after study confirming this fact. I won’t bore you with the details, but if you want a top-line summary, psychological assessments have shown that women are better at juggling tasks than men because of the way our brains are wired. I believe it’s a skill that certainly gave me an edge.
But putting the gender debate aside for a second, I’ve worked at Alpha Global for five years now and they recognised and valued my skillset from the start. Previously, I’d been working for fifteen years at a transport company, which my colleague and I turned around from a failing enterprise into an extremely profitable business.
David Fairhall, who owns Alpha, saw what I could do. He believed in me and knew that I had a solid track record in what leadership gurus call ‘change management’ and decided to bring me in. Since then, we’ve totally reshaped the business. From our H.Q. in Iver, we’ve gone from parcel delivery specialist to a general haulage business that serves the whole of the UK.
Haulage Exchange (HX) plays a key role, as it ensures that our growing fleet – which consists of 14 vehicles – is always utilised. On average, we use HX six times a week. We use it in several ways – firstly to create extra capacity when all our vehicles are tied up on jobs, and secondly to make sure that our vehicles always travel home fully laden. But, as we’re very well known on the Exchange nowadays – and our customers can always see the live status of our fleet on the Live Availability Map (LAM) – demand for our specialist fleet vehicles had greatly increased. For example, we purchased a 26T truck-mounted fork-lift recently after identifying a surge in local demand. It was quite an investment and is now our signature truck. However, the Exchange has extended our reach by providing us with a national customer-base that we never could have hoped to win without it. It means that our Moffet doesn’t just get used locally, but thanks to the Exchange, we subcontract it to clients in the north-west too.
But back to the subject of diversity. I’ve been working in the freight sector for over three decades now – more than many of my male colleagues – and believe me – there’s nothing I haven’t seen or experienced in this industry.
But, I can honestly believe that I’ve never felt out of my depth in logistics. On the contrary, I would say that I’ve always been a natural fit for the job. Whether you’re a man or woman, there are several traits that you need to succeed in this industry. Some qualities can be learned, while others can’t be taught. For instance, the job requires resilience, a work ethic, mental toughness and concentration and the ‘gift of the gab’ too. The ability to communicate effectively on many different levels is particularly important, as in this industry, on an average day, you could be speaking customers, to suppliers, drivers, your own team, and sometimes the police or even the ministry of transport. So you need to be prepared for anything and have the confidence and knowledge to handle each different call.
However, most of all, as I said earlier, the real trick is to be able to multi-task. Now, don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that men can’t flit between tasks effectively. I’ve met several in the industry, such as my colleague, Keith Bonner, our Transport Captain who I brought to the company with me when I joined, that excel at it. However, in my opinion – and please feel free to disagree with me – I think women are better at it than men.
But why does it matter? Well, it matters for the simple reason that the same day delivery sector has made everything in freight faster. The landscape is almost unrecognisable from the one I knew when I started out all those years ago. While, it will always be about moving goods and services, real success these day is defined by being able to ship cargo in the most efficient, most cost effective and professional way possible. And that requires the ability to multi-task, which is why the sector could do with more women in operational roles, and technology platforms like HX, which makes my job a lot easier.
Why? Well, HX smart loads matches on my behalf and reduces the amount of time I spend on the phone. That’s because if I post a load on HX, I know that I don’t have to track it and ask the driver for an ETA. And I also know that the goods will reach the customer on time.
One less job to juggle, but in this industry there’s always another – meaning that highly accomplished multi-taskers – whatever their sex – will always be great demand…”
[i] The Guardian
Women in logistics: there’s more to the industry than just moving and lifting
By Melanie Hall
Date: 24, October, 2013