Glass ceiling?

Initiatives aim to encourage more women into the logistics industry.


Since the logistics sector is notorious for being male-dominated, what initiatives are underway in the Middle East and throughout the world to encourage more women into the industry?

From appearances alone, the logistics industry is a man's world. Few would see dusty warehouses and grimy trucks as being of any appeal to women.

But it is precisely this kind of attitude that a growing number of well-educated and talented women are hoping to challenge by taking on ever more senior roles in the leading supply chain firms.


We need to sell the industry differently to women  there's no need to see it as a male or female industry.

However a number of challenges still remain, especially in the Middle East, where traditional notions of the woman's role in the family have tended to persist.

It is impossible to talk about women in logistics in the Middle East without mentioning the example of Salma Hareb. The appointment of Hareb as CEO of Jebel Ali Free Zone Authority (Jafza) has sent out a signal that individuals will be given senior roles on merit.

Indeed, her ability to handle the manifold demands on her time with an unruffled manner have done much to solidify her as leading light for women in the region. In April this year she was announced as leading the 2008 ‘Forbes Arabia' List of 50 Most Powerful Arab Businesswomen.

Although the logistics industry is desperately lacking women among its ranks, Hareb feels the situation will start to change in the future. "We have so many women working in the free zone now. They are constantly progressing higher up the ranks. However, I don't want to create a sense of gender discrimination. If the individual is capable, they will certainly progress in the organisation, regardless of being a male or a female."

But challenges still remain. According to the most recent survey carried out by Ohio State University about the trends of women working in logistics, few among those interviewed in the US are in a similar position to Hareb.

Around 32.1% of those surveyed described their role as manager within their company, while 19% were said to be a director. However few are in the vice president or president position, posts that tend to be held by their male counterparts.

Only 3.8% of the women in the sample are head of the company, and just 14% are vice president. On the contrary, they reported that 86% of their immediate supervisors are males, and 88% of their supervisor's overseers are males.

This is not due to any shortage of skills. According to the results of the survey, the majority (41.3%) of the respondents have completed an undergraduate degree. 23% have an MBA qualification and 9.6% have graduated with a masters degree.

Feminists would cite this as an example of a "glass ceiling" seen elsewhere in the business world - where women can only progress so far but not all the way to the top.

However, if the logistics industry is dominated by male values it could be said that this is because there is a shortage of women who are simply willing to do the job.

"You don't hear much about females in this field," says Leslie Pagliari, a lecturer in logistics at East Carolina University. "It takes me twice as long to interest a female student in this programme as it does a male student."

Part of the reason that women are not found at the high levels of a logistics company are the long hours involved.

59% of those taking part in the survey said they dedicate between 40-50 hours each week to work-related activities while 31% say they spend 55-65 hours a week with work, and 5% said they spend 70 hours or more doing work each week.



Janet Jweihan says she entered the logistics industry by chance. Just over 20 years ago, when she was still residing in the UK, she began working in sales. However, when she first moved to the Middle East, she says she found sales to be a very male-dominated field and was put off applying for other jobs.

One day, she was covering for a friend in a secretarial role and another colleague mentioned that a logistics company was open to hiring Western women in their sales team. She called the company, was interviewed and got the job right away.

Since she moved to DHL she has progressed up the ranks to become country manager for Kuwait in 2002. While there she led her team to win the Country of the Year award twice, making Kuwait one of the DHL leader countries across the region in terms of operations growth. Last year she succeeded David Wild as general manager for the UAE. Wild was promoted to the Area Commercial Director for Middle East and Levant post.


Of those hours, 67.5% said they spend 76-100% of their time in the office and less than 30 days away on overnight business trips throughout the year.

Unsurprisingly, only 56% of the women surveyed said they were married. In the Middle East where traditional family roles of women persist, there are many more constraints on women.

"I have learnt there are different sensitivities between a woman handling this job and a man handling this job," says Hareb. "I believe men are very much attached to their work, while women are more attached to family and the home. I'm competing with people who would die for their jobs and eventually it starts getting hard. But, once you acknowledge the situation, it is possible to find a balance between personal and professional life."

However, according to Eliska Hill, who works as general manager in Dubai for the air cargo operations of charter carrier Chapman Freeborn, over the last five-10 years barriers are constantly being broken down.

"Freight forwarders which previously would not employ female staff are now opening their doors to more women, as they recognise that the skills and interest for the logistics and supply chain industry cannot only be sourced from the male side," she argues.

"The size and number of international companies based in the UAE offer greater opportunities for women in logistics than other industries within the Middle East. However, there is definitively still an ‘old boys' network' within the regional logistics industry, as I recently attended an awards ceremony and was one of less than five professional women there."



After a childhood fascination with aviation, Eliska Hill applied to join the British Airways Pilot Training scheme in the late 1980s. After progressing successfully through various levels of the stringent selection process, she was turned away at the final stage.

Afterwards, she decided to take a BSc degree in Transport Management at Loughborough University and spent a placement year working at East Midlands Airport. She joined MK Airlines in 1996 working in the commercial department and spent four years planning scheduled and charter flights throughout the world.

Since then she has worked for different brokerages in the UK and Dubai as both a cargo and passenger charter broker and became general manager of Chapman Freeborn Dubai in 2006.

Around the world, initiatives have been set up to encourage women to join the industry.

In Canada, where women make up 27% of the logistics profession, authorities have offered scholarships for women to take courses in supply chain management.

In the US, the organisation Women in Logistics aims to support women already working in the industry and promote the merits of the profession. However more still needs to be done to sell the profession, says Janet Jweihan, UAE country manager for DHL.

"We need to sell the industry differently to women," she says.

"There's no need to see it as a male industry or female industry, just as an industry where good opportunities for both men and women do exist. Unfortunately the images of the industry do tend to promote logistics as a male sector, but women need to be able to see past this. What also needs to be done is providing women interested in entering the industry with the right resources and creating an information network for career development, mentoring and educational opportunities. In the long term, I personally think it is essential to establish institutes and educational systems that would provide the right support for these women in the Middle East."



French national Marie-Christine Lombard heads up the express division of Netherlands-based global operator TNT. She holds an MBA from the French business school ESSEC and joined the express industry in 1993 with an appointment as Chief Financial Officer for Jet Services in France.

From 1997 on she led Jet Services as managing director, until the acquisition of the company by TNT Express in 1999. She then became chairman and managing director of TNT Express France and turned it into one of the company's most successful business units before becoming group managing director in 2004.

Prior to joining the express industry, Lombard developed wide-ranging international business experience during a decade in the banking industry, with Chemical Bank and Paribas Bank. Based respectively in New York, Paris and Lyon, she covered areas such as Major Multinational Accounts, Corporate Finance and Mergers & Acquisitions. Lombard was born and raised in Paris. She is the mother of two children.


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