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Orchestrating change for women in air cargo

Role of women in the field of air cargo and logistics has been evolving. In 2019, IATA launched the 25 by 2025 global initiative to change gender balance within aviation industry. It is voluntary campaign for IATA member airlines to improve female representation in the air cargo industry by 25 per centby 2025. CARGOTALK anaylze diversified roles of women in this fast-paced industry.

- Abigail Mathias

Nadia Abdul Aziz, President, National Association of Freight and Logistics (NAFL)

Abdul Aziz has been in the logistics industry for 20 years. During this time, she has overseen and conducted various events, conferences and workshops for entrepreneurs in the industry. I take part in the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (CLIT) chapter, which focuses on women in logistics and transport. I was covering the Middle East. Overall, we provide networking platforms, mentoring and certified training in the UAE and internationally. We try to access as many markets as we can.

We make sure the professionals are motivated because it is not an easy role but women do well in multitasking as this industry is growing and it is vital to all countries. Everyone has realized that it is the logistics industry comes forth to offer humanitarian aid at the time of need. My advice to women is to work hard and be consistent when you are committed to your career. Logistics may not be the most glamourous, but it is reliable. From the perspective of employers, they are looking for qualified trainees.

The UAE is in the forefront when it comes to empowering women. At the NAFL, we facilitate a lot of training courses which help students and entrepreneurs who are looking to sharpen their skills. I hope to see much more women join this dynamic industry in the future.

Salini M, Marketing Director, Fresa Technologies

My journey in the logistics industry has been inspiring. I was formerly in the field of education and the IT industry, and I joined Fresa Technologies in 2022. I am lucky to work in an environment that promotes gender equality, recognizes and rewards strong female leaders. I could learn quickly how this industry operates due to the automation and quick information flow. Everyday is a novelty and we find different challenges and solutions to help forwarders in their daily activities and analysis of their past data to arrive at meaningful conclusions.

I have learnt that import and export procedures and supporting functions differ from continent to continent. I feel privileged to be a part of an industry that literally ‘moves the world.’ Logistics contributes 14 per cent of a country’s GDP and if we include all service providers and modes of transport, it is an industry with the largest human capital. The past half-century has seen a global increase in the level of female participation in the workforce, with developing countries seeing more than half of women of working age employed.

This increase is evident in the logistics industry, which shows a steady rise over the past 20 years. The industry needs women in leadership positions where they can be strong role models and inspire the next generation to follow their footsteps such as Nadia Adbul Aziz, President, NAFL.

Although the logistics industry is a growing one and has opportunities for advancement, there are not many women who join it. While the demand for qualified personnel exceeds the supply in the logistics and supply chain sector, it has become imperative to attract and include women, especially since they are good at multitasking, an ability that enables them to handle myriad of tasks. These include planning, implementing and controlling the flow and storage of goods in the supply chain management.

Maricruz Hernandez Franceschi, Senior Manager Operational Integrity Etihad Cargo

My background was in ocean transportation and logistics, as I worked for Maersk as a young shipping trainee and grew from there to different positions. I worked in shipping in Venezuela, Singapore, Copenhagen and the UAE, always related to operations and key customer management.

I joined the airline, Etihad Cargo in 2016 as cargo contact centre manager, with the objective to enhance the customer experience and moving from a call center setup to a more proactive cargo resolution centre. After that, I was given the opportunity to lead the design and implementation of the cargo export control program for two years, and most recently, got promoted to Senior Manager Operational Integrity, heading several support teams such as security and compliance programs, including export control, Unit Load Device (ULD), invoicing, claims, and authorizations and standards.

The industry offers several growth opportunities and it has fields for application for so many transferrable skills from other industries. Although the air cargo industry is still male-dominated in many roles, the stereotypes are breaking and it is quite possible to attract more women with intentional effort and focus. It could be challenging for women to enter and remain in an industry that operates in a 24x7 schedule, when women are frequently the main caretakers for children in the family. Inflexible schedules, long hours, rosters, night shifts may deter the interest of women to join or stay. It requires discipline and organization, continuous learning and a quick response to issues so that they do not affect the pace of operations and we can recover the service and customer experience.

My advice to women seeking to enter this field is not to underestimate your potential. You have unique skills and a different point of view when you are a minority in any group—take advantage of that instead of playing it down. Do not try to fit, try to stand out. You may be the first woman sitting at many tables, but make sure that you do not remain the only one.

Emma Deane, Vice President – Business Development Asia, Middle East and Africa, Worldwide Flight Services (WFS)

I am an aviation fanatic and just love the industry! I have worked in ground handling, airline catering and cargo across several countries in commercial, operational and legal functions. Anything to do with an aircraft appeals to me. For others, it can be the excitement of being involved in global trade or the dynamism of the industry—the pandemic was a case in point on how adaptable the industry is and the vital role it plays.

Aviation is a historically male-dominated industry, particularly those roles, which are physically demanding such as cargo build up breakdown and ramp handling. As for any individual in a position of minority, women embarking on their career in air cargo may be apprehensive about being given an equal opportunity to succeed. They may feel worried about taking on a leadership role where that role requires them to lead a team of men. They may be nervous speaking up in a boardroom where their peers are all males. They may feel uncertain about raising a concern with a male leader where they see inequality.

However, emotionally intelligent leaders, male or female, can alleviate these apprehensions by creating a safe environment where talent is encouraged and recognized. For that reason, I would encourage females, considering the air cargo industry to look to the quality of the employer, current levels of representation, and their diversity and inclusion policies, rather than making a generic statement.

We are starting from a base of female representation, which is uneven across functions and some levels of seniority, and which are lower than other industries traditionally considered ‘appropriate’ or ‘glamorous’ to women. However, the inspiring news is that significant inroads are being made to breakdown real and perceived barriers to women enjoying a career in air cargo. Initiatives such as IATA’s 25 by 25, which I am proud to champion at WFS, are integral to this.

Immediately, it makes participating companies aware of geographical and hierarchical areas of strength and weakness when it comes to gender representation. This then drives the program of change through targeted recruitment, training and programs of mentorship and development. The reality is that top talent is now demanding more from employers from the ESG perspective—those employers who are slow movers or adopters will miss out.

Kadeeja Afreen, Logistics Coordinator, Rajab Xpress

At times I feel like the only player in a field of men. But that is the change that I want to see in the future. I want to see at least a 50-50 equal opportunity which seems like a huge target to achieve. But also on the positive side, there are a lot of efforts being taken to bring women to the forefront.

In my case when I was appointed, there were two men who did the job that I do. Also when you think of logistics, shipping and the whole cargo element, it feels like a male thing to do. It’s not like I am physically carrying all the heavy load but there is still that misconception. This region is more forward thinking and seeks to promote women. There are many courses that women can take to train themselves. Logistics is a very satisfying profession. Women will be able to adapt to this business very easily.

Saba Kauser, Director NATCO, International Freight Forwarders and Projects

In the freight forwarding there aren’t too many women but of course that is changing. If you are determined to do it, It is a dynamic industry. It is very diversified there are sales, operations or their into project cargo. There are training centres though hands on is so important. The one who learns from the ground level is the one who grows. This is so important.

I’ve had experience in the US, UK and the Middle East. Initially I thought it would be hard because of the language barrier but people are so warm, friendly and accommodating here. Things are also very accessible. I would tell women to go for it especially when they are thinking of freight forwarding. You can survive any part of the world. Logistics is in every part of the world. In this industry we are dealing with airlines, shipping lines, customs and other departments. Don’t get in to one department, you can diversify.

Pooja Dalvi Satkar, Cargo Regional Business Development Manager - South Asia, Middle East & Africa, Cathay Pacific Cargo

I began my journey with cargo in October 2018 as Cargo Business Development Specialist and in December 2022 I was elevated to Regional Cargo Business Development Manager. Coming from the passenger side of the business, which is more technologically advanced, I realized cargo was still quite primitive in its ways.

However, my journey so far has been enriching, particularly with the tech developments in the industry. Being part of the shift the industry is undergoing has also helped me develop my strengths and carve my own niche. The delight of working in this role has been the acceptance by internal and external customers, particularly in how we present data to strategize and take business decisions.

The perception people have about air cargo is boxes being ferried on an aircraft. For instance, my role as Cargo Regional Business Development Manager involves handling back-end functions, setting and execution of commercially-viable strategies, overview of all rate benchmarking activity, management of data production and analysis, and overview on the digital roadmap. It is imminent to create awareness that the cargo industry is no different than any other industry with female professionals leading key business functions. The industry offers a wide range of opportunities for all of us, regardless of gender.

While I understand that many women in the industry may have apprehensions due to their gender, however there is a need to break that barrier. Cathay Pacific Cargo has already taken that step in employing women in the cargo side of the business. In fact, our Regional Cargo team in South Asia, Middle East and Africa has women in different roles including Account Manager, Sales specialists as well as Business Development specialists.

Aileen Wallace, Cargo Business Development Manager, Newcastle International

After University, I landed in an industry that was not even on my radar but turned out to be so interesting and rewarding. I then moved into Freight Forwarding and worked for various companies—being multi modal for many years. My passion was airfreight and in 2010 I joined Emirates SkyCargo as a Senior Cargo executive based in Newcastle, North East of England, which led to the opportunity to join the Aviation Development Team at Newcastle Airport with the objective to develop the cargo operation.

I believe it is of significant the industry implements strategies to attract and retain a diversity of talent. There is a range of challenging, complex and interesting roles within the cargo industry covering a wide range of disciplines. There are amazing teams that are taking a proactive approach in changing the image of the sector to appeal to female professionals such as the team behind Women in Aviation and Logistics and the CILT, who address inclusivity in airfreight to create actionable change and attract women to the air cargo industry.

When I first started working in cargo, those in senior positions tended to be men. In recent years its been my privilege to be surrounded by and supported by female managers, country / regional managers, Directors and VPs, both within and outside the organization and service providers. Aviation and logistics tends to be an industry that retains talent for duration of an individual’s career.

In terms of retaining, we need to ensure the environment is compatible with the responsibility of caring of dependents, put in place processes to ensure internal talent is nurtured and promoted, and define career paths. At Newcastle International Airport, we are committed to sustaining inclusive culture. We see this work as aligned to our values. Recent activities include a review of our policies, procedures and practices and the launch of diversity and inclusion survey, the insights and data gathered will help us understand how we can develop a diverse organisation. An updated Maternity pay policy was launched last year, which helped in break some of the barriers.

Maria Jitomirski, Manager Special Cargo, IATA

I began my logistics journey working on the development and industry adoption of certification programs. This exposed me to the regulations and standards which exist behind the establishment of logistics processes and procedures and how these are critical to the safe and compliant handling and transport of any cargo. Today, I am involved in standard-setting activity in the areas of live animals, perishables and pharmaceuticals alongside many supply chain stakeholders.

Our objective is to ensure that relevant and appropriate criteria to accept, handling and load these commodities are developed to support the industry in conducting effective, efficient and standardized ops. Leading various task forces to enhance conditions for safe and humane animal transport and the Perishable Cargo Working Group to improve and bring efficiency to logistical process are efforts can only be achieved through industry collaboration, who in large part are those who I learn from and who are the main contributors to my continuous career growth and personal development. Women bring softer skills to today’s changing work environment.

This is particularly important as new business models emerge and desire for work-life balance and workplace flexibility grow, empathy, sensitivity and patience are important. There’s a home for women in logistics, as in any other field.

What is still known to be a male-dominated industry does not mean it is tailored for men. There is longstanding stigma around logistics jobs being too physical.

Certainly, there are roles that require more physical strength, but that shouldn’t exclude women. In addition, more automation and robotization of logistical processes become commonplace making those jobs more attractive. Women frequently have the required qualifications but are deterred by their perception of certain roles, which can be reshaped as more women share their experience from the logistics sector.

As in any field, challenging periods are bound to occur. Demanding projects often lead to an increased mental load, as well as imposter syndrome and a general fear of “not knowing it all”.

Many can eventually be overcome where there is a willingness to learn and invest personal time and effort, but also making use of the resources available to us such as colleagues and networks. It is quite important to let time takes it course and be patient with ourselves as we gradually take in all that this vast industry has to offer. And enjoy the journey just as much as the destination.

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