History in the Making for Women in Transportation

By Holly Decker, Account Executive – COSCO Shipping PNW

March is Women’s history month and on March 8, International Women’s day I found myself at a social event to revel in the many accomplishments of women across the globe. Afterwards my mind wanders to profiling the women in the room – none of whom were in transportation.  They say the top is a lonely place for the female worker, but in transportation it rings especially true. On the tail end of Women’s History month, it seemed appropriate to share some stats on women in our sector so we can begin to write a new history.

The amount of data on women in transportation fields is limited so it’s hard to get a good grasp of what’s going on out there but I can tell you, the majority of times I walk into a room, I don’t see too many folks that resemble my gender identity. In 2007, the Transportation Cooperative Research Program (TCRP) and National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) conducted a benchmark scoping report on gender diversity in State DOT’s and transit agencies. What they found was that women, regardless of professional service category, were routinely underutilized. I could note some statistics about race here, but sticking with gender, I’ll note that the only occupation category where all women, regardless of ethnicity were not underutilized was administrative support.

A 2012 study by Women in Transportation (WIT) discovered that while women make up 47% of the US workforce, in the transportation related sector women make up less than 13% of the workforce, and only 17.4% of those women are manager level or higher. One might hypothesize that the transportation gender gap is a tandem trajectory of sector advancement and institutionalized gender roles – there’s fewer women in the business because women didn’t used to work! Maybe we have a lot of office ladies rather than female Execs because education and mentorship has only been male to male by (de)fault of history. I’d say we’re a little late for that argument but regardless, in 2015, a poll conducted by SCM World revealed that amongst global universities offering supply chain courses, women accounted for 37% of students but only 5% of top level supply chain positions are held by women.

Just last year the Peterson Institute for International Economics in partnership with Ernst and Young confirms what we’ve known for some time now, that there is a correlation between women in leadership positions and company profitability. Typically defined “female” traits are highly beneficial to business, particularly, I’d argue, when it comes to working in supply chain where collaborative skills being especially important. The ability to effectively negotiate and work with multiple stakeholders—whether internally or externally, and multitasking against timelines—is key to effective and efficient supply chain management. Most people agree that men and women work in different ways and bring different strengths and perspectives to the table meaning, gender diversity brings better business decisions and solutions to customers. If the industry is not actively hiring, nurturing and promoting women, it’s falling short of its potential.

So, what do we do about it? How do we rewrite history? It’s more complicated than simply hiring more females. First, we have to recognize the value diversity brings to businesses (see above paragraph on diversity=profitability), prioritize it as a value, and live it. Second, we have to recognize that for women in the workforce, many at one point or another face a critical junction: choosing between family and full-time employment. Women who work in and outside the home have different needs than other employees. HR consultants can play an enormous role in helping companies navigate work/life balance strategies that help to support the values business want to uphold. Third, it’s important that businesses identify talent and retention strategies to get over diversity hurdles.  Beth Ford, Group Executive VP and COO at Land O’Lakes, places responsibility of a company to promote more opportunities for women “senior leaders have a critical role to play: they must sponsor high potential women, which means actively working to position them effectively; understanding the challenge presented; and being direct in counseling about the importance of mobility and flexibility on their career trajectory.”

Finally, the responsibility of lessening gender disparity in the transportation sector falls not only to male advocates and businesses, but to the women in this business as well. Ladies, we need to network, convene, collaborate, promote, and support one another to inspire more women to be a part of this dynamic and challenging sector. We need to see more women in transportation for the benefit of our companies, employers, and community.

There are a few organizations in the Puget Sound that convene women in the transportation sector: WTS Puget Sound, WISTA – PNW Chapter, WIT. Do you know of more? Please send me an email at hdecker@cosco-usa.com.