The chairman of the Augusta National Golf Club, the host of America’s most prestigious golf tournament, recently was asked why the club prohibits female members. It seems that the head of IBM, a primary sponsor of the annual Masters tournament, cannot join because she is a woman. Rather than answer the question on this prickly issue, the chairman responded only that it was a “private matter.”
Is he kidding?
At the recent AirCargo 2012 conference in Miami, a group of highly successful women working in the airfreight industry gathered to discuss their experiences in meeting the challenges of this seemingly male-dominated business. As the airfreight industry begins to attract a more educated and sophisticated workforce, many of the gender stereotypes are beginning to fade as well. Change is occurring slowly, though.
Women have had a difficult time achieving equal opportunity in many industries. Recent data released by the U.S. Census Bureau shows that, on average, female employees still make only 77 cents for each dollar earned by their male counterparts. This gap has remained stagnant for the last decade.
Despite legislation in the U.S., such as the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, inequality clearly still exists today. Current employment practices often ignore the laws that ban discrimination and social expectations. Many women face the proverbial “glass ceiling,” which hinders their advancement to more senior positions that can offer higher pay. Companies’ promotion policies, along with lack of mentoring and support, contribute to the significant disparity. In addition, many women deal with harassment in the workplace, especially in higher-wage, traditionally male-dominated occupations.
A recent Ohio State University study about women working in logistics found that only 32 percent of those surveyed described their role within their company as managerial, while 19 percent were employed at the level of director. Few indicated higher positions, such as vice president or president; these jobs tend to be held by their male counterparts. The report indicated that 86 percent of women have immediate supervisors who are male.
The Ohio State report seems to indicate that skills are not the issue. The majority of the respondents (41 percent) had completed an undergraduate degree. On top of that, 34 percent indicated that they graduated with a master’s degree.
Regardless of the statistics working against women, those in freight forwarding continue to overcome the ingrained gender bias. Some have even shattered the glass ceiling. Names that come to mind include Panalpina CEO Monika Ribar and Hassett Express President Michelle Halkerston. Both of these women are encouraging examples of business leaders who prove that freight executive suites are not just for men.
Many forwarding companies realize that competing in a global environment presents diversity hurdles on a daily basis. To effectively compete, teams need to include women and men with a wide range of nationalities and ages. A gender-balanced, ethnically diverse and cross-generational team is not just about political correctness, but is essential to meet the challenges of international business.
Gender barriers in the freight forwarding industry appear to be coming down, as initiatives around the world are encouraging more women to join the industry. This trend is expected to continue, thanks to a growing number of logistics-focused women’s groups. The annual AirCargo conference plays a valuable role in that effort by featuring the ever-growing and popular women’s networking session. This session is specifically designed to promote discussion and confront gender bias issues.
Freight forwarding should not be viewed as a male or female industry, but one where good opportunities exist for all. We need to move forward without stereotyping freight transportation as a male sector. This can be accomplished through increased education, networking and career development opportunities.
As for the members at the Augusta National Golf Club, maybe the best advice would be to “man up” and dispense with the discriminatory policies of the past. Looking to recent changes in the airfreight forwarding industry may be a good place for them to start.