An essay by Sabine Mueller

Sabine Mueller is the CEO of DHL Consulting, an independent strategic supply chain and management consultancy of Deutsche Post DHL Group. She is passionate about promoting gender diversity at executive level. Visit her blog, sabinext.com, for her personal views on logistics trends and empowering women in leadership.

The logistics industry is exciting and vibrant, and I have been calling it my home for the past two decades. Big data, artificial intelligence, robotics, drones, and disruptive software such as blockchain, push our industry to constantly evolve and reinvent itself. In order to continue excelling in their jobs, leaders in logistics need to not only adapt but to lead the way.

Of course “leading the way” is more easily said than done, especially when that means truly embracing the paradigm shift triggered by digitalization. One of my most valuable lessons was being able to leave my comfort zone. 

Too much comfort zone – too few female leaders

The willingness to question old, comfortable behaviors has helped me greatly throughout my career. I made it a priority not only to think but also to act outside of my comfort zone.
I strongly believe this is one of the main reasons why I am who  I am today: a leading woman. 

Looking back at my professional progression, I held various positions in strategy, corporate organization and con- sulting. Over time, I have witnessed an increase in gender diversity, but to this day women in leadership continue to be underrepresented.

My personal experience evolving in this type of working environment has triggered my engagement to actively promote a more gender-balanced workforce and inspire women to take charge of their career advancement with confidence. This is no easy ride.

Gender balance has not been achieved – yet

The numbers speak for themselves. At Deutsche Post DHL Group, women make up 35 percent of the total workforce but are confined to only 15 percent of the board of directors. The proportion of women sitting on other supervisory boards has moved from 30 percent to 40 percent in the past five years – an encouraging development. However, this picture shows that gender disparity at higher executive levels is still a reality. And the logistics and supply chain industry is no exception here. The air gets equally thinner for leading women across a large number of middle-sized and large corporations in Germany. 

Men and women working together simply make better decisions. This is the reason why I encourage logistics leaders to put women’s career advancement on their agenda and make a commitment to promoting diversity throughout their organizations.

I strongly believe that more diversity and gender balance at executive level is a winning recipe for improved business performance, innovation and competitiveness. The same applies to gender parity in the boardroom. Diversity in backgrounds, gender, cultures, perspectives and experiences is a fundamental prerequisite for sustainable business success.  

How we get there

While the value of driving a gender diversity agenda is unquestionable, getting it right requires focus. It takes courage, a vision, and a conducive culture that empowers women throughout the organization to voice their needs, take risks, and demonstrate their own capabilities in getting the – any – job done. Business leaders need to take ownership for managing and accompanying this necessary change process. Today, our sustained efforts on achieving greater diversity at DHL Consulting translate into a tangible improvement in customer and employee satisfaction. But a strong long-term strategy needs to be in place to maintain this positive trend. 

The most obvious step in this transformational journey is to mirror gender equity goals in recruiting and career advancement processes. The company’s recruitment approach remains a particularly crucial building block to be calibrated toward diversity targets. Attracting, retaining and developing a mixed talent pool will help establish the balance needed to capture the related business value.

Networking – nurturing business relationships and exchanging information with peers – has become an instrumental way for women to tap into their potential as leadership personas. Young female professionals in particular need to master networking skills and invest in meaningful professional connections. Social media and other communication channels today provide new opportunities for women who might have found it difficult, or perhaps didn’t have the chance, to network proficiently in the past. Part of my commitment to improving gender diversity in the logistics industry is to provide dynamic and ongoing networking platforms that enable women to interact. DHL Consulting’s annual women’s recruitment event has become a perfect forum for promoting proactive integration and further development in our industry.

Next step: owning the change process

Interestingly, digitalization itself seems to act as a career enabler for women in leadership. Studies show that a large percentage of women believe companies that have gone through digital transformation are more likely to support their career development.

Becoming a female leader in logistics requires dedication, courage and confidence in one’s own capabilities. I want to inspire women in this industry to step out of their comfort zones, be vocal about their professional needs and leverage – digital – networking to accelerate their careers. Obviously, it takes more than dedicated women to change the system. Agile organizations need to acknowledge women’s positive impact in leadership positions and make progression opportunities for them more visible and accessible. Most importantly, this change has to be embedded in the long-term company culture and strategy. 

It requires true leadership skills to turn diversity into an asset for our business. If tackled seriously, gender parity will without a doubt unlock a company’s full potential for creativity, innovation and competitiveness.

I look forward to engaging with you on the topic of women in leadership. Share your professional experiences and your perspective on women in the logistics sector. 

Published: January 2018

Image: Nina Tiefenbach