Women in the supply chain industry. A woman in a man’s shoes?
8 March 2022

Women in the supply chain industry. A woman in a man’s shoes?

Strict gender divisions between professions reserved for men and women no longer exist. Theoretically, that is but there are areas that we still – even subconsciously – reserve for different genders.  How so in the supply chain sector?


Only a dozen years ago, it was rare for a woman to be found working in a position related to civil engineering, IT, or transportation and supply chain.  Today, that has changed and continues to do so. At the Ziegler Group this is easily apparent where 35% of employees today are women and this number is increasing with each passing year.  Most of them work in administrative, operational and sales positions, a fair number are managers but there is also a large number of women holding positions which were once dominated strictly by men, such as truck drivers, forklift operators and IT specialists. In many Ziegler countries like Hong Kong, China, Greece and Tunisia, women even make up the majority of staff and management. 


Yes, they will tell you that for most of them, they could feel that they were entering a sector traditionally thought of as ‘male territory’ but that didn’t hold them back and for most it was an exciting challenge, even though they knew they would have to prove their worth.  “When I joined the industry in 2011, I found a very masculine environment, and I was only 22 but I knew that the only way to make a change was to prove myself as a skilled person,” recalls Stephie Combe, Branch Manager in Ziegler Aurillac, France.  “It wasn’t easy at first because I had just finished school and therefore had no experience but thanks to my persistence, I managed to push through my point of view and show my qualities and above all, prove that there is a place for me in this so-called ‘male’ world of transport,” adds Melanie Brasse, Land Operations Manager at Ziegler France.


Tenacity, persistence and resilience are certainly the qualities that have helped most of the women in male-dominated industries break through the resistance of their colleagues and environment and achieve success.  However, the women who work at Ziegler also point to other important traits. “In terms of the qualities needed to break through, I think femininity brings finesse, detail and vision to stereotypically male professions, essential to success in this industry,” notes Ophelie Crevon, Branch Manager in Ziegler Rouen, France. 


Patricia Knott, HR Manager at Ziegler UK, also notes that natural feminine empathy is a trait that, in spite of appearances, proves very helpful in a so-called masculine world.  “Communication skills, the ability to relate to people at all levels, from the warehouse to operations departments to directors. A sense of humor, the ability to listen. Those qualities have certainly helped me a lot in this industry,” she says.  She is supported by Ingrid Derimay, a sales representative in Ziegler France: “I don’t pay attention to comments that are sometimes not so appropriate, and I know how to gently but effectively bring some people back in their place when they go a little too far,” she says. 


So, are there any particularly feminine traits that can help you to break through in a male-dominated industry or profession?  Or perhaps women bring with them a different kind of feminine energy that is neither better nor worse but is equally effective in achieving the desired goals, even if the method looks different than was previously assumed…


Geraldine Van Reems, responsible for UK import customer service in Ziegler Netherlands, agrees, “I often manage to achieve more than my colleagues by being nice, talking lightly, joking. I believe that this is how you can achieve more than by acting tough and harsh,” she says. “Also, not to be overestimated is our female multitasking and ability to handle many things at once,” adds Mylene Beard, responsible for marketing in Ziegler France.  Agnieszka Szulc working in Ziegler IT departament as a Full Stack Developer adds patience to it as well, which can sometimes be the key to success, especially in building good partnerships.  “From my experience working with female developers, they have more patience, especially for beginners.  With the right amount of patience, everyone on the team can feel more at ease and learn what they need to learn faster,” she notes.  The ladies also find great value in their sensitivity and intuition, which certainly bring a feminine breath of fresh air to a masculine environment. “I think being organized and having feminine intuition brings great value to my work,” says Melanie Brasse.


So, can supply chain really still be called a man’s industry today?  “Yes, it’s a more masculine industry but I’m in my place among men, I’m one of the team, I don’t feel I stand out in any way, I just sometimes wear heels and skirts,” Geraldine Van Reems states.  “I’ve been working in the road transport industry for 29 years and when I started this subject wasn’t discussed.  The biggest difficulty for me at the time was the age, not the gender difference.  I think this issue is still relevant today but experience has made us approach the conversation differently, without an inferiority complex.  Creating mixed-gender teams is essential to maintaining balance in a department, company or international group,” adds Sylvie Cousin, Branch Manager in Ziegler Narbonne, France.  “While there is always the thought in the back of your mind that something is only for men, I try to go with the assumption that there are no more male-dominated industries and anyone with the right skill set will find their place where they belong,” Agnieszka Szulc concludes.


Women are making bolder and bolder forays into once male-dominated career paths and not just in the supply chain industry.  Increasing gender diversity in many industries and professions certainly brings a lot of value to them but also to the teams and individuals working in them.  However, some women are still hesitant and worried about whether they can make it.  Katarzyna Dolińska, IT Scrum Master at Ziegler Group encourages them to redirect the focus away from gender and rather towards skills and competencies, “Don’t focus on your gender as a problem, but rather on developing your super skills,” she says. Monika Schneider, HR team leader at Ziegler Germany advises them not to be afraid and to believe in their abilities.  She also notes that systemic support in this regard is important. “According to a British study, women’s IQ is on average higher than men’s.  Women today are very well educated and contribute a lot to teams.  Equality in the labor market must be guaranteed by the government,” she notes. .


The women at Ziegler Group are excellent proof that success is possible in any industry and in any position. Persistence, perseverance, professionalism and optimism are qualities that anyone can use on their path to success.  These women have lived up to their potential and that is their key to success in the supply chain industry.