Australian businesses have made significant progress towards gender equality in recent decades. However, there’s no argument that certain sectors are lagging behind the rest. From finance to retail, construction to logistics, women are playing a bigger role in transforming the perception of industries historically dominated by men – but a lot more work needs to be done.

I have worked in the logistics and supply chain industry for over 10 years. All my bosses have been male, and I find myself sitting across from very few women during meetings. In an industry that employs some 1.2 million Australians, from my experience, it’s not at all surprising that women account for less than a quarter of the workforce. According to the Australian Logistics Council, despite a 28% growth in industry employment from 2002 to 2012, the number of women in the industry increased by just 1%. Further, a mere one in 10 CEOs in the sector are women.

The business case for gender equality

Considerable research shows that ‘de-genderised’ businesses perform better by bringing together varied perspectives that lead to improved decision-making.

Not only is gender equality a fundamental human right; it’s also linked to a country’s overall economic performance. Gender equality has also been shown to enhance the ability of companies to attract talent and retain employees, as well as improving an organisation’s overall reputation.

It’s time the supply chain and logistics industry – and others like us – take steps to attract more women to our professions.

More than moving and lifting

The logistics profession continues to be dogged by the perception that it’s all about moving and lifting – physical work that has traditionally been described as masculine. In reality, there has never been a better time for women to enter the field.

The arrival of Amazon in Australia, the continued rise of ecommerce, and the focus on trade – particularly with our Asian neighbours – have all put the spotlight on logistics. Further, new and emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and robotics have automated many manual roles, transforming logistics into a cutting-edge and competitive sector.

Supply chain and logistics permeates every industry and business sector in the world – retail, fashion, technology, transport, the list goes on. It is the fifth-largest industry sector in Australia, after all. The sheer magnitude of the industry has created jobs in business development, customer service, sales, and information technology. Yes, there are forklift drivers and warehouse workers.

Simultaneously, there are leadership roles that require an excellent grasp of business management or a high proficiency in mathematics. Regardless of gender, the industry needs problem-solvers and innovative thinkers to propel it forward.

Bucking the trend

It will take the entire industry to acknowledge that bringing diversity into the workplace is important.

The first step is for it to focus on hiring women in positions that are visible. That means promoting women to senior roles and highlighting women in roles that have traditionally been deemed ‘a man’s domain’.

Second, the sector must do a better job of supporting talented women and fostering a culture that talented people gravitate towards. Many companies have taken positive steps forward by introducing flexible working hours, onsite childcare and other work–life balance initiatives. We must also focus on the professional development of women already in the workforce by providing access to education, training and mentoring opportunities.

For women, it’s crucial that we step out of our comfort zone. It takes courage for women to strive in an environment dominated by men. However, we must not be limited by our gender. We should focus on the qualities we bring to the table and be proud of the role we can play. We must also support and empower each other. That means women working together, but also in collaborative partnerships with men – we work better together.

Ignoring the importance of gender diversity in the workforce may very well pose a business risk if not addressed. Australia is on the brink of a logistics revolution, but to continue on that path and cater for the nation’s diverse groups, we must ensure they’re equally represented in the workforce.