Like their counterparts in many other professions, women have steadily advanced within the logistics and supply chain sector over the past few decades. The women we interviewed are succeeding at the top levels within their companies due to a strong work ethic, a passion for supply chain and logistics, and the ability to be comfortable as one of a few—sometimes the only—women in the room.
AGT Global Logistics
a provider of 3PL services
Advice: The good thing about trucking and logistics is that once you prove yourself, you’re treated with respect. If you maintain your integrity, if you promise something and you continue to deliver, others start to not pay attention to the fact that you are a woman.
Air Freight Manager
a provider of logistics services
Advice: Learn everything—not just your job, but all aspects of the business. Be strong, be patient, but mostly be confident.
Vice president, Operations, Supply Chain and Logistics
a provider of environmental solutions
Advice: Be reflective. Take constructive feedback and learn from it. Also, you need to be okay with not everyone liking you. Sometimes, nothing you do is going to change their perception. So coexist, be professional, and move on.
President and CEO
a provider of end-to-end technology-enabled supply chain solutions
Advice: Build your knowledge base and invest in yourself. Make time to learn through every interaction or experience. Challenge yourself to think outside your specific role.
DHL Global Forwarding, Canada DHL
a logistics services provider
Advice: You don’t control change. It will happen and it may be painful. But you can control the transition. The faster you transition to the new, the more successful you can be, because the new becomes normal.
Regional Vice President
Pilot Freight Services
A Global Transportation and Logistics Company
Advice: It’s everybody’s responsibility to learn how to communicate with one another to most effectively get your point across. For instance, I’m more conscious of being very direct if the audience is mostly male.
President, Avnet United and Velocity
a distributor of electronic components and services
Advice: Pursue diverse functional roles as early as you can in your career. By taking on different roles, you’ll understand the impact a new supply chain program will have and you’ll make better decisions.
Over the past several decades, women have made steady, if slow, advances in many workplaces, including the logistics and supply chain sectors. About 39% of full-time employees in a supply chain role are female, up from 35% in 2016, finds a survey by Gartner and Achieving Women’s Excellence in Supply Chain Operations, Management & Education (AWESOME), an organization focused on advancing women’s supply chain leadership.
At the same time, the percentage of women dwindles closer to the top of the supply chain organizational chart. For instance, women account for just 11% of supply chain executives, the Gartner research shows.
The women succeeding at the top levels of supply chain and logistics took varied routes to get there but share several traits. These include an incredible work ethic, an enthusiasm for their jobs and companies, and the ability to be comfortable in what is still a male-dominated field.
How did you start your career in supply chain?
My dad owned small trucking and excavating companies. He’d let me drive a truck, albeit down abandoned gravel roads, when I was barely a teen. I also was responsible for filling up the tanks, and I earned $1 per tank. The pumps were manual, and it took 296 pumps to fill each tank. I had pretty strong biceps back then.
I married and started a family when I was 18. When it became clear I needed to leave the marriage, I put together a plan, starting with a position as a billing clerk with a trucking company. Once there, I kept asking for more responsibility. Eventually I became general manager. In 2005, I started AGT.
I started in operations with an ocean carrier and then shifted to air operations. Over the years, I learned to love the rewards, opportunities, and challenges. I also appreciate that no two days at work in the international logistics spectrum are ever the same.
When I enrolled at Penn State, I declared marketing as my major. In my junior year, I took an introduction to business logistics class. The professor, Dr. John Coyle, gave such an interesting perspective on logistics and supply chain that a week or two later, I changed my major to logistics. I’ve never looked back. Every day you have an opportunity to solve a problem and find a better way of doing things.
My background has been in business-to-business tech companies, specifically in hardware, software, and service. At Peak-Ryzex, I bring those together.
When I was at Motorola, I helped design programs our partners used worldwide to drive loyalty and profitability. When Motorola was sold, I headed to Zebra. After roles in marketing and sales, I was asked to run Zebra’s North American business.
When Peak-Ryzex was looking for a new leader, I saw it as the perfect opportunity to apply my experience to advancing the company’s mission of being a complete solutions provider to our customers, many of whom are in the same supply chain and logistics fields I’ve worked with throughout my career.
I’ve been working for DHL for 22 years and have held just about every role in the organization, including customer service, sales, and marketing, before becoming the managing director for the organization in Canada. The active, people-driven nature of supply chain always appealed to me.
For eight years, I worked as an aircraft electrician in the Air Force. When I left the military, I was still interested in the airline industry and I learned about an opening as an evening export agent at an integrated carrier.
At the time, I didn’t have experience in the logistics field, but when I learned the company would be at an industry event, I went and sought out the hiring manager. I introduced myself, gave him a firm handshake, and asked if the position was still available. It was, we met, and I got the job.
After college, my first job was as an inside salesperson with an electronics company. I moved to a field sales role and gained an opportunity to transfer to Munich, where I began handling corporate accounts and logistics. That’s where I became taken with the impact supply chain has, both internally and with customers. And as I traveled throughout Europe working with colleagues, customers, and suppliers, I gained a deep appreciation for the need to balance global requirements with local needs.
describe a challenge you’ve faced as a woman in a male-dominated field
We were rolling out our services for a big customer, and I was in a meeting of 30-plus people, most of whom were men. I stood in front, going over our services. I said, “my phone is always on unless I’m traveling in an airplane and have to turn it off. Otherwise, if you call me, I will call you back.”
There was a lot of noise in the back of the room. I stopped, waited a few seconds, and then said, “I can’t help but overhear. You guys think I’m the front for this woman-owned company and don’t really know what I’m doing. I guarantee you, if you want to throw out some questions, I can answer just about any of them. So please, ask away.”
For weeks, I’d get phone calls at all hours. I’d answer and they’d hang up. They were tests to see if I’d answer.
Early in my career, we had a train derailment and I was called into the vice president’s office. His feet were up on the desk, his shoes were off, and he asked me to get him a cup of coffee.
I decided to stand my ground, and said, “I just spent four years putting myself through college and it wasn’t to get you a cup of coffee. If you’d like to discuss the reason I came into the office, let me know, and I’ll be glad to talk to you about that.”
He cracked up laughing and said, “You’ve got some backbone now, don’t you?”
Early on, when I was the only woman at my level, it was assumed I would not relocate for a career advancement. But this wasn’t verbalized to me, so I didn’t know it was the assumption.
At the time, I was a single mother running a small office in a small market. A new boss asked about my career objectives. I told him that I wanted to manage a larger station. He said, “with that kind of career goal, you’d have to be willing to move and you wouldn’t want to do that.”
I told him if the right opportunity presented itself, I would certainly move. He was receptive. Within six months, I had three opportunities presented to me.
What traits or actions are key for women who want to succeed in supply chain and logistics?
Being a woman and Asian presents challenges. As a part of the culture, we are known for working hard. I would advise other Asian women working in logistics to work hard, learn everything they can, and do not underestimate their value. Lastly, do not be afraid to speak up and share ideas. They will be warmly accepted.
Recognize that different people have different communication styles. That includes men and women. Make sure you understand your communication style and how to use it effectively.
Early on, my boss knew I had more to contribute, and asked me to speak up more in meetings. I asked him to partner with me. I said, “Can you ask me what I think, so I’m invited in?” He did, and I appreciated him being willing to work with me. And, over time, he didn’t have to ask me; I’d simply contribute.
Also, I’ve become used to being the only woman in the room. You can’t let it intimidate you. You need to be comfortable with it and take opportunities to contribute value in any conversation.
While it’s still a male-dominant industry, it’s well-balanced at the entry level. It becomes a challenge at the senior or executive level.
Some of that has to do with ambivalence. Many women feel divided between their careers and parenthood. These decisions are challenging for sure and nobody can do it on their behalf. You need to decide what you want and then be clear about your future. A good organization will help women grow in their careers once they make their own decision to grow.
The strides women have made within the supply chain and logistics fields benefit both them and their organizations. Recent research from the World Economic Forum shows that adding more women to the workforce boosts productivity and growth.
“There’s never been a better time to pursue a career in supply chain and logistics,” Torrel says. “Over the course of my career I’ve seen the growing importance of supply chain in driving corporate growth and profitability.”
Opportunities for women in logistics and supply chain will continue to grow. “Organizations are going to continue to optimize the efficiency and profitability of their operations,” Torrel adds. “So the demand for innovative thinkers and creative problem-solvers in supply chain is on the rise.”