Gender Diversity Key to Innovation and Performance

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The aviation industry decision makers point towards lack of gender diversity as a major issue. The air cargo industry is making efforts to have more gender balanced teams for better performance.
Nahida Jafferi

Gender diversity may sound philosophical,but there is a science to it. The positive impact of gender balanced team has found validation in numerous studies for company growth.

Also, the supply chain industry is facing a talent gap with a shortage of 54 per cent in middle management positions, and the demand-to-supply ratio of jobs to qualified individuals is 6:1. The Indian government plans to increase the workforce in logistics sector from 22million to 40 million by 2020. At the Air Cargo India 2018 event,Vandana Aggarwal, Economic Advisor, Ministry of Civil Aviation, Government of India, asked whether an industry that employs 35 percent of the aviation sector cansucceed when workforce related issues are not addressed?

The industry needs diversity in its workforcefor it isan engine of innovation. So, is the lack of gender diversity in the air cargo industry creating a blind spot that is resulting in limited business perceptions and innovations?

“Air cargo has complex issues and the best way to find innovative solutions is to come up with various unique perspectives. Thus, The International Air Transport Association (IATA) advocates a broad and diverse industry workforce to ensure the most creative solutions are found,” said IATA in an email statement.

Let’s add more perspective. Sodexo, a food services and facilities management company, in an internal study of 100 global entities and 50,000 employees in 80 countries, explored the correlation between gender-balanced teams and company performance.  The study found that management teams with a male-female ratio between 40 percent and 60 percent produced more sustainable and predictable results. The study reinforced that diversity is key to enhanced performance.

Gender balanced teams can achieve on an average a 12 per cent increase in client retention; positive organic growth, growth profit and operating profit over three consecutive years.

Gudrun Mueller, Diversity Management Representative, Fraport AG, agreed, “Numerous studies have shown that management teams consisting of both men and women are advantageous and generate economic profit. That’s one of the reasons why Fraport aims to bring more women into leadership positions.”  Mueller is instrumental in bringing changes in strengthening the work environment free of discrimination and marked by equal opportunities.

By 2021, women shall make up 30 percent of Fraport AG’s workforce in the first and second level management, under the Executive Board. Till December 31, 2017, women constituted 24 per cent in the first and 27.7 per cent in the second management level, with a combined 26.9 per cent share.

Emphasising on the credo of Fraport AG that is gender diversity, Mueller, said,“Gender diversity is not just a topic of high priority at Fraport’s management levels. Our operational departments are marked by an increasing number of female employees, who are working in the field of ground handling or as ramp agents. Currently, more than 70 women are employed in such operational fields – a number we are planning to increase continuously by different measures, such as advertising in all available media and attending job fairs in our region, the Rhine Main Area.”

Attracting more women
The number of women seen in the customer-facing jobs in aviation, as cabin crew or ground staff, almost disappears and becomes mostly male-dominated in the behind-the-scenes and air cargo jobs. In the air cargo industry, there are many women holding significant influence at Coyne Airways , Amerijet International, LUG aircargo handling, Fraport AG, Geodis, DHL, BlueDart, FedEx, among others.

Girls need role models to understand what career growth opportunities the sector offers. In one such initiative, Blue Dart Aviation conducted awareness programmes in schools with the co-operation of Airport Authority of India-Chennai, over the last two years. They introduced school children to various functions in logistics industry that could serve as career options. “The kids were amazed at the number of women that play important roles in various facets of our industry. These women serve as an inspiration to our next generation,” informed Tulsi Mirchandaney, Managing Director, Blue Dart Aviation who played an important role in the company’s efforts to launch India’s first domestic cargo airline.

Emphasising on the need of promoting the industry to attract talent, Liana Coyne, Chief Operating Officer, Coyne AIrways, suggested, "It is time to spark people’s curiosity and get them excited about what we do, how we touch lives, and how we transform the world. For example, where the fruit and vegetables in their supermarkets come from, how their e-commerce package gets to them or how Amancio Ortega of Inditex, largest fashion retailer, built a fashion empire and amassed a fortune to rival Bill Gates for richest man in the world on the back of supply chain innovation."

If only a woman knew what it took to get her outfit delivered within 48 hours at her doorstep, she would be intrigued by the effort. Helping people realise the value and impact of logistics will draw more manpower, including women.

Changing mindset
The aviation industry supports 62.7 million jobs globally, inclusive of 9.9 million direct jobs.  In aviation, the gender split data is hard to come by. At IATA, nearly 40 per cent of the cargo team and 30 per cent of the senior cargo team comprises women. However, of the 280 airlines IATA represents, less than 10% have women at the senior executive level position.

IATA sees gender diversity among airline CEOs and senior level positions as a challenge for the aviation industry. Women gravitating towards less technical subjects could be a reason, as mostly senior executives have a technical background. Others feel it is a matter of perception. Many recommend that capable women should be retained and encouraged to move up the ranks to positions that they rightfully deserve.

Interestingly, a McKinsey & Company report points out that having at least 30 per cent women in higher-level leadership positions significantly improves financial performance.However, many industry players including Mirchandaney perceive that essential attributes of leadership and successare not confined to gender. “In my interaction with various women over the years, I found women to be moreefficient multi-taskers, good communicators, team players and solution finders.In a dynamic environment where events regularly call for speedy decision-making, responsiveness and practical solutions, these are valuable attributes,” she acknowledged.

Corporate Culture Valuing Gender Diversity
The company culture of valuing diversity and individualshas often helped in achieving better results. Coyne observed, “Organisations that manage to include a variety of different people in decision-making and problem-solving benefit from being more creative and more innovative - and probably nicer, happier places to work - than their more homogeneous competitors, and this generally gets reflected on the bottom line.”

Marcus Nolans, EVP, and director of Studies, Peterson Institute told Fortune-a business magazine, that gender diversity at the management level provides evidence aboutwomen contributing to the functional and skill diversity that enables effective staff performance evaluation. The practice could also bring to light how firms that discriminate against talented women are often outperformed by firms embracing gender diversity.

IATA reasoned, “A male dominated organization is less likely to be aware of the specific challenges facing women, and work to overcome it. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle. As there are no women pointing out the challenges or having enough power within the organization to effect change, the situation remains the same.”

Women also find it difficult to balance parenting and a top career. The night working hours in the air cargo field may also not be very conducive to many, especially those with young children. “There is no overnight leap to success, “stated Mirchandaney, “A lot of it is sheer hard work, and just the utter joy of seeing an aircraft take wing every night, on time, with the maximum revenue load. Unsurprisingly, for years I was the sole woman representative of my company at various meetings and conferences. It is heartening to see the positive changes and so many more women playing an active part across the various functions of our industry.”

BlueDart has policies in place that offers an environment of meritocracy to ensure equal opportunity and treatment, takes cognizance of women’s specials needs like maternity/paternity leave, amongst others. Training and development is also high on the company’s agenda.

Diversity beyond gender
While diversity is not just restricted to gender, the industry needs to also look beyond. People from diverse fields could add value to the industry with their ability to offer out-of-the box ideas. Coyne believes that with a homogeneous workforce, you get a hammer to solve all your DIY needs, which is great until you need the full toolbox. “For example, when we hire people with experience in other industries, I encourage them to question our processes; and think about how we can improve things. We ask the same of our long-serving staff. Sometimes, those who are coming to the job with fresh eyes are more capable of questioning the status quo, and thereby suggest improvements based on their experiences in other lines of business, that we might never have thought of.”

As Malcolm Forbes puts it, diversity is the art of thinking independently together. The industry veterans and professionals are also working on inviting young talent to make a difference.

According to Sebastian Scholte, Chairman, The International Air Cargo Association (TIACA), the industry should give equal importance to women and youth employment. Scholte is also the CEO of Netherlands-based Jan de Rijk Logistics that has women at the board level. Scholte said, “At TIACA, we have conducted a successful pilot with young talents from all over the air cargo supply chain, in order to look into each other's companies for a week and come up with recommendations. We are looking at setting up a young advice committee in the future that includes the participation of women from different regions. As an industry, we can and should learn from the young generation.”

IATA launched the FACE (Future Air Cargo Executives) program to invite young talent, and has a strong young female representation. Its FACE UP competition consisted of 80 per cent female entrants.

IATA has started to see airlines take steps to bridge the diversity gap through implementing programs to develop women as leaders, committing to gender diversity and reviewing HR policies and procedures to allow more flexible working arrangements. The industry is moving in the right direction but it needs to accelerate the pace.

As logistics continues to be the backbone of an economy, and talented women an economic imperative, it is important to accelerate the pace of making it conducive for women to progress up the career ladder. The industry has opportunities that straddle customer service, transportation, engineering, operations, purchase, IT, warehousing, materials handling, strategy, inventory control and forecasting. Only by valuing diversity and making a conscious effort towards gender inclusiveness the industry would be able to fill the talent gap.

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