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February 23, 2019

Women breaking barriers in the logistics sector

Gloria Atuheirwe
Gloria Atuheirwe

With changing times, women have turned tables and are continuously provoking themselves in male dominated jobs. Women have broken societal norms and barriers and are thriving in most of these fields that are historically seen as male jobs.

Whether operational or technical task, women are gradually taking up the responsibilities in spite of myriad hurdles. But the question remains, is it enough?

According to former World Bank Group boss, Barber B. Conable, J, - ‘Women do two thirds of the world's work. Yet they earn only one tenth of the world's income and own less than one percent of the world's property. They are among the poorest of the world's poor.’

For the longest time, the ‘male factor’ continues to dominate the logistics sector majorly because of the cultural beliefs that exist around the different jobs that men and women in the 21st century should take up. Which begs to question, is the logistics industry ready to change traditional stereotypes to attract and retain women as a talented workforce in this sector and utilize their potential?

According to a 2017 TradeMark East Africa report titled ‘Challenges faced by women in the Logistics Industry in East Africa and possible interventions’, the logistics industry has only 20.5 % of its employees as women in the country.

The story is replicated throughout the East African region with only Rwanda achieving slightly above one third (⅓) participation rate – 33.3% while Tanzania and Uganda stagnate at 15.8% and Burundi trail behind at 15.6%.

Collectively, the East Africa region only has 19.73% of its women in the logistics industry.

The study shows that the pipeline of young women to the industry is very narrow meaning the situation will worsen as women in the country are failing to enroll in logistics related training. Is it lack of awareness, or inadequacy in the industry?

In the face of the so-called boys’ club aspect of this business, women take many arrows and face countless roadblocks in their personal quest for success. It is still a debate on whether logistics companies offer equal opportunities for career advancement for both men and women.

According to the report, 49% of the women think that they do not have equal opportunities as their male counterpart to advance their careers while 27% are not sure on whether they have equal opportunities or not. Only 24% feel that there are equal opportunities for career advancement.

Judy Onunga, the only female Crawler Crane Operator at Port Reitz in Mombasa notes: “I developed the interest and discovered a talent. My husband, who I married in 2010, is also a crane operator. There were times curiosity would make me follow him to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi where he was involved in construction work. His supervisors were good enough to allow him to teach me.”

“Women have potential, but should be supported further with training opportunities that are subsidized and tailor-made for them,’ she adds.

The problem with career advancement within the industry begins with the barriers of entry for women within the industry. Essentially, when there are no structured systems to attract the women in the industry, their progression in the industry also gets limited either due to lack of the necessary skills or lack of systems that support equal access to opportunities for career advancement.

Some of the top key bottlenecks that women in this sector face include discrimination at the work place, an unsupportive work environment, sexual harassment, negative cultural and societal barriers and a lack of information and awareness on the subject.

While it’s true that most women have a choice to make between their families at work, juggling between being a working professional, wife and mother, there is still an opportunity for women in the logistics sector. More and more women should take up these training courses with the same zeal or even more they take up other corporate jobs.

Kenya’s economy has a potential to exponentially grow should more women take up these jobs.

According former UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, ‘Countries with higher levels of gender equality have higher economic growth. Companies with more women on their boards have higher returns. Peace agreements that include women are more successful. Parliaments with more women take up a wider range of issues - including health, education, anti-discrimination, and child support.’

In the same breadth, a country with more women in its logistics sector flourishes.


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