Championing change

One Australian logistics professional has launched her own networking events to encourage, mentor and champion women working in the industry. 

After noticing that men were overrepresented at networking events she was attending in Brisbane, Queensland, logistics professional Melissa McDonald decided to create a unique space for women in the industry to meet, share knowledge and gain confidence.

“Nowadays, networking is for everyone, not just salespeople,” she says. “Everyone needs to build a personal brand. At a lot of networking events, women are the minority so I wanted to create one where they could feel comfortable, share their knowledge and experience and improve their networking skills. I love this industry and wanted to give back.”

The events, dubbed ‘Women in Logistics (BNE), have been supported by Melissa’s employer – procurement company Lasso, and logistics company Qube. The women-only sessions feature cocktails, snacks, industry speakers and networking practice.

“Networking is a necessary and long-term commitment,” she says. “Knowing how to network effectively and to push yourself outside your comfort zone can be very rewarding. Networking is the first step to embarking on a trusting relationship with someone new.”

In 2018, Melissa intends to hold Women in Logistics (BNE) every quarter, bringing together professionals from freight forwarding, airlines, shipping lines, warehousing, trucking, government, defence, import/export, procurement – across the supply chain.

“I put a lot of thought, time and effort into the events, and it’s important to me that attendees enjoy themselves and leave feeling more empowered,” she says.

“I get a lot of great feedback from women who feel more confident after attending, having connected with other women who have similar stories – both good and bad. It’s a comfort to them to know that other women have these experiences – they unite us.”

Striking the balance

Melissa notes that while companies are increasingly recognising gender imbalance, the industry as a whole still has a long way to go. “The industry needs to be more inclusive – the ‘boys club’ mentality still very much exists,” she says. “As a result, there is a massive disconnect between the job opportunities secured by men and women, and other issues like the pay gap.”

Getting women and men on an equal footing will require a concerted effort by both genders, she notes. “Women need to be more forward and vocal,” she says. “Sometimes you just need to tell your managers – whether men or women – what you want, how you want to progress – they’re not mind readers.

“Be open and honest and they may be able to help you get to where you want to go.”

Alongside this, she recommends that women make an effort to network effectively and often. “Join industry networking events and local business networking groups to build your brand – and make time to go,” she says.

Men can help propel their female colleagues by inspiring confidence in them, Melissa adds. “Talk to your female employees, colleagues and managers about personal development or career advancement that they would like to undertake, and help them form a plan to achieve it,” she says, though she notes that those in leadership positions are crucial to effecting change. “Management is hugely important,” says Melissa. “They set the tone for the company, so if male and female managers lead by example it will happen organically.”

Finding inspiration

Through Women in Logistics (BNE), Melissa has started to mentor younger, professional women. “I have not really had a mentor per se, though there have been male and female individuals that have supported, advised and inspired me along the way,” she says. Her career in logistics has been driven by passion, and she is keen to help clear the way for those still finding their own path in the industry. “I fell into logistics at age 18, working a job part time while studying at university,” says Melissa. “I discovered I loved the industry – it opened my eyes to all of the moving pieces in logistics. I then went on to study and gain the theoretical knowledge to back up my practical knowledge.

“During my career, I have had to learn a lot of things the hard way – on my own. I think that mentors are important and valuable to career progression, however I think they are hard to find. I have not heard of many people within logistics having a mentor, which is why I offer my help to the women that attend the networking events.”

Changing perceptions

Melissa hopes that her Women in Industry (BNE) networking events will inspire others with the means to nurture young female talent in male-dominated industries, and that – ultimately – small actions such as providing networking opportunities and prompting meaningful discussions will help lead to valuable change. “I want to help change the way women are seen, managed and respected, by themselves, their colleagues and industry peers,” says Melissa. “The way this is going to happen is by getting more women in higher management positions, with the power to effect change – and to get to that point we need to ignite those ambitions today.”