CargoForwarder Global is delighted to host another guest article from Arpad Szakal, Principal Consultant at UK-based executive search firm, Cormis Partners, (See also) this time with a core focus on attracting more women to the air cargo industry workforce.
Female Talent in Air Cargo: Keys to Boost Hiring & Retention
The air cargo industry is facing numerous challenges on the people front. Some of those include an ageing workforce, skills shortages, as well as a severe lack of gender diversity. In order to address those challenges, the sector must be proactive in accurately projecting the rapidly changing nature of airfreight, driven by innovation and digital technology; looking at other industries to learn key lessons in recruitment and talent retention; and thinking about leadership differently to break the cycle of leaders recruiting successors in their own image.
Beyond attracting and recruiting women to air cargo, the sector must also stop the flow of talented females leaving it. So, what can companies, recruiters, human resources departments and cargo leaders do to ensure that they are implementing the right strategies to attract, hire, and retain the best female employees?
Attracting & Recruiting Women to Air Cargo
There is a huge diversity of rewarding and challenging professional roles in the air cargo industry, covering a wide range of disciplines from economists to project managers, air cargo managers and aircraft maintenance mechanics. Remaining perceptions of the industry being more attractive to men must fade away as the sector becomes increasingly reliant on AI, automation, and digital technology, but we should not be waiting for that to happen to drive change in the image of the sector
Airfreight businesses need to take a proactive approach to attracting more women into the industry by devising a dedicated, long-term strategy. Some of the measures should include:
1. Unconscious Bias Training
Tackle unconscious bias (stereotyping characteristics, roles and abilities of women and men, or unconsciously mirror-imaging in the recruitment or progression pipeline whereby candidates who display similar behaviors and skill sets to the interviewer or superiors are more likely to be chosen for a position), with bespoke training for leadership teams, line managers and hiring managers across the business.
2. Promote “Returnships”
“Returnships” enable businesses to access a talent pool of high-caliber women who want to return to their profession following an extended break. Organizations should provide training and support to help returning women to get up to speed, supported by coaching and mentoring, with the possibility of a permanent role at the end of the period.
3. Put in place “Reverse mentoring” schemes
Reverse mentoring, also called reciprocal mentoring, involves the pairing of a senior person with a more junior employee of a different gender. This is a way of creating visibility of talent internally to top executives, as well as breaking down unconscious bias. The mentor/mentee meet regularly, each learning from the other.
4. Outreach Visits & Programs
Undertaking outreach visits and programs in conjunction with schools and other educational institutions, to showcase the variety of careers available in the sector is critical. This should include providing practical experience for young people to solve current and future challenges in the sector. Inspiring real change is firstly about changing the outdated perceptions that exist of what it means to work in air cargo, not just amongst women, but amongst young people in general, as well as those who influence them and their career choices such as their parents and teachers, for example.
Retaining Female Talent in Air Cargo
While attracting women into the cargo sector is vital, keeping them in the industry is just as, if not more important. To retain talented women in the field, cargo and air freight organizations should consider the following:
1. Make Internal Mobility Part of Your Culture
To fully embed the internal talent market into the talent culture, cargo businesses need to put in place policies and processes to ensure hiring managers give internal candidates a first look before going to the broader external talent market. There must also be clear and unequivocal messaging from the senior-most levels of leadership that talent hoarding is out, and internal mobility is in. Also, staff should be rewarded and promoted on results, rather than just on the basis of those who are confident enough to demand a promotion or pay rise.
2. Define a Path to Internal Opportunities
In many cases, there is going to be a skills gap preventing an existing employee from moving into a new role, internally. Businesses that have mastered the internal talent market establish benchmarks for the percentage of skills/qualifications an internal candidate needs to qualify to apply for a new role, as well as what training will be needed to prepare a candidate to succeed in the new position. Smart companies also ensue that skills training is directly connected to emerging roles.
3. Encourage Career Extensions for Mature Women
With so few older women in the air cargo industry, finding ways to retain them in the sector to act as mentors and role models, and to pass on their experience, can be important. Career paths are increasingly fluid, allowing employees to continue to upskill and reinvent themselves if given the opportunity and support to do so. Steps to encourage career extensions can range from flexible working, or moving to a shorter working week, help with succession planning or retirement planning, for example.
4. Ensure Compatibility with Caring Responsibility
Naturally, employees with the additional responsibility of parenthood or needing to care for dependents, face challenges in a sector which has traditionally been characterized by long working hours away from home. Cargo businesses must ensure that they are supporting all those with caring responsibilities to work in the industry rather than losing skilled workers to other sectors.
Real and sustainable change calls for a truly joined up approach which encompasses all those involved in the air freight industry, and the entire career-span from education to retirement. Only by doing so, and by keeping the subject high on the agenda, will we truly break down the gender imbalance in the air cargo industry.
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