Words of Wisdom from Women @ WERC
Tuesday, January 1, 2019
Words of Wisdom from Women @ WERC
As the Women @ WERC program has developed, both female and male members of WERC have identified four priorities to help increase diversity and inclusivity within the logistics workforce. These include offering resources and strategies for building allies within the industry; enhancing equality within the workplace; advancing careers and growing leadership opportunities; and fostering organizational cultures that support healthy and productive work-life blending.
Although the Women @ WERC program is still in its infancy, several of WERC’s female members say they’re happy to see the organization take a more formalized approach to sharing the strategies that have contributed to their own career success. All note that WERC specifically has helped them grow their networks while increasing their industry and professional knowledge in ways that has contributed to the growth of their careers. Further, through the organization, they’ve found an environment supportive of a shift in workplace culture to one that’s more inclusive and flexible, as well as ways to encourage and mentor other women new to the field.
When it comes to building professional relationships, Gwendolyn (Gwen) W. Rogers says being an active member of WERC (for 25 years) was key. Rogers—who recently retired after 30-plus years as the City of Savannah’s Central Services Administrator—volunteered at the Conference registration desk for the several years. She recommends it as a fantastic way to meet a lot of people in a very short period of time.
“I tend to be a reserved person,” she adds, “so at every Conference I have specifically tried to step out of my comfort zone and always sit with new people at every session and meal.”
As a woman in a male-dominated field, Rogers says that particular networking strategy was extremely helpful in building connections. She also encourages both women and men wishing to excel in the field to “show up on time, dress the part you want to portray, demonstrate a desire to learn and mature, and continue to grow your knowledge of logistics practices and procedures.”
Former WERC Board President (1989-1990) and retired freelance writer and editor Leslie Hansen Harps agrees that WERC networking opportunities at the local, national, and international levels were incredibly valuable to her career and professional development.
“Through WERC’s local meetings, conferences and serving on the WERC Board, I was exposed to state of the art practices in the field, connected with industry thought leaders, and developed important management and business skills,” she recalls.
“My time on the WERC board was almost like getting a master’s degree in business management. I learned so much from working with people like Burr Hupp, Ken Ackerman, Tom Speh, Don Patterson, and many others—all of whom generously shared their knowledge and know-how with me,” continues Harps. “I also gained valuable experience in leadership, management, planning and public speaking. I would never have had those opportunities if I hadn’t gotten involved in WERC.”
Similarly, former WERC Board President (2010-2011) Catherine Cooper, Founder and CEO of World Connections, credits her time on the Board as offering her a chance to develop skills outside her profession that she would not have otherwise. “For example, public speaking in front of 1,000 people—you don’t often get to do that in a company, but you do at WERC,” she explains.
“Also, for me, the year I served as WERC Board Treasurer was the first time I’d ever truly worked with profit-and-loss (P&L) statements,” Cooper continues. “Because at that stage of my career, I was purely on the technical logistics side, not in a role that required me to look at budgets and returns on investment. By the time I did achieve that level of leadership, I knew my way around the financial side, thanks to my experience on the WERC Board.”
Women in particular can benefit from the additional exposure to and within the industry outside their corporate job, she adds. “While it’s wonderful that the Women @ WERC initiative is gaining traction, ultimately I encourage women to take advantage of every opportunity they can to develop their skills and gain connections—and everything WERC offers across the board is a great resource to do just that.”
Having recently stepped into the Board Vice President role for 2018-2019, Annette Danek-Akey, Senior Vice President of Fulfillment at Penguin Random House, likewise feels strongly that WERC’s educational opportunities benefit both women and men.
“I am a huge proponent of continuing to learn—particularly in our field. You simply cannot stop your education in our industry because the warehousing and logistics space is changing so fast,” she explains. “Stop learning and you’ll be left in the dust. Joining WERC is one of the easiest ways to keep current, through its publications and articles, as well as by building your network of peers who work in other industries. And, of course, by attending a local WERCouncil meeting or the Annual Conference.”
As a member of the WERC Board, Danek-Akey has appreciated the opportunity to think outside the four walls of her own operations to propose and evaluate topics and resources that all warehouse and logistics professionals will benefit from collectively.
“I am particularly passionate about promoting and mentoring women in warehousing and logistics, so I’ll also be helping to plan and organize the Women@WERC Annual Conference panels and sessions,” she says.
New to the WERC Board of Directors this year is Kristi Montgomery, Vice President of Innovation, Research and Development at the Kenco Group. She feels strongly that developing innovative ways to share industry knowledge is a key component of enticing the next generation of workers to supply chain jobs—particularly women.
“I would love to see more women at the leadership level throughout our industry; one way to do that is to make sure we attract more women to the field at the college level, as these young people are the ones with the potential to be our next leaders,” she explains.
She’s encouraged to see WERC’s increasing diversity on the Board and among the membership as a whole, “But, I still think the industry has room to grow and improve, and one of the best ways women can do that is to network with each other. If you’re new to the industry, find a mentor; if you’re like me and have been around for a while, find those people that you can help to grow in their careers and become industry leaders,” adds Montgomery.
Opportunities to provide mentorship to young women have repeatedly come to former WERC Board President (2004-2005) Susan Rider, President of Rider & Associates, through her WERC connections. She’s been asked by multiple men in the industry to mentor new female hires just entering the supply chain field, a role she accepted with zeal every time.
“The first thing I would tell them is, ‘you have to develop a thick skin. You can't get insulted when you’re at a warehouse and it’s all men, and they use bad language. And, if you walk into a warehouse in heels and a mini skirt, don’t be surprised when you get cat called,’” she says, noting that her advice is rooted in her own experience.
At her first job in the field, she had two revelations within her first week: “There truly were practically no women in the field at that time. I’d heard people say 98% men in the industry, but it was closer to 99.8% men,” she chuckles. “And, I realized very quickly that, as a woman, I had to know twice as much to gain respect and credibility in the industry.”
For women new to logistics, connecting with WERC is particularly important, Rider adds: “Women entering this field have to play their part too. They have to educate themselves and become knowledgeable about the industry while representing the feminine world in a very professional way. I strongly encourage women who are new to the industry to tap into the women who have been here a while. We’re all here to help each other, and we want to. WERC is a perfect resource for making those contacts.”
Strengthening both the connections between women in the industry and increasing their engagement within WERC will not only help level the playing field, but also help other women find their way into logistics, says former WERC Board President (2015-2016) Sheila Benny, co-Founder and Executive Vice President of Optricity.
“It’s important to me that women have opportunities to take on active roles so the industry will grow healthier, become more talent-driven and increasingly collaborative, contributing to a supply chain community that is more inclusive for all,” she adds.
“My advice to women is to make sure your relationships—at all levels—are built on authenticity. From experience I know the warehousing industry can create demanding pressures professionally,” she continues. “But the people of the warehousing industry, and WERC members in particular, share a compassion for each other, which helps us all collectively shoulder the burden. That is profound.”
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