Female Focus: Women in Supply Chain (Part 3)

Welcome back to the final part of our Female Focus series! If you haven’t had a chance to read the second part of our series, you can find it here. In our final part, we spotlight the unique challenges and successes of our interviewees. This part highlights their resilience and contributions at Exertis Supply Chain Services, focusing on insights gained and progress made towards an inclusive environment. 

So we were talking a little bit before about work environment and how important it is for mental health, and we talked about supporting each other within the organisation. How do you tend to go about encouraging teamwork and mentorship among your coworkers?

Eve: I’d say asking questions, just making sure everyone’s ok.

Catherine: Yes, I think it’s just checking in with people, checking if they need any help, and generally being aware of how the team needs your support. Especially because I’ve been in the role a long time, so I tend to want to train people when they they’re new to the team and I want to be supportive in that respect. You have to create an environment in which people feel comfortable asking questions, even the same question multiple times, and there’s no such thing as a stupid question.

Geraldine: Especially on our team, there are periods when it’s so busy and you have to spread the workload around.  It’s important to check in with each other and make sure that there’s no one person in the team that seriously under pressure, and if there is, help them out.

Christina: [To Geraldine] It’s true, I see your team interacting from across the office, and there’s constant communication, I can see that the burden is shared. [To Charlotte] I actually get the visual of them being supportive every day that we’re in here.

Catherine: I think you have to be vulnerable, even though you might be in a role a long time, you don’t know at all. Just take somebody else’s feedback because you may not be doing the right thing all the time. And if you verbalise what you’re doing, someone else might have some useful insights for you.

Aga: I’m often asking Eve to come talk to me, just to listen.  She doesn’t need to fully understand the situation, but it’s helping me that she’s listening.  Sometimes she sees it from a different perspective, so she ends up giving me ideas I can use.  So for me it’s important that people I can talk to are there and I can call them when I need to.

Christina: I’m the only HR person in Limerick, and my team is in Dublin, but we’re always communicating.  It’s important to call on your team with questions, and they always steer you in the right direction.

The scope of HR is very broad, so I’m sure that’s really helpful to have.  This question is for everyone once again, what do you believe are some unique strengths that women bring to the supply chain profession?

Aga: Women bring empathy, and I think it impacts on well-being.  If you feel bad, a woman can usually see that, and anyone from the group here would check in on you.

Catherine: Yes I agree with Aga. In a previous company I had a male manager who hired a new person. I was helping to train and mentor her, but she wasn’t getting it at all- she was really struggling and would come in visibly upset.  I had to go to my manager and tell him that she wasn’t coping and I was concerned.  I was helping her with the workload, so perhaps my help maybe masked the problem, but to me it was so obvious.

Do you think sometimes they just don’t know how to deal with it if a colleague is upset for whatever reason?

Eve: There was an instance a while back with a woman who was upset, for a personal reason, but my manager sent me into the bathroom to her, and he didn’t know what to say to her so he said “Eve, go” and I was thinking, what am I going to do about it? He meant well, but he didn’t know what to do.

Christina: Women also realise what other women go through physically, mentally, emotionally. There are good days and bad days that are nothing to do with workload or the company. So I think having a female perspective means we can anticipate how someone might be feeling or experiencing because we’ve more than likely gone through it.

Catherine: I think resilience is one of the traits that women have, we do so much and women are so strong. Even if you’re married, and you have a very supportive partner, a woman always just seems to do more anyway. So you’re taking care of the household, you’re taking care of the kids, and you might have your husband or your partner’s support, but it’s that maternal instinct: you want to care, you want to do more, and then you’re going out and you’re working full time as well. This isn’t representative of all families of course, but in my experience with a lot of my friends I’ve seen that the women do more than their partners, so women have the resilience to cope with more.

Eve: Do you think that’s the reason we don’t progress as much, because we have too much already?

Aga: I think so, we’re working in two different places- we’re working at work and then working at home.  In my case, I get home and I’m tired, so I’m getting my family to take on more responsibility: maybe they do the shopping or mow the lawn, because it’s too much pressure on me alone.

Catherine: My husband works in construction in a very physical role, and I think there’s a perception that if you have an office job that it’s easy and you don’t get tired, but actually it’s very mentally taxing, and I’m still going home and making him dinner because he’s had a hard day at work.  I still feel I have to do that, even though I’ve had what was for me a very strenuous day.

Christina:  That expectation is generational.

Geraldine: I think there’s a expectation there, because people would have grown up watching their mother look after and cook for their father, he’d come in and dinner would be ready and waiting.

Catherine: I’d love just once to come home and someone to hand me dinner so I didn’t have to be responsible for making it!

Aga:  I made some changes at home recently because I’m sick of it all falling to me. I understand everyone is busy with work and school, etc, but each family member has a day when they prepare dinner- it’s simple enough and they’re perfectly capable of doing it.  And it’s working!

Geraldine:  I’d say I’m lucky though, my husband actually does more around the house than I do, he’s faster at cooking and such, and he’s a hard-working man, but it’s very surprising considering that his mother used to come over and cook his dinners for him before we were together.

Christina: Things are changing now in that regard, I’m seeing more examples of the household labour being more equally divided.

So going back to your career, can you share a project or accomplishment that makes you very proud?

Catherine: For me, I think it would be just the building on personal relationships and I’ve had personal relationships with suppliers and personal relationships with the client, and those develop into friendships.  For me, that’s something that I’m very proud of and I appreciate that I have those friendships now in my life that have come from my working life, especially when you deal with people over a long period of time. One of the key skills in in our role would be developing those relationships because it’s very important for retention of business.

Would you say that it’s harder to make those kind of relationships now that we’re mainly online?

Catherine: I think it depends on the person’s personality, I think some people have that skill to a higher degree than others.  It might not be beneficial to be online all the time, something we used to do a lot of in the past is travel to the customer sites across Europe and meet our customers face to face. And that certainly does help, putting a face to the name and developing the relationships. It makes it a little bit easier to socialise with your clients at events.

Geraldine: I agree, obviously for meeting people face to face, you build a relationship much faster, whereas online it takes a longer period of time to get to know somebody.

Aga: It’s interesting that Catherine mentioned about relationships because that was the thing I was worried about when I came into my current role two years ago, because the guy who was doing the job before me had a strong relationship with the customer- he was in that environment for 15 years, so everybody knew him.  I was worried about how to impress them or satisfy their needs to the same degree that he had. In the end, I just decided to do my best and I realised all I can do is have confidence in my abilities and trust my own judgement.

What would you say is the importance of having a diverse and inclusive workplace, what are the benefits?

Christina: I think it enables a better team: I see it from the different teams, and it can depend on the type of diversity it is, for example age or culture, but everyone brings a unique perspective and different experiences, whether it be from the different jobs that you’ve had in the past and learning that you’ve taken from it. You see it within the different teams how well that they work together and  that wealth of experience, that wealth of knowledge that they bring to the team.

Geraldine: I think it’s important to have a gender balance. As we spoke about earlier, women definitely bring empathy, and to have a healthy working environment it’s very important to have balance.

Catherine: I think it’s good as well to have like people from different countries because culturally it’s more diverse, and then we learn more. I think it’s very important to be open-minded.

Looking forward, what kind of mark or legacy do you hope to leave for the next generation of women entering the supply chain profession? Or how might you leave the door open for other women coming in after you?

Christina:  I’d say mainly just by being here- my role is slightly different because they’re more exposed or entrenched in the supply chain side because HR generally a more female environment, but when I see these ladies working here so well, I think they’ve opened the door for more women to enter a male-dominated industry.

Catherine:  I agree, just by being here, for example when someone comes for an interview and they know there’s other women here they might feel more comfortable joining the team.

Aga: And the fact that a woman is the director now sends a message to other women in the company that it’s doable for us too.

If you wanted to encourage women to join supply chain, is there any final advice you’d give them?

Aga: Just go for it, don’t be worried.

Catherine: I was going to say the same thing!

Aga: Also, don’t quit too fast.  You need to be resilient, so don’t give up. There are people to support you, you’ll receive training, so be open-minded and use your head, that’s it.

Catherine: And if you’re not supported, get out of there.

Christina: Supply chain is so diverse, there are so many ways you can go about working in it, you can move around and never get to the end of it because everything is constantly evolving and everyone is constantly learning new things to adapt to the changes.

Aga: You can always change your career path within the industry.

Thank you for reading our Female Focus series!  To find out more about the people that make Exertis Supply Chain Services great, and their contributions to the company, stay tuned for more!

Name, position, years at the company

Catherine Kearns, Senior Account Manager, 18 years

Geraldine Toomey, Buyer/Fulfilment Specialist, 8 years

Eve Kelly, Buyer Planner, 2 years

Agnieszka Nowicka, Buyer Planner/Account Coordinator, 17 years

Christina Hayes, HR Generalist, 18 years




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