As megatrends like globalisation, urbanisation and digitisation descend upon Australia, the very concept of commercial road transport is put to the test – and only a diverse workforce will be able to cushion the shock.

If the Australian Logistics Council’s (ALC) 2017 Forum in Melbourne last month is anything to go by, Australia is on the brink of a logistics revolution: The impending convergence of innovative technologies and new ways of thinking is expected to put our very understanding of on-road transportation to the test and fundamentally change the way we live, work and think.

According to Mike Mrdak, Secretary of the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development, whole new markets will emerge under our collective nose as we embrace the sharing economy, Industry 4.0 and artificial intelligence, while others will become obsolete overnight. “We need to make sure we don’t get in the way of new efficiencies,” he said, with view to the rise of Uber-like freight consignment services and ever more automated commercial vehicles. “[New technologies] must be part of sound future planning, even if we don’t see them coming any time soon.”

Agreed ALC Chairman Ian Murray, who pointed out that the Government’s commitment to the development of a national freight and supply chain strategy is an opportunity to future-proof the supply chain on every level – from city planning and manufacturing through to education. “Now is our chance to prepare for the future and get the supply chain right – it’s never been more urgent than it is right now,” he emphasised at the Council’s landmark event at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

But, is the industry itself ready to take the next step? Does it have the talent and expertise needed to navigate the new normal? According to Dr Hermione Parsons, Director of the Centre for Supply Chain and Logistics (CSCL) at Deakin University, a long and hard look in the mirror might lead to a sobering result: “We have arrived at a crucial crossroads that will affect our entire industry, but have we truly thought about who will actually manage that transition?” she says. “Frankly, I’m not quite sure we have the right breadth of talent in the Australian freight and logistics industry to help transport it into the information age.”

According to Parsons, and in a similar vein to Logical Executive Solutions co-Founder, Caroline Taylor, looking outside of the industry’s standard recruitment pool could help alleviate the issue, she says – women, for example, are still underrepresented when compared to other industries.

“The numbers tell us that in 2013, only 9.2 per cent of Chief Executive Officers in the transport, postal and warehousing industries were women. In line with that, women make up a mere 21.9 per cent of the broader workforce in the industry, and the ratio doesn’t seem to go anywhere.”

According to Hermione, despite a 28 per cent growth in employment within the industry from 2002 to 2012, the number of women in the industry increased by only a single per cent. “We all know that diversity is important, but there is now a sense of urgency in the space like never before. Women are smart, skilled and contribute to the workplace in ways that go far beyond the task at hand. With the industry changing, we should be acutely aware of how to use the opportunity to make it more inclusive, more welcoming and more balanced.”

In a supply chain context, ignoring the importance of diversity could pose a veritable business risk, adds Steven Asnicar, Director at Diversity Australia. “We see a major change in interest in diversity in the supply chain space for several reasons,” he shares.

“Firstly, it is becoming ever more important for businesses with a well-known brand to protect their reputation – especially in the age of social media. If they don’t meet their legal obligations or their supply chain partners’ requirements, it can backfire quickly.

“Secondly, on an operational risk level, human capital is increasingly valuable. Women are an integral part of all industries and have a great deal to offer across all levels of management. Given the change the industry is facing, ignoring them could be a serious business mistake.”

Prime Mover Magazine Diversity Feature

Even if women do manage to get a foot in the door, Steven says there is still ample room for improvement. “What is possibly the biggest issue for women in transport and logistics Australia-wide is pay discrimination,” he says. “In 1984, there was a 17.9 per cent gender pay gap benefiting men. By 2009 it had increased to 21.5 per cent.

“Even though the pay gap has fallen over the last five years to 16.1 per cent it is still higher than the current overall pay gap of 15.2 per cent. Only working towards pay equality will ensure we can make the industry an attractive alternative for women.”

Diversity in the workplace is not a gender issue alone, though. A new report by the Australian Human Rights Commission and Deloitte published in February found that cultural diversity is equally important to increase customer-centricity, mitigate risks and magnify opportunities for Australian businesses. The report, created in collaboration with SBS, Qantas, QBE and the Westpac Group, identified that cultural diversity can be just as important for maximising revenue generation and business success as gender diversity – not only to attract talent, but also from a customer satisfaction point of view.

“Much has been discussed about the business benefits of a diverse and inclusive internal environment, including increased productivity and decision-making,” explains Michael Ebeid, Managing Director at SBS. “[But] whilst implementing internal strategies to ensure this representation within their walls, organisations must also mirror these principles externally to remain competitive.”

According to Michael, migration will continue to account for more than half of the Australian population growth each year, with one new migrant arriving every 132 seconds – making for a vast pool of knowledge that can benefit Australian businesses both internally and externally. “Households where languages other than English (LOTE) are spoken now control almost 20 per cent of all household spending in Australia – totalling almost $96 billion,” he says. “Further research shows LOTE audiences are 25 per cent more likely than the population average to have a diploma or degree.”

Not embracing the potential of a diverse population – both as potential customers and as employees – would be “limiting business growth and leaving money on the table,” he says – pointing out there is “extra selling power” in communicating an organisation’s commitment to equality beyond the target diversity group. “Customers who identify ethically with brands and enjoy positive experiences are more likely to become vocal advocates, proactively influencing others’ perceptions and actions, further driving increased revenue.”

According to Steven, a key issue holding back the transport and logistics industry in that context is that it is still widely described as being a ‘non-traditional’ employment pathway for women and ethnic minorities. “At the moment, women and a multicultural workforce are predominately employed in support related roles such as administration, human resources, procurement and finance,” he says. “Only recently has industry started to recognise the need to drive and support programs that not only support better balanced gender opportunities, but also look at the wider implications of every aspect of diversity, cultural awareness, inclusiveness, LGBTQI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer or Questioning, and Intersex, ed.) and Unconscious Bias.”
According to Steven, a “fixation on quotas and positive discrimination campaigns” won’t solve the problem, though.

“We seem to have forgotten about the individual’s right or preference to apply for a job, meritocracy – the ability for the person to have the skills, experience and qualifications to do the job – and that getting recruitment wrong has a significant cost to an organisation and affects every other employee’s workspace.

Just meeting a quota does not necessarily mean that you have hired the best person for the job. “I think the only way to drive change is to collect hard data to substantiate the changes required and then get government to respond proactively by endorsing and managing organisations that don’t comply or do the right thing.

“We need to put an end to the ‘Hoganistic’ behaviours of many executives, as their outdated views simply don’t align with the current reality of our emerging workforce anymore – especially now that the very fabric of the industry is in flux.”

Michael agrees, “To move forward as a progressive and successful society – both socially and economically, organisations need to acknowledge and cater for Australia’s diverse groups. From strategy and governance, to the creation of relevant products and services and training of front-line employees, processes must be put in place to ensure that the needs of all Australians are considered, regardless of their gender, cultural background, faith, sexual orientation disability or age.

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