African Women Leaders: Offering Unique Insight
The air cargo and logistics industry has traditionally been dominated by men; however, this statement may soon be obsolete as women are breaking down barriers and making significant contributions in a range of professions.
Women in aviation are taking the leadership seat in advancing gender diversity and playing an important role in Africa's air cargo market. Women, according to Khangi Khoza, Chief Executive Officer, Swissport South Africa, provide a unique perspective to the air cargo industry.
“Swissport is a great example on how women bring fresh perspectives into the industry. We have many female leaders, notably on the African continent and across the world,” said Khoza.
50% of the Managing Director’s at Swissport Africa are female. They actively endeavour to expand the proportion of female employees in accordance with the company's aim of increasing the proportion of women in management internationally to 40% during the next five years.
Warwick Brady, President and CEO of Swissport International AG, signed the International Air Transport Association (IATA) proposal "25by2025" in June 2022, during the IATA Annual General Meeting in Doha, Qatar. By 2025, the project aims to enhance female representation in senior management and other areas where women are currently underrepresented by 25%.
The '25by2025' is a global programme to improve gender equality in the aviation sector. The initiative 25by2025 was created to raise awareness about the need to boost female representation in the aviation sector. This voluntary endeavour is a first step toward gender equality in the aviation business.
Inspiring Young Women
On 7 March, ahead of International Women’s Day, Chapman Freeborn, a worldwide air charter expert and part of Avia Solutions Group, elevated Catriona Taylor to Global Supplier Relations Director and Jenny van Wyk to Country Manager - South Africa, both newly established roles.
Both nominations follow a study of Chapman Freeborn's internal HR data, which revealed an 18% increase in women in senior roles at the firm compared to this time last year, said the original announcement. The charter specialist’s workforce now comprises 45 percent women, which is significantly higher than the aerospace industry average of just 24 percent.
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. We asked the female leaders how the industry can encourage women to work in the heavy-lifting business.
“I feel that women must first have confidence in themselves, thus they must believe in themselves. Be confident and simply be yourself, and I believe it has contributed significantly to my success. A lot of hard work, educating yourself from time to time, expanding knowledge by picking up short courses, understanding what you want to do and then following it and working hard, and you will see success,” says Sharon Lucinda Vaz-Arab, President-IMEA, Chapman Freeborn.
Chapman Freeborn increased its Africa team in February and Sharon Vaz-Arab is leading the development of the air charter specialist's Africa product offering, which includes cargo charter, live animal (AVI), and on-board courier (OBC) products, as the charter broker looks to expand its footprint beyond South Africa, towards entire Sub-Saharan Africa in 2023.
Swissport South Africa elected two women to its board of directors in 2022, and a third woman was appointed as the company's new chief financial officer (CFO). Directors Fundiswa Sithebe and Khangi Khoza, as well as CFO Neena Harri, were among the three.
“My advice to future young women entering the aviation sector is that it is a fantastic industry to be a part of and that there is a career for everyone. If you're willing to study, the learning curve is steep but once you are in the industry, you will realise there is an entire universe out there for you to explore,” says Khoza.
It is now time for the remaining views of the industry being more appealing to men to disappear as the sector becomes more reliant on AI, automation, and digital technology, but we need not wait for that to happen to drive change in the sector's image.
“Companies can focus on building a diverse and inclusive workplace culture, offering mentorship and leadership programmes, and highlighting opportunities for growth and advancement in the industry. Women should also be further encouraged to pursue education and training in STEM to gain the skills needed for logistics roles. The air cargo industry is committed to increasing women representation in leadership roles, as outlined in the IATA 25by25 initiative,” says Sonia Ben Hamida, Head of Special Cargo, IATA.
The industry relies on experts in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Logistics and transportation are reaching new levels of efficiency and cost-effectiveness as a result of cutting-edge technology and technological advancements. Although STEM is typically associated with advanced degrees, those with technical education can pursue a variety of STEM jobs in transportation and logistics.
According to Ruthie Amaru, Chief Product Officer at Freightos Group, who joined the firm in 2014, one strategy for encouraging more women to enter the heavy-lifting sector is to highlight the tremendous possibilities that digitalisation offers the industry.
“Digitisation can also create more opportunities for women to enter the industry by reducing physical barriers to entry. With more logistics operations being carried out remotely, women can work from anywhere, including their homes, providing them with greater flexibility and work-life balance. That said, it’s important to address the digital skills gap and to provide more training and development opportunities for women to learn the necessary skills. Providing more comprehensive training programmes in digital technologies can help women acquire the skills they need to succeed in the industry,” says Amaru.
The leaders agree that women are still under-represented in the air cargo and logistics sectors. This, in part, may be because women are reluctant to enter a male-dominated industry. While the situation is improving, there is still more that can be done.
“To motivate more women to join the logistics sector, companies must tailor their offerings to prospective employees, and Etihad Cargo has done just this. We have created an environment that supports and empowers women, ensuring they have opportunities to develop, grow professionally and seek promotions within the company. Companies, if they want to attract the best talent, need to make it as easy as possible for people to enter and stay in the workforce. Recruitment policies should be fair and gender-neutral, giving every candidate the same consideration. Companies could also make it easier for employees to juggle work and home commitments,” says Latha Narayan, Director of Commercial APAC, Australasia and Indian Sub Continent, Etihad Cargo.
According to research, businesses with more diverse leadership teams outperform those with less diversity in terms of financial performance. This is due to the fact that diverse teams may provide more innovative solutions and greater business results since they bring a larger variety of viewpoints, experiences, and ideas to the table.
“I believe that to attract and retain talents we must continuously invest in innovation and digitalisation. Aviation evolves at a fast pace and in order to remain an industry and preferred partner leader Swissport advances technologies for a safe and sustainable working environment, for both men and women,” says Christine Pierret, Chief Executive Officer of Swissport Algeria.
Anna Balan, Head of CargoBooking, Awery Aviation Software says, “I urge all young people, especially those who are just starting out, to not be hesitant to participate. There are many programmes available now, such as Women in Aviation. If you're afraid to accomplish something, simply attempt to find a solution and perhaps ask someone to assist you. I notice that people are becoming more accepting of women. It's fascinating to see women on stage addressing issues with the potential to change the world.
In many African countries, women have been employed as cargo handlers, freight forwarders, and air cargo pilots, among other roles. Being a successful air cargo leader is a demanding and rewarding career that demands an extensive understanding of the aviation industry, logistics, and management.
As a manager, you would be responsible for directing a team of specialists and ensuring that your company's cargo operations run smoothly, successfully, and profitably.
“I believe that successful leaders communicate effectively, act strategically, and can easily adapt to changes and inspire and empower others. The best leaders are the ones who develop other leaders. The secret to effective leadership is to be self-confident and motivated, lead by example, be transparent and accountable, and promote creativity and teamwork,” says Hamida.
A successful leader has to embody the qualities they wish to see in the teams they lead. Ultimately, a leader should set an example for others to follow and demonstrate the behaviours they expect in others.
“There is no one secret to being an effective leader, and I have been lucky enough to work with leaders who have demonstrated many of the qualities I think are essential. At Etihad Cargo, I am surrounded by leaders who are open, honest, inclusive, engaging and respectful. I have worked with leaders who have demonstrated integrity and are caring and passionate. These leaders have created environments where everyone feels as though they belong and is encouraged to challenge the status quo, with every voice being heard,” says Narayan.
Successful leaders have a clear vision of where they want to take their organisation, and they inspire their team to work towards that goal. They should be great at communication, able to clearly articulate their vision, delegate tasks, and provide feedback.
“I focus on cultivating these attributes in myself and my team and to create a culture of trust and collaboration within my team. This is absolutely critical for Freightos too, building a global freight booking platform that spans carriers, forwarders and importers or exporters is complex and focused leadership is the only way to realize our vision. I spend a lot of time on communication within my team and with other teams and make a point of being present and focused during meetings. The best tasks are those that are vital to the business while allowing team members to grow, and my happiest (freight) days are when I look at the team and see how far we’ve come,” says Amaru.
Pierret believes that success is achieved through cooperation between a motivated and engaged team and the leader; through respect for and confidence in the importance of people in every operation - without people, there would be no success.
“A successful leader is a leader who works with the team, actively listens to ideas and propositions, acknowledges challenges and obstacles, and seeks solutions. As a leader, I try to be a role model and a mentor. I lead by example, pushing to achieve operational excellence and keep the business sustainable, whilst still actively promoting the people,” Pierret added.
Need ‘A Day’ To Celebrate Women?
With each passing year, more women are taking on leadership roles in the logistics and air cargo industries, moving travellers as well as cargo on a regular basis. We also asked the leaders if we really needed a specific day to honour women.
“I believe that International Women's Day is an important day to recognize women's contributions to society and industry. In terms of the aviation and logistics industries, I believe it is an excellent opportunity for us to reflect as an industry on how many females have been attracted into the industry and then work toward programmes to ensure that we attract talent, retain talent, and create a career path for women within the aviation industry,” said Khangi.
“I believe that women's day needs to be celebrated. It's a special day, women hold multiple roles. They are mothers, daughters and corporate professionals. I think it's very creditable for this gender to manage so many tasks and so many roles in what they do so I believe it's very commendable. A Woman's Day should be celebrated by not only the women but also the men around you,” says Vaz.
“Celebrating women for being women is largely about honouring the cultural, political and achievements that women have brought to the world, which is fantastic; however, we should really enhance the knowledge of all the work that we do, as well as the challenges that we face on a daily basis,” says Balan.
Aviation is the backbone of many African economies and is vital to the continent's integration, one of Africa's most promising aviation markets.
While stakeholders continue to put measures in place to redefine and relaunch the travel sector, gender diversity and the development of qualified aviation workers are essential.
Ultimately, female leaders are contributing in the growth and expansion of the African air cargo and logistics business. They are assisting in the development of new markets, forging new relationships, and creating new possibilities for businesses throughout the continent by using their talents and expertise.
Overall, women executives are having a considerable influence on the African air cargo and logistics business, and their contributions are expected to become even more significant in the coming years.