Pandemic Transforms Perception of Gender Roles

Challenges Remain in Shifting Business Environment

Work life's transformation during the Covid-1 pandemic has helped reshape women's role in the breakbulk industry, Ekaterina Andreeva, commercial director of charter cargo operations at Volga-Dnepr UK told Breakbulk.
The rapid shift to remote woking has been a significant factor in reappraising gender roles within the sector, and one that is expected to continue even as economic recovery occurs this year and next.

“Remote work allowed to improve work-life balance on the one hand and excel in the career on another hand. With lack of physical contact, gender roles in the workplace are becoming more and more irrelevant and people start to treat each other as colleagues or partners, not necessarily as males and females,” Andreeva says.

Perception Challenges

Despite this positive change, a number of challenges remain for women in the traditionally male-dominated industry, not least the need to shift external and internal perceptions of the sector.

“The main challenge for women in breakbulk is that air cargo/logistics is still perceived as a male world. Although we are happy to be in the transformation period as industry associations and major players are paying more attention to diversity issues and equal right (TIACA, IATA), and indeed we have seen more women joining the industry. Also, in our group we have quite a few female managers in customer service, sales, operations and legal teams and their number is increasing,” Andreeva added.

The traditional perception of the industry not only affects women joining the sector in the first place, but has also led to more women switching careers or failing to progress as quickly as peers.

“The pandemic has been especially hard on women who are often the primary caregiver in their households. Women are experiencing high rates of stress from trying to manage their workload – often with a reduced staff – while also looking after their children. The result is that women are burning out at very high rate causing many to decide to leave their companies, downshift their careers, or leave the workforce all together,” said Amy Kan, principal at Amy Kan Coaching.

Uncertain Business Environment

While changes in working practices, such as remote work, have helped in some respects, a shift away from jobs for life and towards shorter term contracts and greater churn in the job market in general has also had an impact on female roles in the breakbulk industry, with many professionals reassessing their options in light of new uncertainties.

“Other challenges for women (and men) in breakbulk in 2021 are changing and uncertain business environment and lack of business process automation,” Andreeva said. “On the one hand, with the right time management skills it is now possible to have a lot more done in one day. Video meetings have become a standard business practice that saves a lot of money and time, and technology offers a lot of tools for collaborative work. On the other hand, a lot of reports show disturbing data about high levels of employee anxiety, loneliness and isolation, as well as lack of motivation and low morale. We need to make sure that we bring some of the new practices to our new normal work life, for example balance office and remote working, after pandemic and work smart, not hard.”

Granular Data

Moving forward, greater understanding of the roles that men and women play across industries is required, not only to support career progression, but also to understand the shifts between industries and roles.

“Effective response measures and policies require comparable and granular statistics to tell the full story of the pandemic’s socioeconomic impacts on women and men. Governments must therefore provide national statistical offices with the resources they need to produce more gender-disaggregated data that can be used to assess the economic aspects of gender equality,” said Simonetta Zarrilli, chief of trade, gender and development programme at the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.

The need for improved gender data is also important in understanding regional disparities in employment. While the breakbulk trade is a global industry, the last year has highlighted the differences in approaches between countries and the impacts that national legislation can have on global supply chains.

As a result, the response of governments in the aftermath of the pandemic will be vital to ensure that global employment standards are upheld and countries rise to the highest level rather than creating further fragmentation or obstacles for women pursuing careers in the breakbulk industry.
“Europe and North America have been the leaders in creating equal opportunities for all the member of society. Being the trendsetters they are being followed by other countries in Asia and Middle East who respect hard work, commitment and right attitude. We hope that this tendency will be common across the globe and are happy to support initiatives in this area,’ Andreeva concluded.

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