Ruth Waring FCILT is founder of Women in Logistics UK, which she formed in 2008 to help increase the number of women in the sector and address gender inbalance, in addition to improving life for those women already working in logitistics. A logistics professional with 25 years’ experience in the industry, she has worked in retail, automotive and publishing before setting up her own business in 2002. Today she is MD of Labyrinth Consulting, specialising in working with hauliers and those who use hauliers to help them get more organised, working more safely and saving money.
“…Ever since I started working in the industry in 1989 I thought it would be great to have a support group for women, as we were so few and far between. I had to wait for the advent of the internet to get the idea off the ground, and for the world to catch up with the idea too!..”
Ruth, you’ve got extremely broad experience in the logistics sector.Please can you explain a bit about what attracted you to logistics, the sort of work you do and how you ended up in your current role?
When I was at university I did a holiday job working for a coach company, organising holiday excursions for older people. I loved it and decided to apply for logistics and transport jobs on the milk round. I got a graduate traineeship job with Exel logistics and have not looked back.
I have always specialised in transport and lorries rather than warehousing or supply chain, so although I’ve worked across many sectors I always come back to my beloved trucks. I’d always had a dream to be self-employed so I took the plunge in 2002 and set up my own consultancy company.
From there I became MD of Labyrinth in 2003 and have built the business up over the years. I now have a business partner and employees, and we’re just taking the brave step of launching our first web app for the transport industry (a new transport compliance app called SilkThread), moving on from pure consultancy.
My days are very varied, with a mix of client work (personally I specialise in providing safety and compliance assistance for hauliers and travel around the UK quite a bit) and managing the team, as well as selling our services and overseeing the business. I absolutely love my job!
Please could you give a bit of context about the logistics sector and the importance of getting the right things to be in the right place at the right time? How is technology driving change?
I think as a society we underestimate the value of the logistics sector. People complain about empty supermarket shelves but never think about the complexity of the supply chain required to keep them stocked. Also, lorries and lorry drivers get a bad press: don’t forget that everything you buy has to travel by lorry.
Technology is definitely moving the industry into the 21st century with online tracking, vehicle telematics, in cab cameras and the advent of delivery drones before long. We are also keeping a close eye on the 3D printing industry, which could massively affect logistics as a sector.
What opportunities are there to work internationally in logistics?
There are loads of opportunities and it fits in well for those who have studied languages. I can speak French and I worked in France for a year when I was at Exel, based in the Paris distribution centre for M&S. It was great experience to put on my CV.
What made you decide to set up Women in Logistics UK?
Ever since I started working in the industry in 1989 I thought it would be great to have a support group for women, as we were so few and far between. I had to wait for the advent of the internet to get the idea off the ground, and for the world to catch up with the idea too!
It was the success of LinkedIn which unlocked the idea in my mind again and I realised I could use this social medium to set up the group in the virtual world before starting to grow it in the real world.
I set up the group in September 2008, egged on by my friend Clare Bottle (now head of courier services at Hermes) and we had our first group meeting in January 2009, when half the 40 members attended. For the first time since I started work I felt like I could relax and reflect the real me.
What has the response been like?
It has been phenomenal. We now have over 4000 members, of whom about 600 are men who support our aims. We attract support and members from a wide variety of companies, and we have members who are lorry drivers as well as members who are company directors and everyone in between.
We’ve been so successful that we’re now a limited company and we’re busy attracting sponsors. We’re launching our new logo (pictured below) later this month. However the group is run by volunteers and this will continue to be the case – I don’t get paid anything to run it and our exec committee are also volunteers too.
What are the main challenges in the sector and what needs to be done to address them?
Parts of the sector are still very old fashioned, in particular the haulage industry where I work. I have experienced a lot of negativity over the years, although I do think it is gradually getting better, and the horror stories are abating.
We’ve done a lot to increase the confidence of our members with our mentoring scheme and events tailored to help them reach their potential, but I think the initiative now needs to come from the employers to demonstrate that they do really want to take advantage of a wider talent pool. Time to walk the talk!
Initiatives are now starting to bear fruit for some employers, and schemes such as nurturing women through maternity leave and making them feel welcome when it is time to return to work send a very powerful signal to our top female talent. Sensible working hours and flexible working are also key. Presenteesim is a big issue for the industry to overcome.
What sort of support do you provide for your members?
We offer the mentoring scheme free of charge to all members, and all our networking events are run in a supportive and friendly way to attract women (and men) who are not necessarily confident networkers.
I think it’s true to say that we have developed a core of friendly and approachable members who attend a lot of events and who really do benefit massively from the group – a “warm blanket” of support in a sometimes difficult industry. It is free to join the group so that as many people as possible can benefit.
We can offer development opportunities if members want to volunteer to help with the group. We also offer a discussion board for all members, which they can use to discuss issues if they wish in a supportive environment. If this all sounds a bit worthy, I can honestly say that I have never laughed as much as I have since I set up WIL – one of our unofficial objectives is to have fun.
I don’t think it mentions drinking wine in our mission statement but we do run wonderful glam events (our annual awards and ball have raised £25k for our chosen charity Transaid) and I get to dress up and just be myself – something I fear I wasn’t doing enough before I set up the group.
What would your advice be for women who would like to get into logistics?
It’s not an easy industry but, if you’re prepared to be strong and you’re an organised person, the logistics sector is an amazing place to work. The opportunities are so varied and it’s possible to earn a good salary. No day is ever the same and it’s great for those who want to travel. So, I’d say gird your loins and prepare to blast off!
What is coming up for Women in Logistics and how can our readers get involved?
We have our AGM in Oldham on 20th November: details and how to book are on the website below. We will be running more events in 2015, so if you’d like to become a member (it’s free), please apply via the Women in Logistics UK group on LinkedIn.