For the newest Talking Topics discussion Talking Tables’ COO Jocelyn Mullaney spoke with Louise Whitehouse, Managing Director of Fleet Maintenance at FedEx. They discuss all things supply chain – from the huge impact that Covid has had for businesses, the need for agility during a crisis as well as the need to improve gender diversity and inclusion in the industry.
Jocelyn: Thank you so much for supporting us. One of our main tenets is surrounding women in business. Our founder is female, and we have quite a lot of women in the business. Even though we have not been able to gather in big groups this year, it has been fascinating to hear how people have celebrated at home. It has made us think more about how we actually help people to have a nice time no matter what. It can be just sitting on your own with some peace and quiet doing a jigsaw, or it could be a bingo game on Zoom.
From a supply chain and logistics perspective how have you been able to keep business moving during this challenging time?
Louise: As an essential services provider, we faced a multitude of challenges during this difficult time. Above all, ensuring our employees, customers and suppliers were safe and protected was our top priority. Adapting to the new regulations, almost instantly, was a real test. Pressure to serve our existing customers, while supporting the new demands caused by the pandemic, was unique. Balancing this with protecting employees proved challenging in our hubs as the government issued new guidance around social distancing measures and PPE requirements. We also had to ensure that all of our networks around the world were able to continue operating to keep commerce and aid moving.
Subsequently, we have continued to operate and help keep the economy moving during exceptionally difficult circumstances. Our robust network has ensured that we’ve been able to continue to support our customers, whether it be distributing COVID-19 relief or facilitating the flow of goods and commerce.
Jocelyn: Do you think the logistics industry is doing enough to improve gender diversity and inclusion across all levels?
Louise: Over the past few years, we have seen considerable progress on gender equality within the workplace, with logistics providers outlining their commitments to building a more diverse pipeline of talent across all levels. The logistics sector has historically attracted more men than women. This historical lack of women within the logistics industry may be due to a common misconception that career paths for women in logistics were somewhat limited. However, with the boom in e-commerce operations and business development, the scope of career opportunities is much broader across a variety of departments so I hope in the coming years we will continue to improve the gender balance across the industry.
Jocelyn: As well as making a change and impacting people, I think we need to start at a grass roots level and make sure these career opportunities are discussed right from the beginning in schools. When I was at school, no one ever spoke about the career opportunities available in the supply chain and it wasn't until I stumbled upon a random session at university that I learned about this industry. I hope you keep breaking down that barrier and recruiting more women. You’ve set up a women’s network haven’t you?
Louise: Yes, that’s right, back in 2018 we launched the UK’s Women’s Inclusion Network (WIN) at FedEx. The network enables women across all levels and departments to share their experiences and learn from one another. We found that internal networking helped support career progression and development as well as building a support and mentoring network. By establishing an internal employee network, logistics providers can champion, increase, advance and retaining the share of diverse talent. We have so many great women and diverse talent in the business across all functions and levels, so we set up the network as a way for people across our business to directly interact with all of this great talent. We have v over 700 people in the network now and across all levels, which includes about 10% men so it is really well supported.
Jocelyn: One of the things that is really important to us and I notice that you guys are quite keen on it as well, is sustainability and the impact to the world. You are looking at alternative fuels I believe. Many people have slowed down this year and they are a bit more mindful as consumers. I think there's possibly more scope for being mindful and buying products more locally to reduce our carbon footprint, would you agree?
Louise: I do think people are a bit more mindful and conscious of their individual carbon footprint, especially with the recent target to ban all new petrol and diesel car sales in the UK by 2030.At FedEx, I also work with our European team on our sustainability strategy which is looking at alternative fuels to help reduce our emissions across our entire fleet. I’m excited by the work we are doing in this space and firmly believe that everyone has a role to play in protecting our planet.
Jocelyn: What are your thoughts on the future of the high street? I know we’ve all seen a lot of high profile retailers and businesses struggling in the current environment and am interested to see what your view is.
Louise: The pandemic has acted as a catalyst for trends we have seen in our economy for some time, from the rapid digital transformation across every aspect of our lives, to the dramatic rise in demand for e-commerce. Our high streets have unfortunately been struggling prior to the pandemic and the crisis has only acerbated these struggles for some of our retailers. In the current restrictions across the UK, more and more consumers are turning to online shopping for all aspects of daily life, be it food shopping, prescription services or retail shopping.
Jocelyn: Definitely. Now I think people are valuing different things, and it’s changed from the fast pace life lots of people were so used to. It will be very interesting to see what happens. It sounds like you guys are ready for whatever is coming your way, and we are as well – we’ve learnt a lot this year and had to take a massive step back. We looked at everything from costs, cash flow through to our brand and how we talk to people.
Louise: It has certainly been a learning curve. We’ve seen that people have shifted their spending habits and I think this will only continue going forward. Home delivery is an area that will continue to get stronger, even after all of this is over.