Ever wondered why there are no female air cargo speakers?

IN ONE fell swoop, Coronavirus up-ended global society. The virus radically altered how we live and, for the foreseeable future, changed the dynamics of world trade by forcing nations to shut their borders without warning, impose severe quarantine restrictions and place lockdown measures on their people.

The effect of the health crisis on business sectors has been diverse and polarised in equal measure, with many such as the air transport, tourism and hospitality industries coming to a standstill, whilst other verticals like e-commerce and video conferencing saw their popularity and their revenues sky-rocket.

Whilst some would say everything has changed, that is not strictly true, or factual. In reality some aspects of pre-pandemic life have remained untouched by the health crisis. A classic example is the all-male panels syndrome — so-called ‘manels’ — at so many online industry conferences. Open Society Foundations — an organisation founded by George Soros, which describes itself as the world’s largest private funder of independent groups working for justice, democratic governance, and human rights — produced an illuminating report on this subject matter entitled: An End to Manels: Closing the Gender Gap at Europe’s Top Policy Events.

Its authors Christal Morehouse, Alla Volkova and Silvia Ioana Fierăscu, of the Department of Philosophy and Communication Sciences at Romania’s West University of Timisoara, analysed 23 high-level conferences in the region from 2012 until mid-2017 and discovered that the number of women invited to speak at key policy-shaping conferences across Europe remains far below that of their male peers.

“We hope the stark picture painted by the data will kick-start a dialogue about the over-representation of men at high-level conferences in Europe and encourage action to address it,” the 2018 study states. “The onus is now on conference organisers, governments, businesses and other stakeholders to ensure they are sending and receiving representative [female] delegations at these events,” it emphasises.

Eleanor Wragg, a reporter at the Global Trade Review, pointed out in a 2019 article that diverse panels improve the quality of discussions, while a majority of male speakers provides a limited perspective and deprives audiences of a broader range of views. “Essentially, if the industry continues to seek the same input from the same type of people, it’s unlikely to be able to keep up with the world as it changes around it,” Wragg underscored.

To address this gender imbalance, newly-created Women in Aviation and Logistics (WiAL), an initiative promoting gender equality within the air cargo industry, has also launched an open challenge to event organisers, including private businesses, media companies and international organisations, to invite more qualified women to speak on their panels, whilst encouraging more female delegates to attend them.

WiAL is also calling on those businesses who take up the challenge to set annual targets for improvement and make a public commitment in which they reveal the numbers of both female speakers and delegates in order to create reliable data on which to base further targets and measure progress.

Celine Hourcade, founder and managing director of business consultancy Change Horizon, points out: “We are putting together a database of women who are experts in their fields and we invite event organisers to make use of this unique resource as a solid starting point to begin making a change. We are asking for targets to be set and for organisers to report back on numbers so that we can chart progress and celebrate success,” she adds.

“We are result-oriented and we are offering a concrete solution with the database and calling for more tangible actions: we see the open challenge as a natural next step to positively embrace change, making a great impact in just five easy steps,” Hourcade insists.

WiAL recently held its first virtual seminar, which attracted more than 70 supporters. The event’s keynote speaker Henrik Kofod-Hansen, co-founder of Novosensus, which specialises in changing business culture to benefit both the employees and the senior management, insisted that whilst just 13 per cent of senior leaders are female, research shows that when rated across a variety of categories they invariably make better leaders.

The seminar’s delegates agreed that the lack of gender equality within the aviation and logistics sectors is “very visible” at the industry’s events, as well as in the media and in senior leadership roles — especially at boardroom level.

Emma Murray, chief executive and founder of specialist public relations agency Meantime Communications, underscores: “Although some organisers have undoubtedly been making progress, we estimate that currently, on average, around only 18 per cent of speakers are women, with more than one event organised recently having not a single female voice on any of the panels.

“We need to change this quickly, not only because we are missing out on valuable insight, but also because we must have visible role models to encourage the next generation of talent to join a vibrant and inclusive industry,” Murray asserts.

Hourcade concurs: “With no conscious decision to address this issue, it will not resolve by itself. So, it is time to do something about it and join forces to reach gender equality by 2030 as part of the overall sustainable transformation of our industry.” A survey of WiAL supporters listed the collection and sharing of transparent data about gender diversity as a top priority.

Since launching its ‘Women in Aviation and Logistics Pledge’ and an increasing relevant database, 52 people have already signed up to WiAL’s goals, including 13 on behalf of their organisations, 28 women have submitted their profiles, listing their areas of expertise, and 93 per cent have indicated they are open to board positions. The database, which will be accessible in the next few weeks, is available only on request from those event organisers which have accepted the initiative’s challenge, a statement notes.

Murray emphasises: “Gender equality is everybody’s responsibility: from individuals, to companies and trade associations. This is not, and should not be, a women-only issue, responsibility, or discussion. This is an inclusive movement and we do, and will, pro-actively invite men to join us and help to push the agenda,” she adds.

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This story first appeared in aircargoeye.com on 4 April 2021

I am the editor of air cargo industry news website aircargoeye.com, an alternative news and comment outlet for the global airfreight business.

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