Niranjana Neelakantan, Co-founder & COO of Tessol, has been a specialist in organizational design and growth for start-ups and small businesses. Niranjana currently heads the Human Resources and Operations for TESSOL and her leadership brings a keen focus that is driven by her experience in strategy, growth, innovation, and technology.
Niranjana joined TESSOL as their Head of HR and was instrumental in managing the pivot and turnaround of TESSOL in 2017. The strategic and operational direction she was able to bring to the firm, got her promoted to the role of Head of Operations at TESSOL wherein she brought significant improvements to the company’s bottom line and margins. Niranjana’s exceptional contribution towards steering TESSOL during the COVID 19 pandemic, was recognized by the organization by giving her the title of Co-Founder and COO.
Logistics and supply chain industry is predominantly a male bastion. Perception is that much of the routine activities in this industry, are physically and emotionally highly intensive and hence unsuitable for women. However, with increased automation and technology updation over the years, the sector has seen an increase in the number of women entrants. The COVID crisis has brought this industry into the forefront and highlighted its importance. The current boom in the e-commerce sector and emergence of several new start-ups in e-commerce and logistics, has also opened up a whole new world of possibilities in this sector. It is therefore not surprising to see an increased representation of women in the workforce recently.
I realised very soon after entering this sector, that while there are fewer women here, than in most other sectors, the sector isn’t very different from other high pressure, demanding sectors. Gender plays a role mostly only in people’s minds and the biases they hold, but not necessarily in the nature of the tasks/activities involved. The nature of activities in the logistics and supply chain require that one be available 24*7, be always ready with back up plans and alternatives and that one be willing to deal with a very diverse mix of people – be it customers, vendors, suppliers or colleagues. A positive attitude, along with the persistence and resilience to overcome any challenges are critical competencies in this sector. As women, most of us are naturally endowed with these qualities. The willingness to continuously learn on the job and the adeptness to acquire the required skill sets for any role are qualities that help cut out the path to success. However, the greatest and possibly only challenge one faces as a woman, is the difficulty in breaking people’s biases and mindsets that hold them back from accepting and believing in the capabilities of women. This has more to do with a lack of role models across the sector than anything else.
The lack of role models and women in leadership positions is more of a systemic problem. Since logistics and supply chain was perceived by women to be an unwelcoming and unattractive sector, fewer women have opted for this sector even at a time when women had otherwise started making inroads into corporate careers. The sector has thus faced an initial lag which needs to be made up for now. However, this is much easier said than done and to effectively tackle the problem, the industry and its members need to follow a concerted and multi-pronged approach.
The initial steps involve creating awareness both within and outside the industry to help make the sector look more attractive to women. Logistics and supply chain industry forums should work with career counsellors and educational institutions creating awareness about the opportunities the sector holds. This should be complemented by regular sessions with students and academia wherein they have visibility to the nature of the work and opportunities the sector offers. Concerted efforts by industry forums to showcase more women from the sector in industry related platforms and discussions will also bring more visibility to women in the sector thereby helping attract similar talent.
Parallelly, organizations also need to make efforts internally to make their workspaces more inclusive and ensure that safe and comfortable conditions are provided for women employees. To enable women to take up operational roles, changes might also need to be made in the nature of operations, organizational policies, and SHE (safety, health, environment) protocols to make workspaces more inclusive. Continuous and targeted interventions within the organization and across all levels is also important to help facilitate the acceptance of women in predominantly male dominated roles. These interventions and behavioural training sessions will be extremely crucial in these early years.
As a successful survivor in the industry, I realise it’s also important for women to be conscious of these biases and stereotypical images that exist about them in this sector. My personal experience has been that this is an industry that values meritocracy and one where actions speak louder than words. The best way to gain confidence and acceptance is by getting the work done. It not only proves a point, but it also breaks a myth. Several such small steps adds up and go a long way in bringing the change.
The benefits and advantages of a gender balanced workplace are by now well known. As leaders and change initiators, we need to take responsibility for solving the gender imbalance is the sector. Through consistent and sincere efforts, we should aim to change existing perceptions and make the sector more attractive for women to choose voluntarily. It is also a highly opportune time to highlight the opportunities in this sector and showcase it as a highly attractive sector for women, as that will also enable the logistics and supply chain industry to tap into a much wider talent pool.