Thriving in an unchartered territory--Women in Logistics: Swati Rustagi, Amazon India

The real challenge is to work backwards from the barriers that prevent women from being a part of the workforce writes Swati Rustagi is Director of Human Resources, Amazon India Operations.


Sanjukta, a former food blogger from Assam, always wanted to start a business of her own – one that would not only set her on the path of entrepreneurship, but also make spending time with her little ones much easier. Coming from a family of defence personnel, she did not have anyone to turn to for business advice. It was during this time that she got to know that she could start her business as a delivery service partner in the e-commerce logistics space to enable last mile deliveries in Assam. In 2015, Sanjukta set up her first delivery station in a 100 sq. ft. house in Guwahati, delivering close to 100-120 packages a day with the help of a 5-member team. Over the years, she skilfully navigated through difficult terrains and overcame harsh weather conditions and ensured customer promises were kept, every day. She has now grown to an impressive 12 delivery stations across Assam, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and West Bengal and employs a team of more than 200 delivery associates. She is a formidable change agent within the local community, and has inspired many more women like her to enter and thrive in the e-commerce logistics space.

For every Sanjukta, unfortunately there are thousands of aspiring, talented and immensely capable women in the country, who don’t always have the opportunity or the means to chase their dreams. India’s GDP could see a 60 per cent increase above its projected GDP growth by 2025, if women participated in the workforce at the same level that men do, claims a McKinsey Global Institute report3.  The real challenge though is finding systemic ways by which we could drive this participation. The State and businesses have been driving the Diversity and Inclusion agenda for some time now, however most programs focus on improving inclusion, policy, benefits and infrastructure for those who either are already part of the workforce or on the fringes of it. The real challenge is to work backwards from the barriers that prevent women from being a part of the workforce. 

The logistics sector provides a great opportunity for women to participate in the workforce by the nature of roles and labour models it has on offer. Traditionally, the logistics sector has been type-casted as a male-only sector, involving a lot of hard physical work. For a long time, women were left out owing to the notion that they were not suitable for a job in this sector. Over the years, with innovations across the demand-supply chain, logistics is no more just about lifting and moving boxes. As a sector, logistics today, offers a substantially wide variety of career choices and is able to provide a high degree of flexibility across factors like location, time of the day, hours of work and entrepreneurial engagement. Opportunities to work part time, seasonal, Flex, from home at mass scale along with the more traditional full time opportunities are all available in this sector. With increased awareness of such opportunities, women who account only for 15 per cent of the logistics workforce can easily surpass by a wide margin the expected rate of 20 per cent by 20221. The challenge of awareness around such options and willingness of women to try these will involve significant effort with communities, NGOs and State led agencies.Leading organizations in this sector carry the responsibility of leading this effort by starting at grassroots level by actively engaging with local communities, taking the lead in engaging with women, and create relevant job opportunities that they can thrive in. This may mean taking the more difficult path of not hiring the traditional and more easily available workforce and making the additional investment of time and resource in running hiring events for women by reaching their doorsteps, their villages and their communities.  This will involve partnership with regulators to create labor models that address the unique need for flexibility in terms of working hours while supporting business sustainability. Having hired, the onus of providing a work environment that is mindful of the diversity in the workforce is a significant effort and the logistics sectors with its high people touch culture provides a great opportunity for curated work environment. Often, organizational intent fizzles out by the time it reaches the ground level execution, and this requires a structural mechanism with accountability on the field, and governance from the top with attention to the minutest of detail- it’s not about providing the infrastructure but about making sure it’s designed for use. Representation and visibility of women in leadership roles is crucial to successfully recruit and retain female employees. While such structural enablers like policies, processes and leadership commitment are table stakes in this change journey, visible proof-points (especially those with scale and impact) will act as catalysts to accelerate the same. For instance, in 2016, we launched the first-of its-kind women-only delivery station in India, completely managed and run by women. Women deliver packages on two-wheelers, covering a radius of 2-3 km from the delivery station. The women associates have been successfully running operations from this station while ensuring a seamless customer experience. 

Our long-term goal should be to mould the logistics sector as a preferred sector for women to work in and create successful careers for themselves. This is unlikely to happen overnight but is a goal worth chasing. When every member of an organization, regardless of gender, starts recognizing the importance of the role played by women in the accelerated growth of their company, a truly inclusive culture will permeate. Such an organization will not only embrace the path towards a new “equal” but also advocate vocally the business case for this change, both within the organization and in the society outside. When many such organizations come together as a sector to build the workforce of tomorrow, we will look back and wonder at the time when we had just 15 percent women in the sector. 

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