Urgent need to create a pipeline for women leaders

In recent years, the call for improved gender representation in leadership positions has gained momentum, and rightly so. However, the significance of having women in leadership goes beyond mere representation, says Juliette Fourie, managing director of Metro Minds.

“Research and data suggest that having more women leaders can be a game-changer for businesses and their financial performance. McKinsey research recently highlighted that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 25% more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the bottom. Plus, research from academics from the universities of Glasgow and Leicester showed that companies with more than 30% female executives were more likely to outperform companies that don’t. In 2023, women CEOs are heading up 10% of Fortune 500 companies for the first time in history. This is undoubtedly an important milestone. But it also underscores the need for more women at all levels of leadership,” she says.

Despite this, women’s representation in the freight industry remains historically low, particularly in roles such as truck drivers, freight handlers and other operational positions. Women continue to face barriers to entry and advancement in the field. Fourie says some advances have been made to improve gender diversity in recent years, but representation in many segments remains disproportionately low. “The lack of female representation can be attributed to various factors, including perceived physical demands, workplace culture, family and lifestyle considerations, and lack of mentors,” she says.

According to Fourie, it is essential that companies introduce programmes to increase women’s representation. “At Metro Minds, our workshops and programmes are aligned to cater for women in leadership roles and build a new generation of women leaders. There are currently wonderful success stories in the industry, and many organisations are good at promoting female leadership.” She says the freight industry must recognise the importance of gender diversity and actively work towards creating an inclusive and equitable workplace for all employees. In particular, there is an urgent need to create a pipeline for women leaders.

SACO CFR Launches STARS Leadership Initiative

STARS Leadership is a leadership and development initiative that aims to identify potential future leaders in the SACO CFR team of companies. This includes SACO CFR, Metro Minds, ZacPak, and the group’s Mauritius office. The initiative aims to offer candidates opportunities to improve their leadership and business skills.

SACO CFR aims to invest in its employees’ skill development to secure the future leadership of the company and the industry. By investing in the right people, the business aims to create world-class systems and processes that will lead to high customer satisfaction and good financial results through sustainable and relevant solutions.

“The first pillar of the SACO CFR strategy map is to invest in highly motivated and skilled people,” said Metro Minds managing director Juliette Fourie. The program runs over a year and is customised to inform future leaders by providing them with an NQF 5 qualification in management. Furthermore, the program is customised to cater to the business, its vision, mission, and values.

Applications for the initiative were advertised, and the application process consisted of high prerequisite requirements, a motivational letter, and a presentation to the executive team about their background, expectations, and motivations. Twenty-seven applicants responded to the advert, and after the extensive selection process, 12 candidates were selected to participate in the program for 2023.

The delegates are employed across multiple divisions, including IT, internal sales, the training department, operations, warehousing, business solutions, accounting, and finance. Of these delegates, about 60% are from Johannesburg, while the remaining 40% are from Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, and Durban.

The curriculum consists of eight modules, including an introduction to the essence of leadership, management and management functions, building high-performing teams, performance evaluation and review, change and innovation, coaching and mentoring, business solutions and strategies, understanding business finance, and creating value for customers. Lastly, delegates have to make an exit presentation for the executive team to explain what they’ve learned from the initiative and what innovation they want to take forward.

For every module in the qualification, the company invites an executive-level member and an external subject-matter expert to speak to the delegates in a series of seminars. Delegates from coastal cities travel to Johannesburg to attend seminars for two days every four to six weeks. Additionally, they attend classes and do assessments, proposals, and presentations to enhance their competency.

“We found, as an employer, that specifically leadership skills are lacking. We saw the need for these skills to be developed,” explains SACO human resources executive Beverly Kirstein. As a result, the program facilitates personal and professional development specific to business strategy to enable employees to move into higher positions in the company while highlighting to the rest of the industry the importance of developing their employees on this level.

“For the business itself, I think what’s important on an executive level is people development and skills development. The business highly regards the development of its employees and the future and sustainability of its leadership,” said Fourie. Like many other companies in South Africa, SACO CFR faces the challenge of high employee turnover rates. Thus, the program also acts as a source of internal promotion and motivation to retain good staff by providing them with opportunities that will simultaneously enrich the company.

Industry urged to get wise to new BEE codes now

Transformation will remain on the South African agenda no matter who is in office at the Union Buildings. Adapting strategies to incorporate broad-based black economic empowerment (B-BBEE) into business, embracing the policies and meeting sector code requirements will deliver far more rewards than a head-in- the-sand approach.

Addressing members of the Exporters’ Club Western Cape recently, Juliette Fourie, CEO of Metro Minds, said transformation remained a top priority judging by recent comments by new President Cyril Ramaphosa. While the new B-BBEE codes have not yet been gazetted, it is just a matter of time. Preparing your business for these codes is far wiser than doing nothing and being caught off guard.” Fourie said as training providers servicing largely the logistics and related industries, the company had been inundated with B-BBEE questions.

“It’s a clear indication of the important role it plays in our businesses today, but also that it is a complex subject that is often misunderstood or misinterpreted.” She told exporters to take the time to familiarise themselves with the new codes which were focused on three pillars – ownership, skills development, and procurement spend for enterprise and supplier development.

“Far too often we encounter companies who are wanting to tick the boxes and are spending money unwisely as they scramble to make sure they are compliant with the codes,” she said. B-BBEE had to be approached in conjunction with a company’s long-term strategic objectives and skills development, she added. With the old codes companies were set a target across seven pillars, depending on the industry in which they operated, which if met set them at a specific level.

“The new codes however are focused on three priority pillars only and that is where companies need to put their focus. ”She said the codes did not demand that businesses hand over their ownership to black employees as was often believed. “Ownership comes in many shapes and sizes. It is not about giving your business away, but restructuring it. ”She advised companies to get legal experts to assist in this. “One of the areas where companies can really benefit with the B-BBEE codes is with skills development, utilising training initiatives like learnerships. This is an easy pillar to achieve – and while it requires money to be spent, if done strategically and properly there is true long-term benefit for the company in terms of its talent pool.”

Skills can be developed in the form of bursaries, registered internships, learnerships, apprenticeships, work integrated learning, informal learning and informal or formal training. “Our advice to companies is to first draw up a strategy of the skills they will need over the long term and then spread the spend widely across the organisation into skills development,” she said. “It is about planning properly, looking at what you can spend and then doing that wisely. ”This she said would not only see a company complying with the codes but also reap the rewards of skills investment.

Workplace simulator creates ‘work-ready’ candidates

After over a year of research and development to introduce workplace simulators as a training tool in the logistics and supply chain space, Metro Minds has completed the first forwarding & customs simulation programme through accelerated training.

“We worked in conjunction with Alto Training to implement this very unique offering,” said managing director of the specialist industry training company, Juliette Fourie. She told FTW that 30 candidates had been recruited and, after attending a two-day bridging course into the WISE MINDS programme, they covered 94 credits through simulation within a five-week period. “MetroMinds has been researching the phenomenon of workplace simulators in the logistics industry for the past 12 to 18 months, specifically looking at the extent to which the implementation could increase the performance of first-time job entrants,” explained Fourie.

She said that the logistics industry was known for high-stress-level functions with “24/7” customer service an unwritten rule in the industry. “In the freight forwarding industry, ‘you are only as good as your last shipment’ and so everyone strives for the perfect shipment. Every shipment and order processed for a trader (importer or exporter) has many role players and many activities linked to one another. Should the one activity not be executed correctly, it delays the entire process or creates challenges for the cargo to move to the final destination,” Fourie pointed out.

Evidence collected from first-time job entrants indicated that over 90% of those tested in the workplace simulator environment would be more productive, make fewer mistakes and feel more comfortable and work-ready, she added. Fourie said the company offered simulated programmes for business, finance, sales, forwarding, customs and supply chain clients.

Hard work is the key

The sky is truly the limit when it comes to women in the male-dominated freight industry. In the view of Juliette Fourie, director and owner of Metro Minds, a professional training provider in the logistics, freight forwarding and trading industry, women play many roles – mothers and wives, farmers and construction workers, CEOs and financial gurus, and passionate educators to name but a few.

“The key is hard work and to never try to be like a man. We are women and we should focus on the things we are good at,” she says. “The moment you try and model men in the industry, you will fail. Applying your feminity in everything you do will bring about more appreciation and respect. The freight and logistics industries are a man’s world, but women are starting to make their mark, says Fourie.“This industry is tough and shows no mercy. Women have to work 200% harder to make their mark. Each gender brings its particular skills – be it decision-making, emotional intelligence or behaviour.

Companies that have the right mix of women and men working in tandem and optimising each other’s strengths will excel.”Her message to women is clear. “Work hard, be proud of what you do, be yourself. The key is to stay focused, plan well and manage a balanced lifestyle while at the same time celebrating what you are good at as a woman.”