NEW DELHI: Even as everything came to a standstill during the Covid-19 pandemic, one sector was moving constantly, in fact, faster than ever before - logistics. Data sourced from various employment agencies suggest the rapid technology adoption and growth of allied sectors have led to the expansion of logistics sector, which has also emerged as one of the key job creators.
According to industry estimates, the sector employed nearly 21.24 million people back in 2016 and this number is expected to go beyond 30 million by the end of 2022. So where’s the problem? Well, it lies in the fact that one of the largest employment-generating sectors is creating opportunities predominantly for men.
The state of employment in the country has been distressing lately. Employment has been on the decline, women employment even more so. According to CMIE, India’s unemployment problem shot up to 7.83% in April from 7.60% in March. More worryingly, women’s labour force participation rate (LFPR) is only 20.6%, which is significantly low compared to men at 73.6%, as per quarterly periodic labour force survey (PLFS) (current weekly status) October-December 2021. Reflecting the worsening of this situation, in 2021, India fell 28 places in the Global Gender Gap Index and ranked 140 among 156 countries. It is during the same time the gender gap widened by 3% due to declining participation of women in the labour force.
Against the backdrop of this scenario, imagine a sector that’s employing an ever-increasing number of people but is largely unapproachable for women. This, if not addressed, can lead to a further deepening of the gender gap.The growth of e-commerce, the emergence of direct-to-consumer (D2C) businesses, and digitisation have all worked in favour of the logistics sector. In India, the sector is estimated to be a $200 billion industry with a contribution of over 14% to the country’s GDP. According to industry studies, the Indian e-commerce logistics industry is expected to reach Rs 492.4 billion by 2025.
The gender divide
Though there’s no concrete data, industry estimates suggest that only 20% of women are employed in the sector. Further, only 1% of commercial driving licences are owned by women, according to a Ministry of Road Transport and Highways report (2018). The gender gap in the sector is conspicuous. Most people mightn’t have ever come across a women delivery partner for the delivery of food or any other packages. That’s not a coincidence but the state of affairs. Food delivery platform Zomato until June 2021 had less than 0.5% of its delivery partners as women. Swiggy too has over 200,000 delivery partners, out of which only 1,000 (0.5%) are women.
As of now, Amazon India has five all-women delivery stations operating in Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, and Kerala. The company has nearly 1,650 delivery stations. None of the mentioned companies responded to the queries TNIE sent to them about the latest figures of women delivery partners and if they have a harassment cell in place, a major deterrent for potential women employees on the road and in warehouses.
It’s improving, just not enough
According to the Randstad Research team, the gradual digitisation and automation of the sector have led to the creation of new jobs and the transformation of the older ones. This has created more opportunities for women employees working in this industry with the percentage of women employed going up from 8-10% to 20-25% over the past 10-12 years.
Many e-commerce companies are setting up fulfilment centres and undertaking initiatives to improve gender diversity. Women hold a third of the sorting, packing, loading, and customer support jobs this year, up from nearly a tenth even three-four years ago, according to Ajoy Thomas, vice-president and business head (retail, ecommerce, logistics & transportation), TeamLease Services. A recent report by HR consultancy start-up Vahan states delivery businesses may see a doubling of women workforce to 15%. On ground, however, the change is yet to be seen.
Hiring in logistics to grow multifold
With the pandemic-induced digital shift, hiring sentiment in the sector is more optimistic than ever. Thomas says hiring is expected to grow multifold and the sector’s intent to hire stands at 63% for April-June 2022, which is a considerable increase of nearly 10% compared to the previous quarter. The various roles companies are hiring for including data scientists, warehouse workers, supply chain managers, delivery persons, customer service executives, call centre operators, operations, machine learning, applied sciences, support functions, warehouse roles (movers, pickers, packers, loaders etc).
Thomas believes logistics firms are assisting e-commerce and D2C firms to seamlessly manage supply chain and last-mile delivery operations at low costs. “India has over 800 D2C brands, and the sector was worth $44.6 billion in 2021 and is projected to touch $100 billion by 2025. All of this will be contributing to the surge in employment opportunities for the next few quarters.”Randstad has also seen a 25-30% increase in hiring activities across verticals in this sector YoY led by increased demand for warehousing and delivery roles.
Augment the ecosystem
A key factor to improve the gender parity in logistics is to augment the ecosystem for women. Sona Mitra, Principal Economist, Initiative for What Works to Advance Women and Girls in the Economy (IWWAGE) says not making the sector amenable for women’s entry would lead to further clustering of women into typical activities leading to labour market distortions and intensifying gender gaps in earnings.“Some platforms have made special provisions to create space for women in delivery but the nature of the job is yet to become acceptable, as well as the opportunities are yet to be available for women in general,” she said.
Mitra said it would require companies to create spaces for employing women in these jobs - which entails a list of changes in terms of employment that could facilitate more women to join. “For example women tend to find it difficult to deliver at odd hours of evenings - so safety clauses have to be strengthened and companies have to take responsibilities, flexibility in accepting or refusing jobs have to be provided to female staff, flexibility of timings is also essential,” she said.
Yogesh Kumar, founder, Even Cargo, an all-women delivery platform, says when they started, it was difficult to convince e-commerce companies to employ women. “Further, there were innumerable hurdles that we faced with various stakeholders who were responsible for training women. However, the most challenging of all was to convince women that they can join the logistics workforce. The entire sector catered to male employees.”
The women delivery partners that TNIE talked to said they are well equipped for the job but on most days it gets uncomfortable as they only see men doing the job. It’s not so much the nature of the job but the acceptance of it that has been a deterrent. For some, however, more than perception, it’s the lack of sanitation facilities, resting area, and skill gap that factor in when choosing not to join the logistics workforce.