Filling gender divide helps businesses

Hannah Stewart speaks to MHD about how at the age of 31 she has already been working in the supply chain, logistics, transport, and waste management industries for the past 13-odd years. In this time, she has completed a bachelor’s degree, been promoted multiple times, become an ambassador, and received titles and accolades.

Hannah Stewart has been Operations Manager at the family owned Stows Waste Management for the past three years and a recipient of Transport Women Australia’s 2020 scholarship, Driving the Difference.

She’s also Board Director for Transport Women Australia Limited and Australian Trucking Association & Teletrac Navman Diversity Ambassador and has been in these roles since 2021. 

In her career so far, she’s completed a Bachelor of Business, majoring in Logistics and Supply Chain Management through Swinburne Online. Additionally, she was a Rising Star finalist in the 2017 National Women in Industry Awards. 

Hannah says she didn’t decide to venture into supply chain, that the path she was on led her into it. She notes she was a curious child and used to wonder how the industry worked and what the processes were behind providing products or services to customers. 

She says it all made sense when she started working in transport logistics at the age of 22. 

“I kind of wound up there but was glad I did,” Hannah explains. “I felt like it’s where I should be.” 

With an interest in business, she undertook a bachelor’s degree via Swinburne Online as a mature-aged student when she was 23. 

She says she found this to be flexible and to fit in with her work schedule. Her financial circumstances forced her to remain in full-time employment while she completed the course.

She did it because she believed she needed to educate herself about the industry and acquire the useful and helpful knowledge to understand and do her job well. 

As Hannah worked and studied, she found herself propelled further into the industry. 

“I was headhunted by my current employer, Stows Waste Management while I was completing my degree,” she says. “I took on the position of Operations Supervisor while studying. It allowed me to apply the theory straight into their business.” 

She took on the position of Operations Supervisor at the age of 24 before she was promoted to Operations Manager at 28. 

“I’m very passionate about diversity in general,” Hannah says. “Not just women, anyone of all backgrounds.” 

When she speaks about Stows Waste Management, she says women bring a different pool of knowledge, experiences, and approaches to the small business. 

“Women approach situations differently to men, or they can provide a different perspective,” she says. 

As an Operations Manager, Hannah manages a team of 12 men.  

“My managerial approach is different to a male,” she explains. “I would say there is an element of nurturing in it.” She adds that it helps with the team dynamics and with generating mutual respect among the employees. 

She says she struggled at her previous workplaces where some of her male colleagues would try to intimidate her or make condescending remarks.  

She attributes her age, gender and physical appearance as impacting how her male ex-colleagues perceived and treated her. She worked for her former employers from age 18 to 24. 

“I felt a lot of the time I wasn’t taken seriously, and I don’t know whether that was my age or my gender,” Hannah says. “But when I did come onto Stows, none of that mattered and I felt as though I had a seat at the table every time and my opinion was valued.” 

Also, on a positive note, she says there’s a big shift occurring in many workplaces where they are embracing diversity and inclusion. 

“I think organisations are slowly changing and adapting,” she adds as she says a lot more women have been entering the supply chain and logistics and waste management industries over the past six years although they’ve been doing so hesitantly. 

Hannah works in the logistics transport and waste sectors where she notes few women work. 

“We’re experiencing a massive labour shortage,” Hannah explains. “Everyone in every industry is screaming out for labour.” She says if businesses embrace gender diversity and become inclusive, they can fill this gap by doubling the talent pool.

She says Transport Women Australia Limited is involved with several initiatives that reach out to women of all ages to get involved in the transport, logistics and supply chain industry. 

She adds that it would help if businesses looked at applications from women, younger employees, people from diverse backgrounds and minorities. 

“You’re starting to see some businesses open breastfeeding rooms,” Hannah says. “They’re a lot more supportive with maternity leave, so it’s making the industry more appealing to women, which is important.” 

Earlier this year, Hannah did a program in Queensland as a diversity ambassador. She says one of the key focuses was on people from minority groups. 

“There are so many people that may have a disability that can still do the job probably better than someone who’s able-bodied,” she says. “But they’re just not considered.” 

She notes some employers are uneducated about these matters and are therefore reluctant to hire people who have a disability. She adds that these employers are usually unwilling to cater towards people with disabilities by altering the workplace to accommodate their needs. 

Another issue she cares about is creating a safe space for LGBTQI people so they can work in these industries. 

“Until businesses and organisations start understanding and embracing those communities, they’ll just keep achieving the same result and not gain anything,” Hannah says. 

After being in the transport logistics and waste industries for the past 13-odd years, Hannah has some invaluable advice for anyone thinking of entering these fields.

She says she suffered from impostor syndrome when she started out but wants young applicants including women to remember that they’re never going to know everything, that they’re educating themselves along the way, and they need to believe in themselves: in what they think, say, and do. 

“I upskilled and educated myself on my own accord,” Hannah says. “The best thing I ever did was my degree with Swinburne Online. It allowed me to network and make many friends by meeting other students, and I work with them in the logistics and supply chain industry.” 

“For me, it was important to have a network around me so I could bounce ideas off, even years down the track.” 

Her other advice specifically for women is to find an organisation that supports diversity and supports women.

“It’s important that your values align with the organisation’s values, and I feel like if it doesn’t, it can be like you’re fighting a losing battle.”

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