Agnieszka Pruszkowska-Jarosz: Many people, or even the vast majority, tend to associate DHL with men. And yet we’re in for a surprise: women on the Board, women as managers, warehouse workers, sorting room workers and delivery staff. Does this mean the logistics industry has lost its male-only face?
Agnieszka Świerszcz, CEO of DHL Parcel: I believe any distinction today into more masculine or more feminine sectors is irrelevant. We as women have undergone a change. Today, we are confident, aware of our strengths, and ready to break taboos. When I look at our wonderful delivery and warehouse female workers who excel at their jobs, as well as the female managers and my colleagues on the management team, I can clearly see the power of diversity. The intelligence of diverse teams is higher, making them able to work very efficiently.
Everyone has their own personality, individual disposition and experience. Success is determined by what we work on and grow in ourselves. This is an area where competencies should be decisive and evidenced by our performance. Whether the business is run by a woman or a man is irrelevant, for everything is created in our minds. When we discuss the company’s strategy at a Board meeting, nobody cares whether it is a woman or a man who speaks. What matters is what they have to say.
I heard that you went through various career levels at the company, and started on your path wearing wellingtons on the company’s construction site. Let’s take a trip down the memory lane and tell our readers what you were doing there.
It’s true. There was a time during my history with DHL Parcel that I had to put on my wellingtons every day and go to the construction site. When I started my career, the company was named Servisco [a logistics company that has been incorporated into DP DHL Group structures – editor’s note]. At the beginning, I had a year of preparation for my future role. First, I was recruited by a team of experts from the headquarters in Germany. Then, a one-month training in Bonn, together with a team of fifty people designated to set up new operations in Poland. The training covered innovative technologies, management of logistics processes and operations as well as the ins and outs of sorting operations.
It was a time when the company was to ‘embrace innovation’ with a new team of people and the construction of modern facilities in Poznań, Zabrze and Warsaw. We learned to plan processes in a completely different manner. I was the only woman in this group of fifty future facility managers, technicians, supervisors. It took us six months to launch a parcel sorting centre in Poznań. I went to work with all the guys every day. Then, the team that was supposed to stay in Wielkopolska (Greater Poland) region stayed there, and we moved further away, to Zabrze.
It was a time when men were not particularly keen on having women ‘wear the pants’ at work. Did you feel uncomfortable at the time?
I must admit I never thought it was unusual for me to work in operations and manage a large unit. However, when I was head of the sorting centre in the Silesian city of Zabrze, I sometimes provoked interest in what was a rather traditional community, but I was completely unaware of it at the time. I only noticed the surprised glances when people around me told me about it, and then later when I heard questions such as: ‘How do you feel here as a woman? Is this a job for a woman?’ Only then did it occur to me that being a woman and a head of the sorting centre might come as a surprise to some people. It was hard at the beginning: there was no warehouse in Zabrze, instead we had a steel prefabricated office and a construction site… So every morning, I would put on my wellingtons when I went to work.
Creating everything from scratch was extremely interesting. We were designing new operations in close cooperation with our colleagues from Germany. Building from scratch gives you invaluable knowledge and background. Later on, after things are up and rolling, it’s hard to get a chance to experience the kind of things that go on when the operation is launched. It was we who planned the specific operations of the sorter, the volume flows in the sorting centre, the cooperation between the terminal and the sorting plant and how to plan the supply chain… It was a great time, I learned a lot.
Even now DHL is making significant investments in innovative facilities and infrastructure.
You are not wrong, we are not slowing down at all. We are doing business in one of the most dynamic industries, and 2023 is the year of further investments and strategic projects. We are currently making major investments in the western part of Poland. A state-of-the-art terminal in Kostrzyn near Poznań has already begun its operations, and later this year we will be launching our DHL International Logistics Centre, which among other things will handle international traffic related to trading with Germany. It is one of DP DHL Group’s largest investments in Central and Eastern Europe. The facility has an area of about 32,000 square metres and will be equipped with a three-level sorter with an operating capacity of 50,000 parcels per hour.
We are also developing a strong network of parcel service points and DHL POP parcel machines. OOH (out of home – editor’s note) delivery is an extremely important trend that we are responding to in order to provide our customers with a comprehensive delivery service. The investments I quoted as examples are projects that require the cooperation of interdisciplinary teams boasting different competencies and abilities. These teams are often led by women. This shows how we are translating the concept of diversity into operations and into business.
Only a decade ago, few people even thought of doing anything to improve women’s lives and work. Today, as chairperson, you are keen on ensuring that. Does this stem from your past experience? Is it a trend? Or rather a necessity?
It is a genuine need but also a natural consequence of the belief that DHL’s strength lies in our diversity. Nearly 40% of all DHL Parcel employees are women. Women also hold almost 50% of managerial positions and make up 40% of the Management Board. Such a structure enables us to have creative discussions and our activities are more efficient compared to a homogeneous environment. Diversity translates into financial performance. Our observations are evidenced by study results (‘Udział kobiet w zarządach spółek. Jak działają firmy z warszawskiej giełdy?’ [Women’s participation on management boards. What are the operations of Warsaw Stock Exchange companies?] and ‘Wyższa obecność kobiet oznacza większe zyski dla firmy. Warto inwestować w różnorodność w biznesie’ [Higher female presence means higher company profit. Why it is worth for business to invest in diversity.]). Companies where at least 30 percent of the Board is made up of women tend to perform better financially.
DHL is also the first courier company to begin consciously building job offerings for women in the profession. We promote such jobs in videos, interviews, and pictures in job listings. There are now more than 100 female warehouse workers and about 200 delivery women in the DHL Parcel Polska team, and we still see a lot of opportunities for improvement here. Especially if we take into consideration macroeconomic indicators which show that more than 50% of working-age women in Poland are out of work and would like to enter, or as the case may be, to return to the labour market.
How do you manage employees so that neither women nor men feel marginalised?
Logistics is an industry for both men and women – literally for anyone who has the right competencies, attitude, and commitment. These factors should always be decisive. I have worked with various teams for more than 20 years now. I rely on people: on their knowledge, experience, talents, passions, charisma and personality. I face their needs and expectations and the vision they bring in to the team. And then I let them work and give them space for thinking independently, taking responsibility and creating new solutions, rather than copying old ways of doing things.
I trust them. Success in business is based on teamwork. Obviously the role of leaders – who are experienced, wise, open-minded and have broad business knowledge – is essential. However, it is not the leaders at DHL who are most important, but the tasks we set for them. Their role is to bring out individual talents in their colleagues, build relations and provide space to for the advantages and strengths of individual team members, which in turn creates synergy.
What equality measures does DHL Parcel Polska take? Is it easy to be a boss in an age of equality?
Let me start with the thing that should already be obvious, but unfortunately not always is. Wage inequality is still quoted as an important issue on the market. At DHL Parcel, an individual salary depends on your position, responsibilities, and level of experience, not your gender. We also make sure that recruitment processes select both women and men as the final candidates. We offer various programmes to support growth, including those dedicated to women. ‘Liderki w logistyce’ [Women Leaders in Logistics] is a unique programme for sharing experiences, feedback and insights. The project is aimed to ensure mutual support and growth of women at DHL Parcel.
It is targeted at women in managerial positions, but also at future female leaders who are preparing to take up such roles. Recently, the number of female participants has increased by as much as 50%. We also support working parents in balancing their private and professional responsibilities. For example, we launched the Wonder Parents initiative, which helps to combine professional and private roles at various stages of life. The programme enables parents to take part in career coaching and get legal advice, and to use a platform for sharing advice, information and experience, called ‘Rodzice Rodzicom’ [From Parents to Parents].
DHL has more than 3,200 employees, of whom more than 1,100 are women. You have implemented an initiative to support menstruating workers. Was it easy to introduce it to employees?
The project was initiated by our leaders working within the ‘Women Leaders in Logistics’ network. The initiative now covers all of our units in Poland, i.e., more than 40. The programme is appreciated by women and is very positively received. A variety of aspects are important in building a world without gender barriers, not only in terms of career opportunities, but also in providing comfortable working conditions and being attentive to the different needs of our employees.
Today, DHL cooperates with the Kulczyk Foundation. What benefits does this cooperation bring to the company?
We cooperate with the Kulczyk Foundation as part of the ‘Career Cycle’, a nationwide program for employers. The project aims to raise awareness of menstrual health and improve access to hygiene products in the workplace. As part of the campaign, we not only provided free access to the necessary accessories for women at our company. We also support deliveries of necessary hygiene supplies to women in need, including single mother’s homes, for example.
The Kulczyk Foundation’s goal to combat discrimination and inequality is dear to our heart, too. We also have a global reach. The Foundation’s aid initiatives have already covered 66 countries on six continents. DHL promotes the concept of diversity, operating in 220 countries and regions around the world. It would be hard to find a more global company with a greater ability to contribute to a world that does not allow limitations based on gender, nationality, degree of fitness or other differences, that build our shared strength after all.