“No Women on Board” is an old (and backward) sailors’ superstition. Women were said to bring bad luck on board a ship due to the possibility they might be a distraction for the sailors. Dr Phanthian Zuesongdham proves how wrong this is, in our fourth interview of the #womenonthemove2019 campaign.
Phanthian has made transport and logistics her way of life. With over 20 years of experience in the logistics sector, she has become an important figurehead in the port of Hamburg and the Hamburg Port Authority, where she is Head of Digital and Business Transformation. She has also played an important role in AEOLIX, ERTICO-led transport and logistics project, which recently held its final event.
From Thailand to Germany, transport has shaped Dr Phanthian Zuesongdham’s career and she explains how.
“A life in logistics: What led you to choose this sector?”
“I didn’t choose logistics, logistics chose me. In my school years, I always wanted to study chemical engineering. However, my mother was afraid for me working in a male dominated sector, so I didn’t apply. Then one day, my uncle who was a strategic adviser in the shipping industry took me on board a container vessel. And that’s how I fell in love with the maritime and shipping industry. I was 15 years old. I wanted to go to seafarer school, but at that time, this type of school in Thailand didn’t accept women candidates. Seafaring school in Thailand was perceived as a male domain, and in Asia especially, it is not common for women to work on board of ships. So for me this was another disappointment, as I couldn’t pursue my dream job. However, I still managed to enter the logistics industry by applying for Thailand’s leading business school and studied international transport management, which allowed me to work in an international environment”.
“You are an important figurehead for the Port of Hamburg. What is it like for a woman to work in logistics?”
“By the time I started studying logistics and transport management at university there were more female than male students in my year. There was a good mix of both genders in working groups and in offices, but once you went into the operational area you would see more male colleagues. I first experienced working in a predominantly male sector while working with Lufthansa cargo in customer service, capacity management and operation management. However, my optimistic approach made this not a problem. I am a positive person, open to communicating with people, respectful to all persons in my environment and this has surely helped me lower the barriers between me and others.”
“Today, the number of women working in the transport sector is still low. Do you think it’s a concern of women being under-represented or is it simply a matter of numbers?”
“I would say that it is mostly cultural. When I look at Germany, for instance, I notice that women are able to work in this sector and have a leading position if they receive strong support from their families and in financial terms can afford childcare and other services. I think that a modern society needs to embrace that women can also take on more roles in multiples fields. For example, it shouldn’t matter who is taking care of the children and the household, who is earning a living for the family or who is doing both. I also think that in the mobility sector, women are still under-represented and it is a challenge to give them more visibility, especially since most management positions are filled by men. I see this especially when I am invited to participate in panel discussions: most of the times I’m the only woman.”
“What is needed to overcome these barriers?”
“First of all, I think you always have to treat people regardless of their gender with respect. This could be by just listening. Everyone can listen, so respect, for me, has never been an issue of gender. Gender, however, could be one of the factors that exposes you initially. People might notice you and look at you more, but if you turn that expectation around, people will accept you immediately. I also think women should be more united and collaborative. As a woman working in mobility, I want to inspire other women to work in this sector and enhance collaboration between them and the industry. That is why I joined the Women in Mobility (WiM) hub in Hamburg. Recently, I also took on the role of Board Member for the Women International Shipping and Trading Association (WISTA). WISTA is an international association of more than 40 countries with the goal to promote and strengthen the role of women in this business, especially those from younger generations.
“Speaking of associations and projects, you are involved in AEOLIX, which has recently held its final event. What was your role in this project and do you have any comments on the outcome of this event?”
“I participated in the Living Lab 1, based in Hamburg. Working with colleagues from T-Systems, TX logistics and with HOLMS, the House of Logistics in Frankfurt, we explored how logistics information, between the rail operators and other stakeholders in this Living Lab, could be transferred. I was defining use cases with colleagues and evaluating how this exchange can make the logistics process more efficient. My role also included evaluating the business model issue, how deep interoperability between the platform services or the logistics platform could work, and last but not least, as Master of Ceremonies, I took part in the organisation of the final event, together with ERTICO and T-Systems. I think AEOLIX was a brilliant project because we put together stakeholders from throughout the supply chain to improve information-sharing processes and the flow of goods, in order to make the supply chain more visible and flexible. Discussions are not over, that is why the follow-up project FENIX has been initiated by ERTICO. We learned a lot in AEOLIX and we know where the challenge lies. In FENIX we’ll put what we learned into practice”.
“What advice would you give to all the women who wish to pursue a career in the mobility sector?”
Do not allow gender to be a barrier for your dreams!