A trailblazer in the logistics industry
Although we are in 2021, many industries dominated by men still prevail, one of them is the logistics industry, however that fact should not discourage other women from working in the transportation industry. Today the road is easier than a few years ago, thanks to the brave women who dared to break the glass ceiling, women who were ignored at the beginning, but who, thanks to their persistence and talent, managed to succeed and be masters of their own companies, such as the case of Melissa Priest, founder of Alexandretta, a firm that provides global transportation spend management services that consistently drive significant cost savings from its clients’ transportation budgets via detailed analytics, strategic planning, and negotiation support.
I talked to Melissa about the challenges she faced and what are the keys to her success.
“When one woman joins, she is often not heard or is seen as the token woman, however once there are three women on a board, the women are “heard” and their impact really comes to the forefront”
Melissa, you are a parcel expert, you have saved clients over a billion dollars in transportation costs over the course of your 20+ years in the transportation industry. How did you start your career in the logistics industry?
I have always been fascinated by travel and global commerce, so when I returned to the U.S. after getting my bachelor’s degree, my father-in-law recommended that I apply to work at FedEx. They had expat positions and women in management and that was all I needed to hear. I started there in 1997 and fell in love with transportation and logistics.
Currently as the CEO at Alexandretta Transportation Consulting, a firm that provides global transportation spend management services. Its expertise allows you to consistently drive significant cost savings from your clients’ transportation budgets via detailed analytics, strategic planning, and negotiation support. What challenges have you faced as a woman in a male-dominated sector?
I think the biggest one is unconscious bias. I found so many times that men would seek out other men to work with, even if I started the dialogue. I think part of that is just “like attracts like”, meaning that the men felt comfortable talking with other men. There is nothing inherently wrong with that, however I’ve found I’ve needed to work a lot harder to find men that were comfortable working with me instead of another man. The very fact that the industry has not been diverse drives a continued lack of diversity.
Fortunately changes in Supply Chain have drawn more women to the industry. I’ve also experienced men who assumed I didn’t have the experience that my counterparts did, even though that was not the case. And then there has been plain bias and unequal treatment. Those moments of being talked down to or dismissed outright, which fortunately have been fewer than the unconscious bias moments. And, of course, I’ve seen male colleagues singled out for better pay or opportunities that were not open to me.
“Diversity is one of our superpowers, because we represent different perspectives and abilities to connect. As the founder of Alexandretta, we hire with diversity in mind”
There is a huge gap in the number of workers in the US Transportation & Utilities sector, women constitute only 22.6%, which are the reasons and how can this reality be changed?
I think that what I mentioned above is a huge part of the puzzle. If you have a very male-dominant industry and those men are unconsciously (or consciously) drawn to hire and work with men, it is hard to bring in diverse candidates. That “culture” is hard to break and those that do come into the space can have a tough time getting ahead. I love working with men; however, I’ve had many moments of loneliness or frustration at being continuously expected to go along to the sports bar or the golf course or even a strip club (yes, really). Or that I “had to” to fit in. Fortunately, those days are passing. The good news is that there are more women and those women, including myself, are trying to connect so that we can support one another and give assistance to each other in networking, relationships, job openings, pay, discussions about how to make positions work for us and other support.
There is also more understanding of gender bias amongst both men and women and I’ve seen men and women working hard together, both personally and at the corporate level, to work through those issues and provide a more welcoming place for all. And ultimately there is a tipping point, as has been discussed regarding women joining corporate boards. When one woman joins, she is often not heard or is seen as the token woman, however once there are three women on a board, the women are “heard” and their impact really comes to the forefront.
As more women join the transportation industry, their voices will be heard and amplified. We need to have open dialogue open on both sides of the table to make it a comfortable place to make progress, as everyone ultimately benefits from diversity. I have educated about unconscious bias in the workplace which has yielded tremendously positive results. I, and others like myself, need to be take consistent action.
You are a trailblazer, the only female business owner in your space in the U.S. What`s the recipe for your success?
That’s a hard one, as there are so many ingredients that come together. I think persistence is a huge one. The answer is not “no”, it’s “how do we find a solution that works”. I’ve always embraced learning as there is so much that I don’t know. Being able to adapt to and embrace change. Having incredible care for my team and my clients. Being confident in myself and my skillsets yet looking for my shortcomings so that I can work on them.
Having a positive mindset and a heart filled with gratitude. Being willing to do whatever it takes (unless it is unethical or illegal) to get whatever needs to be done, done. Showing up consistently. Having the incredible support of my family and friends and a fantastic tribe around me. Goal setting on a regular basis.
A focus on personal development. Acting with integrity and honesty. Doing what I say I will do. And a desire to step into the unknown and take risks.
Alexandretta Transportation Consulting supports diversity and inclusion, can you tell us how?
It’s a great question as diversity is so much more than equality for women. We have staff on three continents that speak five languages and represent numerous faiths and cultures. Our diversity is one of our superpowers, because we represent different perspectives and abilities to connect. As the founder of Alexandretta, we hire with diversity in mind. We also support women in various industries so that we can bring results to female decision-makers. We seek women out in order to bring results, so that we can make an impact on the earnings gap and also the reputation map. I personally contribute to various women’s groups seeking to empower women of all ages through articles and podcasts. And I just co-authored the book Women Breaking Through which speaks to skillsets that are vital for women to have success in business.