We speak to Sharon Davies, Vice President of Regulatory and Public Affairs for DHL Express Europe, to find out how she promoted the sector to the government during the pandemic, why positive action is so important to the next generation of talent and how it felt to be made MBE for Services to Logistics in the 2022 New Year’s Honours List
Firstly congratulations on your MBE! What does the accolade mean to you?
I was totally shocked when I received the letter but in a lovely way! I then felt very humble as there are so many deserving people, but equally proud to be able to raise the flag for logistics and to be recognised in this way is a true honour. So much of what people do is behind the scenes, for it to be noticed was wonderful.
How has the landscape for women changed since you started out in the sector?
When I started out, I don’t think logistics was seen as a particularly obvious career for women, I don’t think there was enough recognition of the need to change that perception or proactively encourage women into logistics careers.
I’ve seen a step change in the last few years of a positive, proactive approach to encouraging women into the industry then supporting their careers when they do enter it.
There is more recognition now compared to 25 years ago that women may need different types of support to gain confidence or other skills which may not always have been front of mind for training and development programmes. For instance, at DHL we have a programme to support the advancement of women in the business. It focuses on three main areas – connecting, inspiring and developing – and includes a range of initiatives from mentoring to career workshops.
I always recall the support I received when I returned to the workplace after having my son – I felt my whole world had changed, yet my work challenges and objectives had not – how could I manage this?
Our HR team supported me with a return-to-work programme which definitely helped me to build my confidence up as a new mum back in the workplace.
If I can help other women (or anyone actually) by sharing my experiences of juggling life and work; or role modelling how I approach my job or projects, then I am very happy to do so. I had a lot of help in the past from a lot of different people and I would like to give something back where I can. We can all help each other.
How do you counter the problem of women wanting to be recognised as leaders in their own right rather than specifically female leaders ?
I hope we are nearly there – there are now many women who are CEOs or leaders in their fields who have reached these positions through their own abilities and it is great to hear their stories.
I think highlighting and promoting women as leaders is a good thing in many ways – visibility is so important in encouraging other women. It’s also important that we recognise the challenges they may have overcome to get there. But in my experience, the successful women I encounter want to be known for their abilities, not necessarily for being women in their field.
What would surprise people about the sector?
The sector is exciting! Who knows what’s in the box? It could be a gift for family members, it could be samples for a new start up business, it could be parts for a machine which is building the latest car, it could be lifesaving medicines. We’re critical to daily lives as well as businesses and trade in general and it’s really motivating to be a part of that.
There are also lots of roles within the supply chain that many people don’t expect – from engineers, to pilots; marketing, to network planners to customer services. Equally, at DHL there’s lots of opportunity to develop, try new roles or even travel. We’re international so it’s not unusual for people to find opportunities to work in different countries.
As a business we’re heavily invested in career development which means that people stay with us a really long time – my 26 year career at DHL isn’t exceptional! I think this message is valuable for recruitment too, for people looking to find careers, not just jobs.
The generation of talent coming through is highly attuned to whether employers are having a positive impact on the world so it’s important we’re telling them about our social and environmental commitments – like Go Help, our disaster relief programme that operates across the world, or Go Teach, where here in the UK we work with youth charities to encourage young people into work via outdoor or sporting programmes, and our employees can volunteer to support these initiatives.
Can you tell me about your work promoting the value of logistics to Government during the pandemic?
Having worked with many government departments over the years I have built up a good base of key contacts and vice versa – they hopefully know DHL, and how we can help them if they need any information about the sector.
When the pandemic hit, one of the first things we needed to do was help ensure our industry was to be classified as an essential service – this meant we could keep goods flowing to hospitals, factories, shops, and homes. Throughout the pandemic we worked closely with the various government departments – in particular the Department for Transport team, Department for International Trade and the Department of Health, to inform them where we might have challenges and where policy support may be needed.
This dialogue has always been important but throughout the last two years it’s been critical. For instance, we were able to obtain and give advice on workplace management during covid as well as getting clarity on some of the guidelines such as how drivers could come into the UK and where they could be tested; or understanding the processes of getting certain products into the country. Many of these things were urgent issues that enabled essential goods to keep flowing into and throughout the country so this joint effort between government departments and industry was so important and, in my opinion, very effective.
Sustainability is an issue all sectors are tackling – what can other sectors learn from DHL’s approach?
As a business we recognise that we have a huge responsibility to carve a path towards a greener, more sustainable future. That’s why in 2017, we introduced Mission 2050 – our ambition to reduce all logistics-related emissions to net zero by 2050.
arget-setting is essential to make sure actual progress is made against our objectives, and this means thinking both long-term, while also setting interim goals to hit. Last year we published our accelerated roadmap, committing that by 2030 we will ensure that 60% of our delivery vehicles for the last mile are electrically powered and that at least one-third of fuel requirements in aviation and line haul are covered by sustainable fuels.
Like many businesses, for us to achieve our targets, significant change is required. That’s why, in line with the Paris Climate Agreement, we’re investing €7 billion over the next ten years to reduce our emissions to under 29 million tonnes of CO2e by 2030. Some of this investment is already being made, for instance DHL Express has confirmed the order of 12 fully electric eCargo planes as well as signing an agreement with BP and Neste for 800 million litres of Sustainable Aviation Fuel over the next five years, saving around 2m tons of CO2 – the equivalent to the annual emissions of 400,000 cars.
As well as investment in our network, I really believe our people will play a critical role in creating a more sustainable future, that’s why we’re in the process of rolling out our Go Green training to everyone in our organisation. There is a lot going on, but I’m confident that with small, significant, and people-led action, flagship initiatives and proper investment, we can make a difference.
In her role as Vice President of Regulatory and Public Affairs for DHL Express Europe, Sharon is responsible for communication with political stakeholders to highlight the role and importance of the industry.
Beyond her core role Sharon is heavily involved in some of DHL’s CSR initiatives, including conservation projects and supporting DHL’s partnership with the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, empowering female entrepreneurs in Kenya and South Africa.
She is a mentor to aspiring female colleagues as part of the DHL4Her programme and has previously been recognised in the Everywoman in Transport and Logistics awards as an ‘Industry Champion’.