Building a Community of Practice for Women

 

This article was written by Azel Van Der Walt, Head of Lead Logistics for Maersk in India, The Middle East, and Africa. The original article was published by Maersk. You can find the article here.

Head of Lead Logistics for Maersk in India, The Middle East, and Africa, Capetonian Azel Van Der Walt, isn’t only building solutions for logistics and services – she’s also building a community of practice for women in the industry.


Born into a family of engineers, educators, scientists, and techies, I knew that solving problems, sharing knowledge, and learning from both young and old were in my DNA. Little did I know, my true passion would lie in the supply chain industry – a field that only truly gained recognition in the 1980s.

My journey has been incredibly enriching. I’ve been in the supply chain industry for over 15 years and had the privilege of working for the first micro-sim manufacturing plant in Africa, setting up and running distribution centres for a major brick-and-mortar retailer, and supporting a start-up to become the largest fashion and FMCG e-commerce business in South Africa.

I consider myself lucky to be a part of an industry that is constantly growing with advancements in technology, e-commerce, and societal development. With this in mind, my goal is to create a legacy by contributing to a community of practice for future generations of women in the industry.

Take charge of your journey

Losing my mother at a young age to breast cancer instilled in me a drive for life experiences, contribution, and empowerment, and remains a driving force behind my passion for life. In the last 18 months, I was able to travel to 8 countries with Maersk, immersing myself in the rich cultures of Africa and building a larger network for a community of practice.

This experience has humbled me, showing me the importance of teamwork, understanding individual’s strengths and weaknesses, and having a common purpose or goal.

Navigating a male-dominated industry, I’ve learned that it’s important to trust and respect my journey, embrace my individuality, and strive to be the best in class. It also means that as women it’s time for us to start taking charge of our journey and create the kind of environment we want to work in.

People walking at beach

A balancing act

Here are some daily practices I use:

  • Embrace self-discovery. In other words, keep getting to know yourself. The beauty of working in logistics is that you evolve as fast as the industry changes, and if you don’t change, you can’t keep up. Understanding your unique strengths and passions is key to contributing to a better workplace and a better world.
  • Create balance and make space for yourself. Do what’s important to you whether it’s golf, cycling, travel, and education. Trust me, when work starts to consume all of your thoughts, it’s time to step back and create some space for your brain to rest and gain perspective.
  • Build a supportive network – and use it! No woman is an island, and it’s impossible to know everything. It’s a crucial aspect of success in this industry. So, embrace the power of relationships and the network of brilliance that surrounds you. You’ll feel supported, and as human beings, we all need a safe space to feel that way.
  • Treat your space with compassion and trust your intuition.
  • Embrace change – because nothing ever stays the same. The supply chain industry is constantly changing so be prepared for the unexpected and enjoy the ride!

Words to live by

In conclusion, being a woman in the supply chain industry is an exciting and rewarding journey. Like renowned Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg famously said: “Women belong in all places where decisions are being made.”

Our opinions and insights matter, they better the industry offering a new set of nuances and perspectives to problems and solutions, and so it is up to us to treat these words as more than thought guidance. I regard Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s words of wisdom as not only words to live by, but as a call to action.

In her spare time:

  • Azel loves curating travel itineraries that is both unique and unforgettable for people.
  • From learning about the soil to the finer details surrounding the ageing process, Azel is in awe of the wine industry and loves everything about the fermented grapes – especially the communal nature of sharing a bottle with friends.

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