Whilst developments in warehouse automation never seem to cease, one aspect of the industry that lags behind is the representation of women, particularly in positions of leadership. Through our Women in Automation series our Warehouse Automation and Intralogistics team are looking to increase the visibility of women working in this space and encourage more to take roles in the sector.

I help business leaders in the warehouse automation and intralogistics markets grow their teams and I recently had the privilege of speaking to Beth Marshall on the barriers she’s faced as a woman in automation, as well as her insight into work-life balance and advice for other women in the industry. Beth Marshall is a Sales Manager at Covariant AI.

 

Thank you for taking the time to do this interview! Can you tell us about yourself, your current role and the company that you work for?

Thank you! So my name is Beth and at the moment I am working in sales for the UK and Nordics at a company called Covariant. I’m very new to the role, I’ve only actually been here three months and it’s a company specializing in AI robotics in warehousing. I really love working in a AI-driven environment, there’s a lot of potential as the market is always changing and it’s exciting for me to be a part of something that’s revolutionizing the warehouse environment.

 

You’ve only been at Covariant for three months, where were you before and what was it that kick-started your career in automation?

So I spent 12 years in construction before moving into automation and logistics, where I worked for a company called Dematic for three years. Working in construction has some similarities, it being a very heavily male-orientated environment. But what I really, really enjoy is solving a problem and actually seeing something working that you’ve built with a customer. So when Dematic approached me about going in to work with them, it was a decision that I didn’t take lightly. I was like, “I’ve learned so much stuff about construction. I’ve done this for 12 years, but how do I see the future of where the world’s going to go?” And to get an opportunity to work in automation and to be a part of something that’s constantly changing all the time – there’s always so many problems to solve. So, I took the opportunity and it was the best decision I’ve ever made.

 

What do you think are the main challenges as a woman in the industry and what barriers have you encountered yourself?

I think the main barrier– and this may be a personal opinion for me – is that you feel like you have to prove yourself and why you belong in the room. Why are you there? What makes you deserve that spot? So I feel like maybe you always start on the back foot, but actually then I kind of see this an advantage because I know why I’m here, I know my worth and then actually it gives you that extra step ahead because there is little expectation of you.

If I’ve been in a meeting with somebody who is male, often initially other people would assume that they’re here to talk to him, rather than to me. And actually that person was a new starter, or someone who I was training, but others would immediately look to him and interpret it as the other way round.

It’s a perception thing and I think the more women that enter the logistics space, the less this will be an issue in five, ten years’ time. Onsite in warehouses there’s a very low presence of women and I think that’s something that definitely needs to change. The people keeping the systems alive every single day need the dynamic of a female on the team because it just changes how people look at things. If you look at Nordic culture, they are way ahead of us here in the UK, I speak to equal amounts of women there as I do men in logistics and especially in operational roles. They’re way ahead of us and I can’t wait for us to catch up in the UK.

 

Have you had any female mentors who have inspired you in your career?

I’d never had a female mentor in my whole career until around three years ago. I think that was the first time, because working in the construction industry, which is obviously similar to logistics, there were no females in leadership to look up to. That is not discrediting any male mentor that I’ve ever had because I really do think that  having a mentor is the best thing that you could do.

From a female aspect, I remember actually finding somebody where I was like, “Okay, this woman is who I aspire to be like. She is C-level, she has a great personality, she speaks incredibly well and when she walks in a room, you know that she’s there.” So I just asked her to be my mentor and she didn’t even know who I was, I just dropped her message on Teams and we agreed a mentor relationship.

It got me a lot of exposure so that was one of the great blessings from it, but also just learning from her. When first entering the industry I didn’t feel like these people who had 15-20 years of experience and all these amazing qualifications and I was thinking, “Okay, I need to make my voice heard. I have an opinion on this and I believe this is a good opinion.” But sometimes I found it quite difficult to articulate that and I remember somebody saying to me, “Beth, if you’ve got something to say, just say it.” You’re in the meeting because they want you to be there so just speak.

 

You’ve travelled a lot with work. How did you balance your work life then and how would you balance your work life now?

That’s a very good question. I have a daughter who is seven years old, nearly eight. And I think work-life balance is whatever it means to you. If you’re a person who wants to work 9am until 5pm that’s fine. But I get a really, really good amount of work done between the hours of 5am and 9am and then go and pick my daughter up between 3pm and 5pm so I think it’s about finding what works for you.

Often when you go into a new job, you want to work all the hours under the sun, but actually are you making the most of the time in those hours or are you making a point that you’re still online? Once you’ve gained the credibility and understood what’s expected from you, that’s the time to have the conversation where you’re like, “This is how to get the best out of me”. There might be one week where I’ve done a ton of hours and not been home six nights. However, for the next week, I’ll make a conscious effort to make sure that I can pick my daughter up from school every day. It’s give and take.

And I think that especially since COVID, the approach to how people work has changed and people are more open to the idea that as long as you’re putting in 110%, it’s up to you how you define your life.

 

What things do you do to take care of yourself?

Getting up early is important to me. Between 5am and 7am my whole house is asleep, nobody wants me, so I can just go to the gym, or get on with some work in peace.

For me it’s also noticing when I need a day that’s not as fast paced. For example, “What tasks can I do on this day when I don’t want to be customer facing?” Just being aware of how you’re feeling because it is tiring. There was one week we were on six flights in five days and then straight off the airplane straight out with my kid. So then it’s like, “Okay, Sunday we’re going to do nothing.” Just take a break, a refresh.

 

What accomplishments so far in your career are you really proud of?

I just feel like seeing projects come to life means a lot. Something that you have had a vision on, you’ve had an impact on and with brands that we love. That’s the fun thing about working in logistics, 85% of the time you would have heard of the company that you’re working with, and you’re probably a customer for half of them.

So when you’ve put this together and the customer’s happy, and they’ve hit their targets – just knowing that you’ve been a part of that. And also I’m proud of where I am in the space now at Covariant, I’m so excited for the future and I’m just proud I’ve managed to get here.

 

Is there any other career or life advice that has really impacted you?

“To get the best from other people, you have to be prepared to change yourself.” With relation to how I speak to people, it’s understanding what’s their personality type and what’s the best way that I can possibly communicate with them. I think that’s the best piece of advice that I’ve ever got. And that’s not just with working in sales, but also getting the most out of the team and also friends – we can’t expect everyone to want to be communicated with the same way as us. So we have to be prepared to change the way we communicate to get the best out of them.

I would also say to network, network and network. You can always advocate for yourself, but who’s going to advocate for you in that board level? Like when somebody is looking for promotion, you can put yourself forward but it always speaks a lot more if somebody else does that for you. Let people know your vision, let people know what you want to achieve, put it out there and go get it.

 

Why do you think that there’s a lack of women in the industry? And how do we encourage more women to consider a career in robotics and automation?

I think some people feel that you have to have the background in mechanics to be part of robotics and automation. However, there are so many different types of jobs in the industry. But if it’s not being communicated, or people don’t see anybody doing these jobs, they might not know that it’s  an option. If you’d have told 17 year old Beth that she’d be working for a robotics tech company based out of San Francisco, I wouldn’t have even known what that was. And I think that’s the point. You get taught that you need to be a solicitor or a police woman and these are the jobs that you have. But there’s so much more out there.

My daughter goes to Tech Club at school, so she is programing games at seven years old and that wasn’t an option when we was at school. So I think it’s going to be a generational change. And the more that we talk about it as an industry and the more we get the message out there, the better. There are some great networks, like ‘Women in logistics’ and there’s so many of us now, we’re like an army that comes together and inspires other people to do this job because it’s fun.

I also feel that people have a particular idea of robots. Like when I said to my nan about my job she was like “Oh you’re taking away people’s jobs are you?”. And I said no, it doesn’t work like that at all. We need both. Like you need humans, you need robots. And it’s about upskilling the humans and getting the robots to do the stuff that people don’t actually want to do.

 

Let’s talk senior positions in the industry. I know from personal experience there’s a huge lack of women in these kind of positions. Why do you think this is and what can we do to change this?

I think it comes back to the fact that women maybe weren’t aware that these jobs existed. And also, I think the industry before was quite narrow minded with regards to letting different types of people in. I do think this is changing now with a lot of companies merging to create solutions, firms are seeing the best of people from different backgrounds coming together to see what the output is. And the more I think that people see C-level women on the boards of companies like this, the more women that would attract.

It should always be the right person for the job. And if people push to say “We want to make sure the board is equal”, sometimes could also discredit women and I fear sometimes someone might say, “Well, they only got that job because they’re a woman”.

So I think that’s what we need to push – that it doesn’t matter if you’re a man, it doesn’t matter if you’re a woman. It doesn’t matter if you’re transgender, gender neutral, gender fluid – this person is the best for the company and they’re going to guide us.

 


 

To follow the rest of our ‘Women Revolutionizing Automation’ series, follow CrimsonXT on LinkedIn and check out its previous installments here.