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Parental leave policy, work-life balance and family-friendly workplaces are all crucial topics that should be explored at conferences, in particular as the air cargo industry struggles with recruitment in a tight labour market. And these topics were indeed covered at this week’s informative, fun and busy CNS Partnership conference in Miami.

What was less clear cut was why all those topics were discussed solely by women, on a ‘Women in Air Cargo’ panel.

Sponsored by Cathay Cargo, the four-woman line-up from the carrier was impressive. All were regional cargo managers – along with Cathay’s head of digital. But, on a well-attended first day during which 18 men spoke and just three women, outside of the womens’ panel (two of which were employed by IATA), it was hard to understand why these four were called upon to speak about family issues, rather than cargo.

It was even harder to understand why the Women in Air Cargo panel was placed on the Innovation Stage: surely considering widening employment to include the other 50% of the population doesn’t count as ‘blue-sky thinking’.

Good as it was, putting on a ‘women’s panel’ at a conference does not absolve organisers from putting women on the programme throughout the event. And why not include men on a panel – particularly from companies which struggle with diversity –  which should have looked at why there are fewer women; what the barriers are; how things like parental leave policy could impact creating more diverse workplaces.

As we learned from Jenny He, Cathay’s regional head of cargo in China, workplaces in Shanghai, particularly in airlines, are already diverse, so there were no barriers to her rise. So, instead, it might be better to hear examples from a region that struggles far more – such as America, perhaps.

Day One at CNS came after the weekend Golf Networking event. This has always been a popular mainstay of CNS but, as Jennifer Briggs, Cathay’s Midwest US and Eastern Canada cargo manager and moderator of the women’s panel, noted – one of the barriers to a diverse industry is golf.

“I hate golf. But it’s where deals get made,” she said.

Some women delegates said they enjoyed golf and it was no barrier. But if you look at the stats, the make-up of golf players is 72% male in the US; 82% male in the UK; and 75% male in Europe. That does start to look rather exclusive.

Speakers on the (far less well-attended) second day were more diverse, with 13 men and five women, and for that CNS should be congratulated.

But by choosing a male-dominated sport (why not add another activity?); by putting high-level women on a panel, not to talk about their work but about family-friendly workplaces (and why not add some men to this?) and by putting that under the ‘innovation’ section rather than the main stage; the otherwise excellent CNS event appears to have its work cut out on the diversity front.

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