Episode 2: Laura Odell on why we need more gender diversity in the industry

May 12, 2022

In Episode 2, we invited Laura Odell, Head of Air (Demand & Supply), Europe at Zencargo, to talk about her supply chain career journey in the Air industry. 

She explores:

  • How an apprenticeship brought her to logistics
  • The fast pace of the air industry
  • Gender diversity and the need for more women in senior roles in supply chains


Laura Odell, Head of Air (Demand & Supply) Europe, Zencargo

With over 20 years of experience in the supply chain industry, Laura specialises in helping customers get their goods from A to B via air transport. 

Helena Wood Hello, and welcome to Episode Two of Freight To The Point a podcast by Zencargo. Today, we’ve invited Laura Odell, Head of Air for Europe at Zencargo to talk about her origins, how she’s made ship happen and how she thinks this traditional supply chain industry should be disrupted. Welcome, Laura. It’s great to have you here.
Thank you very much for having me.
Laura Odell
Helena Wood Not at all. So, Laura… Let’s get freight to the point. Tell us about your supply chain origins. How did you get into the industry?
So I live very near to or I used to live very near to Heathrow Airport, so that helped. When I left school, I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do so my best friend’s dad took us along to an open day at Heathrow Airport where I met some people from an apprenticeship scheme called Freight Train. And basically what they do is, you do the apprenticeship scheme alongside, they give you a placement into a freight company. And I was placed into an air import department for a small freight company at Heathrow Airport where they specialized in some very unusual commodities. So they did animals and pets and that kind of thing. And they also did human remains as well. So, I did air imports there for a year and then I kind of moved around a bit doing air imports for around 10 years.

So I became very experienced in the customs procedures as well as getting involved with customers and customer service and stuff like, that. So after 10 years, I felt like I needed to do something a bit different. I wanted to learn a bit more about the industry. So I actually went into a more commercial role, learning more about exports and with exports, you need to learn a lot about the equipment that comes with air freight.

So the different types of aircraft and their restrictions and what you can fit on them and that kind of thing. So I learned a lot going into a commercial role. I did pricing and tenders and stuff. And then went into more of a procurement role after that as well, meeting with the airlines and doing that kind of thing. So I’ve had quite a varied experience within the industry.
Laura Odell
Helena Wood Gosh, what an interesting place to start. You must have had some really exciting and strange stories I can imagine in those early days of your apprenticeship.
There was quite a lot that went on. I actually ended up having to go to court with a witness for one import that we brought into the country actually had illegal substances in the consignment. So, I had to go to Southwark Crown Court to give evidence in the case. So exciting stuff.
Laura Odell
Helena Wood And what were some of the most bizarre and exotic animals that you were involved in moving around?
I remember we had Portuguese Man of War in the warehouse at one point, but a lot of it was domestic pets like cats and dogs, and stuff like that.
Laura Odell
Helena Wood Gosh, how fascinating? And it’s a great testament as well to the power of apprenticeships for helping people get into industries that they possibly might not have ended up in, but it’s been a while. So you’ve been here for 10 years. So, what’s made you stick with air?
So obviously it’s very fast paced. No two days are the same, people book air freight because it’s urgent. So generally there is a sense of urgency and everything that you are doing, which obviously keeps things exciting. The commodities that you do, as I’ve just touched on, generally people use air freight because the commodity is urgent. So you’ve got controlled substances that I’ve dealt with a lot, temperature control products that come up a fair bit as well. I think it’s just the fast pace. It’s different to ocean freight because everything is so urgent when you are dealing with it. I just really enjoy the pace of the work.
Laura Odell
Helena Wood It’s interesting. I often, it’s different, obviously, but I’ve always worked in startups. And I always think about the pace of working in an industry as being something that’s almost a bit addictive. It’s a bit like a drug. So do you think that for you, that pace of the air industry is going to keep you hooked?
I think every time, and at every company I’ve gone to has brought a different challenge to me. So say, at my previous company, I dealt a lot with controlled substances and stuff like that. At my first ever company, I was dealing with animals. So, there’s always something different to get involved in. And I think that is really exciting.
Laura Odell
Helena Wood I can imagine. So Laura, tell us about a time that you’ve made ship happen. I’d love to hear about how you personally have impacted the industry.
So in my last job, we did a lot of project cargo. So a lot of out of gauge shipments. So really large shipments, mechanical shipments, aircraft engines that require a lot of expertise, a lot of knowledge because these shipments are really big and you’ve got to get them onto an aircraft and they’re worth millions of pounds. So you need to know what you’re doing to be able to get involved in a movement like that.

We dealt with that quite a lot at my last company. We created obviously really good relationships with our partners. So we were able to move these things successfully and get them door to door without any errors. And because we actually dealt with these quite a lot, we were invited to, or I was invited to write an article for Forward, a magazine, which is a magazine within the industry and that article was published. So that was a really good thing for me and really excited.
Laura Odell
Helena Wood Oh, what a win. I hope you had a copy that went straight onto the fridge.

Yeah. I saved it. I framed it and put it up on the wall.
Laura Odell
Helena Wood It’s actually high stakes though, moving those sorts of goods. It must have led to some real problem solving and having to the workout sort of scenarios that you hadn’t necessarily imagined before.
Definitely. We had one scenario where this engine, it was one of the first times that an engine like this was moved and there was a person from the manufacturer who actually wanted to fly with the cargo. So we have to liaise the airline and try and get this guy on the freighter aircraft. So it’s a freighter, so you’ve got to try and get someone on the flight. So it does bring up its own unique challenges when you are dealing with project cargo like that.
Laura Odell
Helena Wood How interesting. Gosh, thank you for sharing that. And look, it’s really obvious, Laura, you’ve dealt with lots of different cargo types. You’ve got a really sort of fruitful and broad career behind you, but look, nothing’s ever easy. And I think high stakes projects, sleepless nights, logistics and supply chain is full of challenges. And I’d love to hear, tell me a bit about some of the obstacles that you faced and then had to overcome.
I think one of the biggest challenges for me is when I decided to take the next step in my career. After I had my children, that was when I really thought that I wanted to do something with this, and I really wanted to establish my career, but despite getting through multiple interviews and meeting different people at the companies that I’ve gone to, my self doubt will always creep in, the imposter syndrome will always creep in, despite the fact that, I’ve beat other people to the roles and I’ve got the roles because I obviously know what I’m doing and I’ve been doing it a long time.

But that self doubt always creeps in. But I think what I’ve learned over the last four or five years is that with each role, I’ve gained more knowledge and I’ve learned more. So I think it’s about going into those new roles, just appreciating that you are new to it and that you need to listen and learn and absorb all that knowledge from around you and not beat yourself up about not completely understanding what you’re doing. It’s just about taking that time and learning and absorbing all that knowledge.
Laura Odell
Helena Wood Well, and thank you so much for sharing that because I doubt you’re the only person who’s had an experience of battling self-doubt and imposter syndrome, given that it’s between us, I think it’s possibly, not a uniquely female challenge, but I think women often really struggle with that as their careers grow.

And when you’re in, what is often a male dominated space, it can be really tough to stand out and just show that ultimately, I don’t know if you can say this, but you know your ‘ship’ as it were, and obviously you’ve got so much experience behind you, and it’s great to hear that you’ve managed to recognise that’s a challenge for you and work on it step by step. So I suppose maybe Laura, for anyone else that’s struggling with imposter syndrome or has struggled, are there any steps that you’ve taken in your personal development that have helped you overcome this?
So, I mean, I wasn’t even aware of imposter syndrome. It was only when I started at Zencargo and actually my manager, my interim manager, not long after I started was Charlotte Picker and we started to get to know each other through our one to ones. And she actually mentioned imposter syndrome and started talking to me about it.

And I thought, oh my God, that’s me. So once I actually knew what it was, it meant that I could actually identify and acknowledge when it was happening. So when I’m talking to myself negatively or when I’m feeling negative, I can actually identify when I’m feeling that way and do something about it.

So, Charlotte gave me some tools. She put me in touch with a coach. So I had some coaching which really helped. Self affirmations, so every morning, reading positive or saying positive things about yourself can really change your mindset for the day. And also, Charlotte recognised that I had this self doubt, so she would always give me regular feedback, which is really important to me as well, just so that I know that I’m doing a good job. So I think having that positive role model in Charlotte and also having those tips from her was really useful.
Laura Odell
Helena Wood That’s so great to hear. And I think a shout out for anyone who’s listening to Charlotte Picker, who is just an incredible mentor to a lot of people, I think in the business at Zencargo and a real advocate, particularly for helping women grow and for the power of networking and support between women in businesses as they’re facing things like imposter syndrome and self doubt in their roles.

And I wonder, Laura, as you started to find these tools that helped you with imposter syndrome at work, positive affirmations, better self talk cycle, getting into a much more rigorous routine of feedback, have you noticed that leading into your personal life as well? Are you taking some of those things out of work?
Yes, definitely. I think you can choose how you want your day to be. So if you wake up and you do feel a little bit uneasy, a little bit unsettled or whatever, if you choose to, you can get up in the morning, put some happy music on some positive music on. I’ll light one of my favourite candles or something. If I know I’m not feeling quite myself and I find that if you choose to feel a certain way and obviously in certain situations, it’s not going to help, but I think you can definitely decide how your day is going to be by just being more positive.
Laura Odell
Helena Wood You’re totally right. Is there any top recommendations for tracks or playlists to start your day well?
There’s definitely got to be some Beyonce in there without a doubt.
Laura Odell
Helena Wood Beyonce’s very uplifting. We can definitely give her a shout. Love that. I don’t know about you, but something I love to do is, I think for me, if I can start my day with getting outside in any way for a little walk, for a run, if I’m feeling brave and to really just clear my head and start to think about what I need to do, but reminding yourself that it’s going to be okay. And I think often, a lot of the stuff behind imposter syndrome is fear. I don’t know if that’s what you’ve experienced, but fear of failure, fear of making a big mistake and actually you’ve got 10 years behind you that prove that you can survive probably anything, including Portuguese Man of War jellyfish.
And I think one of those things as well, that my coach actually told me is, I have a fear sometimes of speaking my mind, of saying what I’m thinking for fear of ridicule, fear of someone saying how ridiculous for you? You don’t know what you’re talking about, but my coach actually said to me, just say what you need to say, send that email that you want to send and actually record the reaction to that email or what you’ve said, actually write it down because you’ll find that it is just fear in your own head because when you actually record those reactions, you’ll notice that the reactions aren’t as bad as you thought they were going to be. You’ve completely fabricated or you’ve completely over thought what that person’s reaction was going to be.
Laura Odell
Helena Wood That’s a really interesting tip. That’s great. And Laura, do you have any, because obviously you had a great experience where you were able in your current role to work with a good mentor who was able to provide a coach and give you some tips on how to kind of overcome these challenges. I’m sure there are plenty of people who might be struggling with imposter syndrome, people who possibly aren’t in that setting, or don’t feel that they can really talk to their manager, do you have any tips for those people as to where to start?
I think it’s really important just to acknowledge how you’re feeling and then just speak to someone about it, just get some support. I think before I met Charlotte, I would have never thought about mentorship or coaching or anything like that. And initially I was a bit like, oh, I don’t know about this. I don’t know if that’s going to help, but actually it is really useful. So I would just say, reach out to your manager or someone, a female member of the business that you feel comfortable talking to and just ask them for advice. I think that’s the best thing you can do.
Laura Odell
Helena Wood Great. Thank you so much for sharing that. And I know this is a podcast about supply chain and we’re talking about freight, but actually I really hope that by being able to start having these conversations about things like how we are at work, what it’s like to be a woman working in supply chain, it’s part of a movement of change in this whole industry.

And of course we’re seeing disruption from the top down and the bottom up in terms of the way people work, in terms of the way the entire industry works. The world has obviously gone through change, whether it’s COVID over the last few years, we’ve had things the rate inflation, we’ve had Suez Canal, we’ve had queuing outside ports in the US, we’ve had all sorts of drama, but there is no doubt that change and disruption is how happening across all of supply chain. And then I wonder, for you, Laura, how do you think we can and maybe should disrupt the industry? So, do you have a dream in your mind of how the supply chain industry might look in the future?
I think for me, I’d like to see more women in leadership positions. I think we all know logistics is a typically male dominated industry. So I’d like to see that shift in diversity. I know we’ve spoken about Charlotte a lot, but she actually was my first female manager in over 20 years in the industry.

And I learned so much from her. I got so much support from her in the short few months that she was my interim manager that I actually got promoted in seven months of being in this company. And that is obviously hard work from myself, but from the support and everything I’ve got from her. That’s not to say that I haven’t had great male managers because I have, but I really felt like I got a lot out of Charlotte. So I think ultimately, I think having female senior leadership members I think would really, would be really great.
Laura Odell
Helena Wood And what do you think we all need to do differently to make that happen?
I think women supporting women is really important. I think that when women support women, incredible things happen. So I think that we should all be supporting each other, we could all be mentoring female members of staff and to help them feel empowered and that they can do a manager’s role or they can do a more senior role. I think it’s all about supporting each other.
Laura Odell
Helena Wood I think that’s such a great point. And as a woman in this industry, obviously I’m not on the freight or logistics side of this Zencargo business, but I completely agree with you that I think for us as women in industries that can be male dominated, supporting one another is incredible, but also I don’t want to devalue the opportunity to work with lots of amazing men who do support women.

I often think in industries like logistics is kind of on this legacy tale where you end up with imbalance, not necessarily through any intention or malice, although that’s probably pockets of any industry where that happens, but just through tradition and the practicalities of who comes into jobs, who tends to grow more quickly in roles.

So I think creating opportunity for women early on in logistics and actually showing the breadth of roles that are available in logistics is super important as well.

Right Laura. It’s time for this week’s quick fire question round. I hope you’re ready.

So, first off the block! Tell us – which other supply chain job would you like to try for a day?
I think I’d like to actually work for one of our customers. I think it would be interesting to see what challenges they encounter dealing with logistics companies on a daily basis.
Laura Odell
Helena Wood Excellent. What is your preference? If you had a choice in your supply chain would you rather be agile or resilient?
Definitely resilient. Have a bit of a hard exterior, have a bit of a hard shell so that you’re able to deal with things and get on with it and not get too caught up in the urgency of everything so definitely resilience.
Laura Odell
Helena Wood Perfect. And tell us, what is the best advice you’ve ever received in your career?
Definitely just to be more confident, and be aware that I’ve been doing this for a long time and I do know what I’m doing and to just own that.
Laura Odell
Helena Wood I love that. Last question for you Laura until we are done for today. What is the number one lesson that working in supply chain has taught you?
Just going back to one of the other questions, it is to be more resilient. I think people can get quite caught up, particularly with air freight, with everything being really urgent. People get stressed out and it has definitely taught me to take things with a pinch of salt and to definitely be more resilient and not take things to heart.
Laura Odell
Helena Wood I love that. Thank you so much, Laura for this week’s quick fire questions.
Thank you.
Laura Odell
Helena Wood Great Laura, well thank you so much, it’s been so great having you on the show.
Thank you for having me.
Laura Odell
Helena Wood No, not at all. It’s been great learning about you. I can’t wait to hear some of the more juicy stories about your early experience and some of the stuff that you’ve seen. I kind of imagine there’s some great stuff to have over a glass of wine and some interesting stories there, but thank you also to our audience for tuning into this episode.

If anyone has any questions or any feedback, please do contact us on LinkedIn. We’d absolutely love to hear from you, but for now, and until our next episode of Freight To The Point, goodbye.