Sophia Arfaoui: a smart woman in logistics

Celebrated on the 8 March each year, International Women’s Day is a special opportunity to shine the spotlight on women working in our industry, highlighting their unique experiences and expertise, and what led them on this career path.

FEM has represented European manufacturers of materials handling, lifting and storage equipment since it was founded in 1953, speaking for an industry employing nearly 300,000 people directly and generating over €60bn of annual turnover, thereby providing a sizeable contribution to Europe’s global competitiveness.

FEM is driving a common vision for its industries in support of their aspiration to turn societal challenges into opportunities. As technological innovations and societal changes of an unprecedented pace are reshaping logistics, our industry is transforming itself.

This presents increasing opportunities for women, from those looking to develop their careers further to those who are just starting out, to take advantage of and take an active role in.

To celebrate International Women’s Day, and to showcase the opportunities in our sector, we are delighted to share with you the inspiring story of Sophia Arfaoui, highlighting her key role and motivation in shaping our industry. Award winner at the 2018 FEM Smart Logistics Challenge, Sophia is now Operational System Data Engineer at Vanderlande, a dynamic and innovative FEM member.

After you won the FEM Smart Logistics Challenge competition, you were hired by Vanderlande. What is your role now? 

As an Operational System Data Engineer, one of my responsibilities is to analyse the performance of our system and collaborate with project members to identify and address improvements. 

What initially interested you, and lead you to this industry? 

The opportunity to discover more about the world of Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs). Knowing that Vanderlande is a great actor on the market, I knew I would have the opportunity to learn from the best in class.

Additionally, how Vanderlande is driving innovation in the products and services they offer, with (almost) a century of know-how, was also, really attractive. And, so far, so great! It is mesmerizing to see how a company that has been so long on the market continues to be so open to creativeness and innovation.

Do you have any insights or advice for other women who may not know the materials handling industry as a potential sector for them?  

Definitely! Viewing the Material Handling Industry as a conservative, “dusty” sector is a cliché.

What I discovered is that you are at the epicentre of the supply chain! You get to not only think about the product itself, but also its integration and interoperability. There are so many phases that you are always in interaction with and different type of stakeholders. We know that the world is moving fast. Nevertheless, the news is more about the velocity and numbers of emerging paradigms such as the growth of E-commerce, highlighting the powerful synchronization between the different actors, the Automated Warehouses, always eager to excel at integrating more and more “intelligent Systems”, and airports outdoing themselves by continuously offering passengers an enhanced travelling experience.

In this sector, moreover, within Vanderlande, you are close to the customer and you get to learn and anticipate about their challenges. These “multi-layered” challenges highlight the diversity of role, skills and experience you can find within the Material Handling Industry.

As a challenging environment where you can ally your passion to your career development, you grow and succeed by embracing challenges through working together, within and outside the company.

Do you have any insights into what could be done to encourage more women into this sector? 

I studied in Business and Engineering school and what I can say is that this sector thrives with diversity! This sector is driving innovation and to win you need variety, in terms of skills, experience and people. Forget about the idea of a “conservative” sector. Since I joined Vanderlande, I see that it is young but also experienced, it is female and male, it is business, engineering, IT, Marketing and R&D. It is succeeding because of the diversity of people, origins, experiences, academic backgrounds, and roles. In a nutshell, I would only say that the light is always on, so knock at the door, be curious and ask questions to employees, recruiters and/or visit the career websites. Finally, bring your soft and hard skills to a team, to leadership, to innovation, to diversity and collective success.

What do you as a woman bring to the industry? 

A different point of view and approaches. More diversity in a team helps in dynamic interactions and the level of thinking.

Where do you see yourself in five years? What is the big goal?  

My goal right now is to keep growing and taking on new challenges over time. I am driven to be the best at what I do through growing my knowledge of the sector, seizing the challenges, and learning from colleagues and innovative thinkers in the industry. Ultimately, I will gain additional responsibilities and get more involved in products and services strategy.