E-commerce, food-delivery companies fail to bridge the gender gapBengaluru: Mumbai-based Shweta Patole started work as a delivery agent in 2020 when she needed to support her family after her father’s demise. Working with Blue Dart on the morning shift—the only woman on the team—she delivered between 50 and 70 parcels a day and took home Rs 15,000-16,000 a month, till severe back pain finally caught up with her.

In March this year, she decided to give up her job. Now she’s not working anywhere but another delivery job is a strict no-no. “It’s too taxing on me,” she said.

Patole represents a growing problem that companies are struggling with: a lack of diversity in last-mile delivery, which continues to be an overwhelmingly male bastion.

Despite continuous efforts by e-commerce and food delivery companies to onboard more women delivery agents, the needle hasn’t moved much over the last few years, mainly due to a serious supply crunch, aggravated further by the pandemic, where the rate of dropouts accelerated with many more women having to stay at home in the role of primary caregiver.

Female delivery partners across all companies in the industry account for less than 1% of the overall number of people deployed in such roles, staffing firms TeamLease Services and CIEL HR Services told ET.

Challenges like the physically taxing nature of the job, lack of restrooms, unavailability of their own vehicles, and even safety issues and incomplete documentation keep more women from taking up such roles.

“A leading food delivery company had, at one point, asked me for 50,000 delivery women; I couldn’t supply them,” said social entrepreneur Revathi Roy, CEO of Hey Deedee, a women-driven last-mile logistics company that currently has some 80-85 women on its rolls, working with companies like Zomato, Zepto, Amazon and Flipkart, as well as mom-and-pop grocery delivery shops. Patole worked with Blue Dart through her company.

Roy has now pivoted to a more viable model to create jobs in the mobility space for women, through a petrol pump attendant programme where she is training women to become fuel attendants, oil changers, etc. She’s also training women to become basic mechanics and work at EV-charging stations.

“There is an opportunity for a 30% y-o-y increase in female riders but not enough want to join this sector,” said AjoyThomas, VP and business head at Teamlease Staffing.

Companies like Swiggy, Zomato, Amazon, and Even Cargo are still trying to tap into this pool of talent and are partnering with restaurants to make restroom facilities accessible, giving delivery partners menstrual leave as well as developing options to alert neighbouring delivery riders in case of emergencies.

Amazon has several women in its delivery network, through different last mile programmes like Amazon Flex and the Delivery Service Partner programme, said a spokesperson. It currently has five all-women delivery stations in states like Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Kerala, and Andhra Pradesh.

Zomato currently has about 2,000 female delivery partners monthly.

“We believe Zomato Instant—with shorter and defined routes—is a great value proposition for female delivery partners,” said a spokesperson.

Swiggy is working with electric mobility partners to facilitate EV cycles and bikes (sub 25 kmph) on rent, as well as encouraging bicycles as a viable option for short-distance orders.

Women are ready to take up such roles, but in most cases don’t have the funds to invest in their own vehicles or for the skills needed, said Karina Bhasin, COO of Even Cargo, an all-women delivery platform which trains women to ride two-wheelers and three-wheelers, helps them own vehicles, and lends recruitment support.

“Companies need to create a more enabling and supportive ecosystem to help women delivery agents sustain themselves financially during training,” Bhasin told ET.





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