The second annual Women with Drive conference, held in Mississauga on March 3, was not just a great networking event, it was also inspiring. We heard from women who are true leaders in the trucking industry and I had the opportunity to moderate a panel of female drivers (as well as a corporate trainer and an apprentice technician), dubbed Women on the Road.
These ladies gave a frank, candid assessment of what it’s like to be a woman in a male-dominated industry and also shared some insights into how this industry can be more inviting to women.
I was taken aback by some of the stories I heard. Alison Theriault, for example, applied to nearly 300 trucking companies before finding one that would hire her as a driver. And we claim to have a driver shortage? She said some managers bluntly told her the job wasn’t for a woman; unless she wanted to marry a nice man and drive team with him.
This was in 2008, not 1968! When she introduced her partner Katrina to the profession and told her carrier at the time that they wanted to drive team, they were told the mileage rate would be divided in two. Twice the miles for the same pay. How does that math work?
Today, they’re happily driving team for Clarke Road Transport and doing their best to promote the career to other women, whether it be by reaching out on Facebook to women considering the career or blasting the air horn when a little girl in the car next to them gives them the universal signal.
For Jennifer Duval, the path into trucking was equally difficult. She had to surrender custody of her two young children while she pursued a career as a professional driver – a necessary sacrifice to pay the bills and become financially stable. Every mile she put in was with the intent of becoming financially secure and gaining back custody of her children. This is a goal she accomplished, and with the over-the-road experience under her belt she was then able to transition to a local driving job so she could spend more time with her kids at home.
Despite the high cost of getting into the industry, she too is an advocate for other women in trucking. She is now a driver-trainer with Kriska and her daughter works there as well. I found it interesting that while we hear so much about the separation that a trucking lifestyle creates, it can also bring loved ones closer together. In Katrina and Alison’s situation, they’re sharing each day together on the road. For Jennifer, she now gets to work at the same company as her daughter, albeit in different roles.
We make it hard on women who are trying to get into this business. I believe there are many progressive companies out there that have gone to great lengths to lower the barriers to entry for women but as we heard at the conference, there are still dinosaurs among us who think of trucking as a man’s job. That needs to change. There’s still so much more we can do to promote this industry to women and make it more welcoming to them.
The Women with Drive Summit, now in its second year, shines a spotlight on this issue. It’s encouraging that attendance nearly doubled this year, to about 180 people.
As Lou writes below, this is an important cause to get behind, as making this industry more attractive to women is the most obvious and immediate solution to the driver shortage.
James Menzies is editor of Truck News magazine. He has been covering the Canadian trucking industry for more than 15 years and holds a CDL. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @JamesMenzies. All posts by James Menzies