TORONTO, Ont. — The problem of getting women into the trucking industry isn’t one that exists only in Canada and the US. It’s a global problem for the trucking industry around the world.
That’s what the audience at Trucking HR Canada’s third annual Women with Drive Summit heard on March 2, when five trucking professionals from around the globe gathered to speak on a panel about common issues surrounding the trucking industry.
The panel consisted of: Elin Engstrom, a professional truck driver and trainer from Sweden; Heather Jones, the director and owner of Success Transport in Australia; Meryn Morrison, the health and safety compliance manager of Regal Haulage in New Zealand; Vibeke Theisel, truck driver for Frode Laursen in Demark; and Jenny Tipping, a professional truck driver and trainer for Manpower Logistics in the UK.
According to statistics cited at the event, 6% of truck drivers in Sweden are women – impressive considering when it comes to Canada, only 3% are women. Engstrom said these impressive numbers are due to the culture that Sweden has in general.
“Sweden is pretty good at equality,” she said.
However, things as simple as providing clean washrooms for both men and women could help boost numbers, she said. “And that’s just a basic right,” she reminded the audience.
Engstrom said that Sweden also has a number of task forces and organizations (some of which are government-funded) that travel around the country promoting and educating students about the industry.
The biggest hurdle, she said, mirrors those that many Canadian fleets are familiar with: overcoming the stereotype of trucking being a dirty, difficult job that isn’t meant for women.
“The old views of the trucking industry is that it’s hard and heavy,” she said. “But then also think about the picture you get if you think about a truck driver. It’s a male, over 50, and fat. Where is the strength in that? In Sweden, they are promoting opportunities to learn and grow together. So that’s why I think a lot of females are encouraged and they have the guts to try it.”
Just 2% of commercial drivers in Australia are women, according to Jones.
And that’s a number she is actively working to improve through a group called Pilbara Heavy Haulage Girls. She is the CEO of the organization that helps formally mentor new drivers with 160 hours of free training. She said the bonds formed at Pilbara are so strong new recruits would rather phone their mentor if they have a problem or question on the job, rather than their supervisor.
“We all stay in contact,” she said. “And most times, they’d rather contact their mentor than the company they’re working for because (asking questions is) seen as a weakness.”
Jones said that in her experience as the owner of a transport company, and head of a training facility, the best female drivers are those that have worked on a farm or who have an interest in cars and motorcycles in general.
“Those are the type that make the best operators,” she said.
Jones said she has also found success in clearing up trucking issues, particularly those involving women and the stereotypes with the help of national media coverage.
“To attract more people we need to access other media outlets,” she said adding that she’s reached out to the Australian version of 60 Minutes about a story on rest stops in the country.
“And they did an excellent story on it.”
After spending time in Canada and learning about the trucking industry here, Morrison said that she has a number of takeaways to bring back to her job in New Zealand. The first being the notion that drivers are the face of most transport companies.
“Your drivers are your face,” she said. “They get work and they lose work. We sort of do okay (in that aspect) but Canada is much better.
“I think your driver training is fantastic,” she said, adding that in New Zealand it’s still optional to have formal driver training. “You just answer 25 questions on the computer and drive around for 25 minutes (to get your licence). It’s pretty disgusting.”
But Canadian fleets can certainly learn from New Zealand’s ways.
For example, in Morrison’s homeland, it’s common to have driver uniforms, which as she says, speaks to the professionalism of the occupation.
As well, recently Morrison’s fleet has changed its wording when it comes to advertising after noticing an alarming trend. Morrison said that a study recently showed that women won’t apply to a job if they don’t have 100% of all the qualifications listed in the applications.
“We’ve used this knowledge to our advantage,” she said, adding it doesn’t list as many qualifications on job ads anymore.
At just 27, Theisel said she loves her truck driving gig in Denmark. Originally, she was a nurse, and as moderator Marco Beghetto of the Ontario Trucking Association put it, she went from delivering babies to delivering fright. The job change came after Denmark’s government cut wages for nurses and Theisel’s boyfriend convinced her to take a ride in his truck.
“When I was out with him I could see they (drivers) weren’t just in the truck all the time,” she said. “They were out talking to customers. So, I decided to quit as a nurse and went to a school for driving.”
She said it’s not easy for her in Denmark because stereotypes are still prevalent.
“Males have the opinion that women can’t drive, especially drive truck,” she said.
But she is pushing on, and trying to be vocal about women joining the industry and combating the stigma.
The most impressive aspect of Canadian trucking according to Tipping, a driver and trainer in the UK, was the blurring of the lines between office staff and drivers.
“At Bison, I was very impressed with the blurring of the lines between the inside office people and outside driving people,” she said. “Because I’ve spoken about this at a lot of conferences and in the UK, there’s a wall or a door that says ‘high-visibility vests must be worn past this point.’ And on the shiny side of the door, everything is new and clean. And on the other side of the door (the driver’s lounge) is where the furniture goes when it’s broken…I’ve always said the more you can blur that line and the more you can break down the barriers caused by that door, you’re going to attract more people – including women – to work at that company.”
Tipping is a big proponent of having more diversity in the trucking industry and believes it’s the key to solving a lot of issues. She says she doesn’t believe there is any one thing that makes men better than women at driving or vice-versa.
“I think its dangerous to say there’s female traits and there’s male traits,” she said. “I think having women in the industry frees everybody up to just be an individual…When I was writing an article on facilities and I asked a female driving forum and a mixed driving forum…they both wanted the same thing. They wanted to wash their hands between going to the loo and eating their food.”
At the end of the day, Tipping said she feels success in the trucking industry will only come once there is zero judgment of female drivers.
“If we remove all of the hurdles and women don’t represent an equal number, I don’t have a problem with that,” she said. “But we need to get to the stage where women won’t feel judged. Once all of those barriers are gone and young women have a free choice (to join any occupation without judgement) then that’s when we will have progressed.”
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