Prepare for the future; embrace diversity

There have been several projects in recent years that I’ve been particularly proud to be involved with – our partnership with SmartWay to educate fleets and owner/operators on fuel efficiency and GHG reduction, the start of our Newland Transport Graphic Series focusing on the challenges faced by ethnic minorities working in our industry and our work with the Healthy Fleet Challenge promoting healthy lifestyle options, to name a few.

Moderating the Diversity panel at this year’s impressively successful Women with Drive conference was the latest and focused on a cause I want to continue championing. Why? Because for our industry to succeed in the future, it must embrace the need to have a diverse workforce.

And the largest and most obvious need when it comes to embracing a diverse workforce is to include more women at all levels of trucking organizations.

Consider that women account for 48% of Canada’s labour force, yet they represent just 3% of Canada’s truck drivers, technicians and cargo workers. They are also under-represented in other industry careers, accounting for 11% of managers, 13% of parts technicians, 18% of dispatchers, and 25% of freight claims/safety and loss prevention specialists.

I don’t have statistics on the percentage of senior management positions in Canadian fleets held by women but I’m sure it’s lower than the 29% figure for Canadian business overall. (That in itself is a pretty low bar given that women make up almost half the Canadian workforce).

In the past when I’ve raised the issue about the need for more women in trucking, there have been many who reasoned the real problem was that women simply didn’t want to be involved with trucking.

To that I say, have we considered how welcoming we’ve made the industry to women? For an industry facing a demographic tsunami, how long can we afford to ignore half the labour pool?

This is important beyond just the obvious need to be drawing from the entire labour pool. Not only do we need more women in our industry, we need to welcome more women from the variety of ethnic backgrounds that make up our country.

I’m not talking about simply checking off boxes here. Just adding more women of different ethnic backgrounds to the payroll is not enough. Diversity on its own has limited value because an organization has to be willing to unlock that value. As one of my panelists, Jennifer Laidlaw, who is in charge of diversity inclusion with CIBC advised, to unlock the value of diversity an organization’s leaders have to fight the temptation to take those differences and mold them into sameness. 

Women and people from different backgrounds than what we have become accustomed to for several decades now, will bring new perspectives, new approaches to old problems. Company leaders will need to get comfortable with hiring people who may challenge them from the boardroom to the operations room with new ways of thinking.

They have to be ready and willing to create a company culture of inclusion where new employees are encouraged to bring new ideas to the table.

It’s that kind of thinking that will drive our industry into the future.

Lou Smyrlis

With more than 25 years of experience reporting on transportation issues, Lou is one of the more recognizable personalities in the industry. An award-winning writer well known for his insightful writing and meticulous market analysis, he is a leading authority on industry trends and statistics.

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