TORONTO, Ont. — A recent survey by Trucking HR Canada’s Women with Drive initiative, shows there’s still a clear disconnect between what women want from the industry and what male managers think they want.
The survey of 317 people, including 227 women working in the trucking industry and 81 male managers, found that many of the female respondents cited flexible work hours as one of the top three things the industry could do to become more attractive to women. Male managers, on the other hand, felt that was one of the least important benefits to women. Men cited physical limitations as a barrier to entry for female drivers, while most women who responded felt that was a non-issue.
The survey results were shared by Trucking HR Canada’s Tamara Miller during the organization’s inaugural Women With Drive Leadership Summit. Women with Drive is one of Trucking HR Canada’s initiatives, designed to raise awareness among women of careers in trucking, to raise employer awareness of how they can support the integration of women into the industry and to develop practical tools that can aid with this mission.
The survey results weren’t all bad. Miller said of the 227 women surveyed, 110 said their experience in the industry has been positive, while 51 said theirs has been mostly positive, with some challenges. Still, 21, nearly 10%, said they felt they had to work harder than men to earn respect.
“On the whole, women like working in the trucking industry and that’s something we should keep in mind,” Miller pointed out.
Female drivers, however, were vastly underrepresented, with only about 20 drivers giving a perspective from behind the steering wheel. Miller acknowledged the sample size was too small to be statistically meaningful, but indicated those responses still provided some interesting insight and added Women with Drive will be working to solicit more opinions from female drivers in follow-up surveys.
An interesting revelation that arose from the survey was that there’s a significant interest among drivers in mentoring programs, with 72% of responding drivers indicating they’d be interested in serving as mentors. Through its Top Fleet Employers program, Trucking HR Canada has already identified some effective mentoring programs that exist in the industry.
Linda Young, who handles human resources and people development at Bison Transport, shared details of Bison’s formal “driver finishing program.” Each new hire is paired with a suitable in-cab instructor for a period of about 13 weeks, depending on need.
This year the company is looking to put 96 drivers through the program and thus far it has brought on 18, three of which are women.
“We’re trying to specifically target women into that driver finishing program,” Young said. “We feel we’ve got some traction.”
Also there to provide a fleet perspective was Evan MacKinnon, CEO of MacKinnon Transport. He said he was surprised there were so many barriers to women entering the industry.
“I heard today only 3% of our driving force is female, which is a shame, when 50% of the workforce is female,” he said. “I see a huge opportunity there.”
MacKinnon said the company made the terminal it built in 1989 female-friendly, with shower facilities specifically for women drivers and technicians, even before it had one on staff. It hired its first female driver in 1990 and since then has employed between one and five at any given time. (But shortly thereafter, delegates heard of another fleet that put in a new terminal within the past few years that wasn’t built with separate facilities for women; it had to be retrofit when the company hired its first female driver).
As a flatdeck operator all MacKinnon drivers must meet certain reasonable strength requirements, MacKinnon said, but they don’t discriminate against women.
He said the bigger issue is not gender-based, but the inability of the trucking industry to attract new drivers of either sex.
“The issue is attracting people to the industry, not just female drivers,” he said. “But the opportunity is obviously females.”
Like Bison, MacKinnon has a mentoring program that pairs new hires with an experienced driver for their first 10-12 weeks on the road. While MacKinnon does not currently have any female driver-trainers, it will provide hotel rooms for the driver-trainer when training a female driver.
“At MacKinnon, we hire the very best,” he said. “It doesn’t matter to us whether they’re male or female. We offer a gender-neutral driver education program. All of our promotional and marketing material is gender-neutral. Drivers are paid the same. Bonuses are the same. The worst thing we could do is to try to differentiate within our workforce.”
MacKinnon suggested creating a more welcoming work environment for women would also help attract more male drivers, too.
“Much of what we do to attract women to the industry is what’s going to attract men to the industry,” he said. “I think it’s up to the owners of trucking companies to make the change, to create environments where women are welcome and where women feel safe – where all employees feel safe and welcome.”
Women with Drive is looking to build on its initial findings, and has developed a five-step action plan. While this plan is still a work in progress and will evolve as more data and insight are collected, Trucking HR Canada CEO Angela Splinter outlined these priorities:
Development mentoring, training and professional development opportunities for women in trucking;
Developing a marketing and communications plan to promote career options and build awareness of workplace challenges for women;
Developing workplace policies, procedures and best practices from the industry;
Obtaining more insight from female drivers to get a better understanding of what they face on a daily basis;
And to influence policy at multiple levels of government to affect systemic change.
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