Alberta’s first female transport minister, Rajan Sawhney, was keynote speaker at the Alberta Motor Transport Association/Trucking HR Canada Western Women with Drive event Oct. 29, giving an inspiring message to women in the transportation industry.
She noted the Covid-19 pandemic has been disproportionately difficult for women, something she saw first-hand in her previous post as minister of community and social services.
“The unemployment rate for women was much higher [than men],” she said. “They were hit much more severely in terms of job losses.”
Additionally, many women struggled to manage their home lives when children were home schooling and daycares were shut down. This is referred to as the “shadow pandemic,” Sawhney said of the impact on women.
“Women have often worked a double shift, maintaining the household and taking care of children while also pursuing careers,” she said. “The pandemic introduced nearly a triple shift with online schooling, issues with childcare, and it had a significant impact on the psyche and mental health of women.”
To make matters worse, she noted domestic violence cases escalated due to the “echo pandemic,” referring to its effect on mental health. “The government has to do concerted work and effort to ensure women are supported as we navigate the remainder of the pandemic,” Sawhney said.
She also acknowledged the impact the pandemic has had on the supply chain and labor markets. She said the province didn’t have to activate any emergency measures to get essential supplies to their destinations, but was prepared to do so if necessary.
“We never really had to go down that road of true emergency management in terms of the supply chain, but I know many of you in the transportation sector suffered greatly in those early days,” she said.
Sawhney noted Alberta will be short about 4,000 truck drivers by 2023.
“That’s a very serious issue and something I’m looking into within government,” she said, noting she will be working closely with her federal counterparts to come up with solutions.
Sawhney also commended women in the trucking industry for their leadership. She recalled doing a ridealong with a truck driver named Mandeep from India, who overcame many obstacles to earn her Class 1 licence and begin a career as a professional driver.
“Many of you may not think of yourselves as leaders. You most definitely are,” Sawhney said. “Even getting spaces and employment in a male-dominated workplace isn’t easy. It takes courage, fortitude and entrepreneurial spirit.”
She said Mandeep had aspirations of launching her own trucking company and employing more women.
“It’s time we think of ourselves as pioneers, and early adopters in so many ways,” she said of women in the trucking industry.
In Alberta, it’s estimated only 3.5% of truck drivers and 16% of trucking industry employees are women.
“I will talk about it to death, you can mark my words,” Sawhney said of that gap and the opportunities for trucking to attract more women.