Women with Drive returns, drive to recruit more women to trucking continues

The last time Trucking HR Canada hosted its Women with Drive event in Toronto, Angelique Magi noticed a lot of audience members repeatedly checking their phones. No matter how engaging the presentations were, there was no ignoring news that Covid-19 had just been declared a pandemic.

Organizers had done what they could to keep the March 2020 event on schedule. “We were making hand sanitizer because we couldn’t get it,” recalled the vice-president – specialty solutions at Intact Insurance. But as the day wore on, it became clear that a closing reception would have to be canceled.

Lac La Ronge Indian Band Chief Tammy Cook-Searson, a keynote speaker at Women with Drive, greets trucking industry representatives in Toronto. (Photo: John G. Smith)

Women with Drive didn’t return to Toronto until Thursday, but Trucking HR Canada’s ongoing effort to promote diversity, equity and inclusion continued.

“It’s often regarded as a tick-the-box exercise,” Trucking HR Canada CEO Angela Splinter admitted during her opening remarks at the event. But it’s the type of work that can help to differentiate businesses and increase genuine employee engagement, she said.

“Diversity is the mix. Inclusion is getting that mix to work well together.”

A small share of women

One of the challenges is that women represent such a small share of the trucking industry’s labor pool. They account for just 15% of the Canadian industry’s overall workforce. While women fill 87% of administration jobs, they represent 3.7% of truck driving jobs, and 1.5% of technicians and mechanics.

“Fewer than 5% of the sector’s female employees are in management or supervisory positions,” Splinter said.

“We think that 5% is not enough.”

Women also accounted for a disproportionate 16% of driver layoffs in the early days of Covid-19, she added, citing Trucking HR Canada labor market information. But there was a glimmer a hope as well. As interest in home deliveries surged, the number of female delivery and courier drivers grew with it – rising 55% between June 2019 and June 2021.

“Although we saw some gains, we’re definitely not where we want to be from a female representation of drivers,” stressed Rebecca Sloan, hub training and retention manager at UPS Canada. But opportunities such as flexible schedules have helped.

Addressing challenges

Reaching a larger share of women in Canada’s wider labor pool is seen as a key step to addressing challenges such as an ever-intensifying driver shortage.

Sectors from agriculture to manufacturing and retail are all experiencing supply chain issues, Splinter observed. “Solving their issues starts with solving ours.”

Wendy Cukier, founder of the Diversity Institute, referred to the need to take a hard look at the reasons why women are under-represented. “Why are women not there?” she said of truck driving jobs, noting that they pay better than roles which employ more women.

“You have to think about stereotypes. You have to think about the business case.”

It can also require different thinking about approaches to career paths. Cukier, for example, stressed the need to focus on skills that industry managers truly need, rather than always assuming they must work their way up from jobs in the field. “You can start to look at people that you might not historically have considered.”

That opened opportunities for Sloan. She had been working as a communications specialist at UPS when a vice-president – transportation asked why she wasn’t working in operations. That led to few months in a role as an air recovery supervisor. Then someone asked her about being a manager. She was given the job the next day.

“Identify your talent because they may not identify themselves,” Sloan said. “What you can teach is leadership styles and leadership approaches.”

Procurement requirements will account for one of the strongest “levers” to drive further diversity and inclusion, Cukier said. “When those customers start applying a gender and diversity lens to their decisions around who’s going to have contracts, that has a huge impact.”

Some utility providers have already decided not to work with organizations and vendors that are not actively looking to diversify workforces, said Michelle Branigan, CEO of Electricity HR Canada. “That has those vendors scrambling now to make real change.”

Young people, meanwhile, are looking at what company boards look like when deciding where to work, she said. “You need to demonstrate that you’re an employer of choice.”

Tools to help

Fleets have access to tools that can help.

Trucking HR Canada’s Career ExpressWay Program opens the doors to $5,000 for student work placements, $10,000 wage subsidies for youth, and a $10,000 youth driver training subsidy. Twenty-five percent of those brought into the programs have been female, Splinter said. “This is moving the needle.”

A coming package of Trucking HR Canada resources for industry employers will also include a diversity, equity and inclusion guide complete with sample templates for self-assessments. And $485,000 in new funding from Women and Gender Equality Canada will be used to help advance a “feminist recovery” from the impacts of Covid-19.

Ultimately, female job candidates will be looking at the representation of women in a workplace, added Karen Jensen, Canada’s federal pay equity commissioner.

If you want to attract the best talent you need to be looking at that.”