Brenda Cuthbert never planned to work in the trucking industry. But the vice president of human resources at Siemens Transportation Group and this year’s winner of the Trucking HR Canada Top Fleet Employers HR Leader Award – and the first woman in 80 years to win the Saskatchewan Trucking Association’s Service to Industry Award – knew right away that she and her longstanding employer were a fit.
“It was the funniest interview,” she recalls of the first day with Siemens Transportation Group owner Erwen Siemens, about 28 years ago. “It was all about family, and he showed me the whole company within the first half hour.”
Cuthbert had applied for a human resources job with a mixed bag of experience, having been a reservist with the Canadian military, working her way through a physical education degree at the University of Saskatchewan, and then spending seven years working for the YMCA. But she knew very little about transportation itself. She had merely applied on a friend’s recommendation.
During her tenure at the YMCA, only one of Cuthbert’s co-workers was a man. Suddenly she was in a male-dominated workplace.
“It was difficult at first, and it took me a good five years to gain respect from the men I was working with,” she says. On top of being Siemens’ first female manager, she was the youngest manager, and the first-ever person to hold an official human resources role at the fleet.
Some of her early decisions were ignored outright. It all came to a head during a tough round of bargaining with the union, and that’s when the company stood beside her.
“At a large managers’ meeting following the signing of the agreement, the owner made it clear to the ‘boys’, the ‘moss backs,’ that all people policies, concerns, and decisions were to be directed through myself and they were to follow my direction,” she says. “This was probably my most memorable moment. Twelve men with over 240 years of trucking experience were told to follow the direction of the female HR person.”
Now volunteering with Trucking HR Canada’s Women with Drive program, she’s passing on the knowledge she’s gained to help encourage women to join the industry and move up through the ranks.
“I want to make a path for women,” she says. “I think women have a whole lot to offer in all different positions. I think women have so much insight, and have so much knowledge and experience.”
Cuthbert says her goal from the beginning was to draw more women into non-traditional roles, so it should come as little surprise than that her daughter followed her footsteps and also works at Siemens as director of business developing and marketing.
In fact, both Cuthbert’s children began working at the business when they were young, hosing down trucks, helping with lawn care, and picking up garbage in the parking lot to earn pocket money. The weekend and summer errands turned into a full-time pursuit for Cuthbert’s daughter at the age of 14, who was welcomed into the family business with open arms. Now 32, she’s been in the industry for 22 years – almost as long as Cuthbert herself.
Being able to mentor the next generation is what drives the elder Cuthbert, who encourages trucking’s young women to succeed by doing what they love.
“I like assisting mentoring and developing the people I work with. And I love working with young children. I want to create a brighter future for young minds.”
Cuthbert says she was given opportunities she hopes to usher others through – but those opportunities weren’t the types that were normally given to young human resources managers.
With a boss that put her in the boardroom from the first day, Cuthbert says she is grateful she was given a seat at the table for mergers and acquisitions, as well as other projects, which helped her to gain ground in her career. Now she oversees all the human resource requirements for Siemens’ 10 companies – a challenge that is exciting and keeps her on her toes.
“Every day is absolutely different,” she says.
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