Talking to Canada’s leading (trucking) ladies

TORONTO, Ont. – Trucking HR Canada’s second annual Women with Drive Leadership Summit that took place on March 3, 2016 at the Crowne Plaza Toronto Airport Hotel saw record numbers in attendance, Hurricane Hazel McCallion as its opening speaker, and an abundance of educational panels and presentations.

Trucking HR Canada first put on the event last year in an effort to help its Women with Drive campaign – a national project that was launched to help attract more women into the freight transportation industry.

This year, one of its panel sessions titled “emerging leaders” gave four young female leaders in the industry a chance to tell the audience how being a woman has helped them be successful, managing work/life balance, and how mentoring is important in trucking.

Panelists included Andreea Crisan, the chief operating officer and executive vice-president of Andy Transport; Angena Kalhar, president of KTL Transport; Jacquie Meyers, president of Meyers Transport; and Katie Erb, inside sales/account representative at Erb Transport.

Moderating the session was Kelli Saunders, president of Morai Logistics.

To kick things off, Saunders asked each of the panelists how their gender challenges them in the workplace.

Meyers said that being a woman in a leadership role means she (and others like her) have to work harder to overcome the stereotypical perception that women are weaker and less intelligent than their male counterparts.

“The good news is most of what we’re doing is overcoming the perception that women are the inferior or weaker sex,” she said. “So there’s no science that backs this. It’s been engrained in our heads over the last hundred years that women are inferior. So really the challenge that women face every day is overcoming that perception that we’re weaker.”

To combat this, Meyers said she supports women in the workplace first-hand by hiring them. She explained that Meyers Transport is well-balanced with as many females working in the office, as males. She added that since running the company, she transformed the all middle-aged male executive board into a younger one with three women and four males. And most recently, she hired the company’s first female director of operations.

Katie Erb, on the other hand, said that so far in her position, she has had no issues regarding her gender.

“My brother is one year older than (I am), and we’re sort of spearheading the next generation at Erb together,” she said. “Growing up my brother and I were treated the same. We were equal. We got the same opportunities…So in business, Kyle and I have progressed together.”

Katie went on to say that she has never thought as her gender something to discourage her from achieving her potential.

“I was a tomboy and I was always into male-dominated things. So I’ve never looked at things and said, ‘Oh I can’t do something because I’m a girl.’ I’m going to do it because I want to do it,” she said.

Kalhar echoed Erb’s viewpoint saying her parents were open-minded and she gained a love for trucking riding along with her father as a child.

For Crisan, she said that the challenges she faces at work have more to do with her age than her gender.

At just 25, Crisan said she isn’t always taken seriously in client meetings and once had a client jokingly ask her if she could legally work at her age. Despite this, Crisan said she believes being a millennial  has helped her grow the Andy family business, even if it is the most challenging part of her job.

“We have two generations building the company at the same time,” Crisan said. “(My father and I are) building the structure, we’re hiring people…so sometimes there are diverging opinions. Sometimes there’s arguments, but learning how to work those arguments out and make the best decision for the company and for our team wins. For me, that’s the biggest challenge. My father has a lot of life experience and I have an educational background. I’m the first person from my family to graduate university. But through mutual respect and trust, sometimes experience wins over educational and knowledge, other times it’s my education and knowledge that wins over the experience. But learning how to accept the other person’s opinion…is how we overcome that challenge.”

Erb agreed with Crisan that being a millennial within the family business, while challenging, is helping the business.

“We know how to move a truck from A to B,” she said. “(Erb) has trucking down pat. So as the market changes, we need to be innovative…and I’m part of a business development team to help rebrand the company with a new webpage and a stronger social media presence.”

So we can teach the older generation at Erb about the impact of social media and smart marketing, and they teach us about transportation, Erb added.

On managing their work/life balance, each of the panelists offered up their own advice as to what works for them, personally.

Meyers said that managing her career and social life has been something she’s struggled with, but she has found a solution by making friends at work.

“One of the things that I’ve done that’s worked for me is surrounding myself with coworkers, customers and suppliers that I respect and enjoy. So if I have to be entertaining on a Friday or Saturday night, at least it’s with people I enjoy spending my time with,” she said.

In contrast, Erb said what works for her is separating her personal life and her work life equally.

“Everything I do I give it 100%…so when I’m at work, I’m all work. And I like to leave work at work,” she said. “And that’s hard nowadays because you’re constantly mobile and you’re just one click away…but you have to have a personal life because if you get out and do what you enjoy, you’ll have more energy to give to work.”

Kalhar said after she suffered an injury years ago, she has managed her work/life balance keeping one thing in mind – her health.

“Being in a leadership role is very demanding,” she said. “I need to be able to perform to support my team, and they need to be able to perform. I had a significant injury a few years ago…I had seven surgeries in a year and a half and it really drove home how important it is to take care of yourself…there’s a few non-negotiables in my week which is going to the gym and getting fresh air. While that life balance may not be able to happen every day or every week, it’s important to have downtime to take care of yourself.”

Finally, all panelists agreed that in order to drive more women into the trucking industry, mentoring is key.

For Meyers, having a mentor was “life-changing.”

“I’ve worked very hard on surrounding myself with people I can learn from that can help me grow and it has changed my life,” she said. “It’s changed my personal life, my career. I’ve been very lucky.”

She added that at first she resisted help from others in the industry because she felt like she was a burden, but quickly learned that mentoring is rewarding for both parties.

“Don’t feel guilty about taking their time,” she advised the audience, adding that if you’ve been in the industry a while, to consider mentoring other women in the trade.

Sonia Straface is the associate editor of Truck News and Truck West magazines. She graduated from Ryerson University's journalism program in 2013 and enjoys writing about health and wellness and HR issues surrounding the transportation industry. Follow her on Twitter: @SoniaStraface.

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