Trucking continues to face a gender divide

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Shelley Uvanile-Hesch, a Sharp Transportation driver and CEO of the Women’s Trucking Federation of Canada, stresses there are plenty of career opportunities for women in trucking.

TORONTO, Ont. — Shelley Uvanile-Hesch is a rarity.

Of the 181,330 tractor-trailer drivers working in Canada’s trucking industry in 2016, barely 3% were women, according to Newcom Media’s Changing Face of Trucking research, based on Canada’s National Household Survey. In contrast, women made up about half (47%) the entire workforce overall.

Uvanile-Hesch credits early exposure to the industry for steering her personal career path.

“My dad drove, so I kind of had the bug early on,” says the Sharp Transportation driver who serves double duty as the CEO of the Women’s Trucking Federation of Canada. Her first driving job was at the wheel of a school bus, but she graduated to a six-wheeler and then a tractor-trailer.

There are certainly plenty of opportunities for work, and women can make exactly as much as their male counterparts, she adds. Fleets post the same rates for everyone.

The question, then, is why female drivers seem to make less per year than their male peers. Male tractor-trailer drivers in Canada’s trucking industry reported a median income of $45,681 in 2016, compared to the female drivers who made $36,392, according to the Newcom research.

Uvanile-Hesch suggests it might be because women drivers are more inclined to lean toward regional or daily work, especially if they are caregivers for children or aging parents.

Women in Trucking Association CEO Ellen Voie adds that women tend to be particularly safety-conscious, leading them to avoid some of the higher-paying jobs perceived to carry higher risks.

Her group’s 2017 best practices survey certainly reinforces that safety concerns exist.

On a scale of 1-10, surveyed women drivers rated their safety at a mere 4.4. Key “intimidation factors” associated with their roles included topics familiar to drivers of any gender, such as weather and equipment. But concerns about personal safety were also on the list.

When asked what issue fleets should focus on to attract more women drivers, safety tied with family and home time in the top spot.

Women in Trucking isn’t the only group researching the safety concerns, either. The U.S. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is now in the midst of a three-year study on crimes against female drivers, exploring issues such as harassment by trainers, Voie says.

But industry recruiters may be missing the message. “Employers cited everything but safety as a priority for women drivers,” the Women in Trucking survey found.

Voie says this opens an opportunity for recruiters who highlight a fleet’s safety-related technologies like collision avoidance systems.

“I don’t think we’re doing a good enough job in the industry, showing people it’s more than [exhaust] stacks,” she says.

Uvanile-Hesch stresses that women are paying particular attention when researching potential jobs, too.

“Women really do a lot more research when they’re ready to start with a carrier. They talk to the company, they talk to drivers, they do their research, they look at the CVOR [Commercial Vehicle Operator’s Registration] scores,” she says. “The company culture is very important.”

Voie believes the entry-level drivers among them even come to the careers with a good understanding of the work ahead.

Eighty-three percent of surveyed women were encouraged to join the career path by a male in the industry, such as a husband, boyfriend or father, she says, referring to the Women in Trucking research. “They’re well versed on what is expected.”

  • The Women’s Trucking Federation of Canada hosts its first Bridging the Barriers conference on Saturday, Oct. 27, in Mississauga, Ont.


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John G. Smith is Newcom Media's vice-president - editorial, and the editorial director of its trucking publications -- including Today's Trucking,, and Transport Routier. The award-winning journalist has covered the trucking industry since 1995.

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