Women in transportation talk family pressures, industry challenges

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Heather Mathiesen, the vice-president and general manager of Caneda Transport, remembers the day she was told women don’t run trucking companies. Her uncle was the one who told her.

That didn’t scare her away from the transportation industry, though. While Mathiesen joined the family business later in her career, initially focusing on Customs-related matters, she quickly proved herself. And after about a year on the job, her uncle arrived in the office with a stack of business cards.

“You’re already doing the job,” he told her, referring to the title she currently holds. “Now it’s yours.” That was 11 years ago.

Andreea Crisan
Andreea Crisan, president and CEO of Andy Transport, stressed the need to spend ‘quality time’ in every place she needs to be. (Photo: John G. Smith)

It isn’t the only challenge that female transportation executives experience in an industry where, according to Trucking HR Canada, women account for just 15% of the overall workforce and 5% of management or supervisory positions.

Andreea Crisan, president and CEO of Andy Transport, hears the critical comments when she picks up her daughter from daycare at 6 p.m., an hour later than the other moms. “I’ve never felt more guilty than the last two years,” the mother of two admitted, during a panel discussion at the Toronto Transportation Club’s Ladies Lunch. “I cannot be in several places at once.”

But she stressed the need to find a work-life balance.

“I’m doing my best whenever I’m at work. I’m doing my best when I’m with my daughters. I try to spend quality time in each place where I need to be,” she said. These days that can involve outsourcing different tasks to remain sane – whether purchasing prepared meals or hiring someone to help with the cleaning. Joining a ‘mom club’ that includes play dates for the kids, and the chance to share a glass of wine with other mothers, has also helped.

‘Hard to prioritize’

“It’s hard to prioritize being a mom and working, especially when you’re on Zoom 98% of your day and your kid’s home sick, and she’s freaking,” said Melissa Schaus, senior director – logistics and distribution and compliance at Sephora Canada.

“Find those moments in the day for yourself,” she told the crowd. “Be intentional about carving that time for you in your routine.”

Mathiesen agreed: “You want to give yourself permission to do things that work for you, whether it’s going for a run or working out.”

The panelists also stressed the need to clear a path to advance in business.

It can be difficult to hand a task to someone else, but a narrow scope makes it possible to establish deeper expertise, Schaus said. “Just because you need to let go of something you were doing doesn’t mean that you’re failing.”

Finding, training, supporting

“We can’t move on to bigger and better things until we find and train and support the people around us,” Mathiesen said, referring to the need to document tasks and cross-train fellow team members to do the work. “By doing that, you’re actually demonstrating leadership.”

Schaus also recommended displaying more confidence when sitting at a boardroom table dominated by men.

“We have an equal seat at that table,” she said. “How can you find that confidence when we’re apologizing for the space that we take up — so we’re not saying something like, ‘Can I ask a silly question?’” And that confidence comes from becoming a subject matter expert.

“You’ll realize that you’re equally respected and you can kind of advance from there and build on it,” she said.

“It’s an industry that makes room for you. It’s an industry that, the more you give, the more you get back,” Crisan said.

The challenge that she sees for other fleets, however, involves finding ways to engage the women who do join the teams.

“Once you attract [women], what do you do to retain? How do you make sure women are successful,” she said.

“It’s not just making sure that she gets invited to the meeting room … It’s making sure that, whenever she speaks, she’s not interrupted. And if she is, what do you do about it?”

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John G. Smith is the editorial director of Newcom Media's trucking and supply chain publications -- including Today's Trucking, trucknews.com, TruckTech, Transport Routier, and Road Today. The award-winning journalist has covered the trucking industry since 1995.

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