Women With Drive

Trucking HR, Women In Trucking committed to gender diversity on and off highways

By Kristen Lipscombe

Let’s face it. When most people think of the typical truck driver, we likely think of middle age to older white men sitting atop big rigs that drive past us on highways and freeways across the continent.

And that’s because that stereotype is, unfortunately, pretty darn accurate. 

“Currently, the average driver is a white male in his 50s,” said Ellen Voie, President and CEO of Women In Trucking (WIT), a non-profit organization based in Plover, Wis., that’s dedicated to improving diversity in the industry, which means employing – and celebrating – the women who choose to get behind the wheel of large scale trucks and haul much-needed freight across long distances to meet our everyday needs.

“We need to attract  more women, more minorities, and more younger drivers,” Voie told Auto and Trucking Atlantic, adding that in order to do so, “we need to understand their work-life requirements and work hard to accommodate them.”

That’s why WIT, which now includes 7,000 members spread across 10 countries including Canada, and continues to expand, works to reach out to females of all ages to encourage them to picture themselves actually working in the industry, including through a scholarship foundation which offers tuition grants for women interested in entering the industry.

And when they do make a career of it, WIT makes sure to recognize the individual accomplishments of females who are excelling – or perhaps “accelerating” – through initiatives such as the Member of the Month and Driver Ambassador programs.

“Many women don’t picture themselves in transportation careers,” Voie said. “For professional drivers, the challenge is that they have a misconception about what is involved in driving a tractor-trailer. They often think they can’t learn to shift or back-up a 53-foot trailer, and they often assume they need to be big and burly to handle the freight and mechanical to fix things.

“But these are all misconceptions,” Voie emphasized. “Automated transmissions and no-touch freight and engines… are the norm today. And women can certainly back up a trailer… We have to address these stereotypes of our industry.”

In fact, women are actually proven to be safer on the road. According to the American Transportation Research Institute, “male commercial drivers are 20 per cent more likely to be involved in a crash in every statistically significant area,” Voie said.

“I’m also told women are often better with customers, and take better care of the equipment,” she added. “Now that we know women are capable and qualified, carriers are focusing on ways to attract more female drivers.”

And that’s despite the odds often being stacked against women. Traditionally, everything from uniforms to showers at truck stops to the vehicles themselves have been designed for men, although that is slowly changing, Voie said. Add to that the safety issues of women travelling alone, which are now being addressed with initiatives such as better lighting and security at truck stops, as well as through self-defence, self-esteem and anti-harassment initiatives.

Fortunately, though, more women are making professional driving a career choice. “More and more women are entering the industry,” Voie said. According to the most recent WIT Index, “the official industry barometer to benchmark and measure each year the percentage of women who make up critical roles in transportation,” female commercial drivers now make up almost 14 per cent of all drivers in the United States.

Additionally, “women are becoming more prevalent in the boardroom and C-suite,” Voie said

“Women are more risk adverse,” she said. “For women in the boardroom, women make decisions differently than men and are less likely to make a quick decision because they explore all options.

“Studies have shown that a more diverse leadership team results in higher net profits to the corporation.”

Meanwhile, north of the border, Angela Splinter, CEO of Trucking HR Canada, agrees that recruiting and retaining more women will only benefit the industry overall when it comes to its long-term success.

“When we look at truck driving, it’s the same as other blue collar type work and trades,” Splinter said from Ottawa, Ont., home of the Trucking HR headquarters. “Women continue to be under-represented and I think this will continue to be a challenge. “

In fact, in total, only 3.7 per cent of truck drivers in Canada are female, according to Trucking HR Canada’s labour market information, a different percentage provided by American-based Women In Trucking. “We need to do better,” Splinter said.

That being said, she said that average increases when it comes to positions within the industry outside of actually being behind the wheel of a truck.

“We do see a lot of females in other roles within the industry,” she pointed out. “It’s still below other industries, but it’s higher; closer to 15 per cent, depending on the role, such as administration, and this includes management positions.

“But still, when we look at the fact that women still represent half of our workforce, it is under-represented and lower than (the number of men in the industry).”

That’s why organizations such as Women In Trucking south of the border, and both Trucking HR Canada and the Women’s Trucking Federation of Canada, and others, are working hard to attract more females into the industry, through various proactive initiatives. 

The federation, a Canadian non-profit organization which was “established to encourage the employment of women in the transportation industry,” for instance, offers a mentorship program through social media with more than 200 participating members, along with career fairs, speaking engagements, training seminars and more.

Women in Trucking also offers a Driver Ambassador Program for “educating and amplifying how a career in transportation can be rewarding for women” and member benefits for business professionals and professional drivers.

Trucking HR Canada, meanwhile, offers some incredible incentives through its Career ExpressWay Program for young women considering entering the industry, including the Youth Employment Skills Strategy and Student Work Placement Program. These initiatives have seen females comprising 25 per cent and 49 per cent of participants, respectively, representing a promising jump over the percentage of women currently working in the industry.

Trucking HR also recently held its 8th annual Women With Drive Leadership Summit, with 250 people coming out to the event in Toronto this past June, the most ever to attend the event, with this year’s theme focused on Driving Diversity.

“What we’re seeing is that there are a lot of women in the industry looking to engage and looking to get involved,” Splinter said, “and we take that as a positive sign.”

“These kinds of professional development opportunities, opportunities to connect, to network, to seek out mentors, and coaches,” Splinter said, “they can certainly help us in keeping those women within the industry,” and encouraging other women to consider becoming a part of the workforce.

“It was very rewarding to see so many new faces at this year’s event,” Splinter said, but added “I do think we do need to do more work, in terms of women’s representation in the C-suite and making sure that we have women on the association boards… so there’s always room for improvement.”

While improvement is always positive, those traditional gender-based challenges still exist and persist.

“These aren’t occupations that traditionally attract women,” Splinter said. “I think (we need to raise more) awareness amongst the general public of the range of occupations that are offered in the industry. 

“When people think of trucking and logistics, they think of driving or working in the warehouse,” she explained. “While 46 per cent of our workforce are drivers, that means 54 per cent of our workforce are not drivers, so as one of the largest employers in the country, there are a whole range of economic opportunities, and we want to do a better job of connecting women to those economic opportunities.”  Trucking HR Canada’s Career ExpressWay program helps do just that.

Women In Trucking in the U.S. holds a similar annual event, the Accelerate! Conference and Expo, as an effort to attract a more gender diverse workforce, in the US.

“Ask a lot of questions,” Voie said. “Be sure you know what you are looking for before you commit to a company.”

“Connect with different organizations and network,” Splinter added. “Talk to other women who are currently working in the industry.”

The reality is, the trucking industry offers stable, sustainable employment, regardless of gender.

“Our industry, we’re not going anywhere,” Splinter said. “Even through the pandemic, we kept working.”

The bottom line?

“Don’t overlook us,” Splinter said, especially since as an essential service, you won’t only be securing a sustainable profession for yourself, but you’ll also be making a positive difference in the millions of people that rely on the trucking industry each and every day.

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