Women at the wheel

Chang­ing the sta­tus quo and clos­ing the gen­der gap in the trans­port in­dus­try

Australian Transport News - - Contents -

Clos­ing the trans­port gen­der gap

Aus­tralia’s trans­port and truck­ing in­dus­try has long been dom­i­nated by men. Women make up just 14 per cent of full-time trans­port roles and a Cle­menger BBDO sur­vey, com­mis­sioned by Volvo, shows women ac­count for just 3 per cent of truck drivers.

Pam McMil­lan, owner of D&P Haulage and chair of Trans­port Women Aus­tralia, says this is the way it’s al­ways been. Men aren’t just the man­agers and drivers, they’re the work­ers at every part of the lo­gis­tics chain, the ones buy­ing the trucks and the ones sell­ing them.

But the sta­tus quo doesn’t cut it any­more. With Aus­tralian busi­nesses fac­ing a driver short­age cri­sis, the in­dus­try’s gen­der gap is un­der the spotlight.

IBISWorld fig­ures show the Aus­tralian road freight in­dus­try is grow­ing at 3 per cent a year. In the next 20 years, freight tasks will in­crease by 26 per cent. Mean­while, the pool of drivers is shrink­ing dras­ti­cally. Younger men aren’t en­ter­ing the in­dus­try to fill the gaps cre­ated by re­tir­ing truck­ies, and women are barely in the pic­ture. So how can the in­dus­try start to close the gap?


“Women make up just 14 per cent of full-time trans­port roles”

Re­search tells us that women aren’t tak­ing on driver jobs, but the is­sue doesn’t stop there.

Daryl Dick­en­son Trans­port di­rec­tor Tra­cie Dick­en­son says women in the in­dus­try are still largely un­der­rep­re­sented in man­age­ment po­si­tions and hands-on roles but dom­i­nate the ad­min­is­tra­tive func­tions.

The chal­lenge is rais­ing aware­ness of all the dif­fer­ent roles avail­able to women in trans­port. Busi­nesses face an up­hill bat­tle to dis­pel the per­cep­tion that it’s all “blokes in blue sin­glets and stub­bies”, Dick­en­son says.

Trav­el­ling to schools with her daugh­ter for ca­reer days, she works hard to get stu­dents ex­cited about the in­dus­try, par­tic­u­larly girls.

“When you ask a group of kids what roles there are in a trans­port busi­ness, they all put their hands up and say drivers. It’s only when you get them in to do work ex­pe­ri­ence that girls re­alise, ‘Oh, there are op­por­tu­ni­ties here for me’. And it’s not just about work­ing in the of­fice.”

James Stock­feed pro­cure­ment and lo­gis­tics man­ager Caitlin Boschetti agrees: “I had no idea there were so many op­por­tu­ni­ties when I was at school. It was only by start­ing with this com­pany that I be­came aware of the dif­fer­ent ar­eas you could work in and how hands-on you could get.”

In­dus­try ex­pe­ri­ence is an im­por­tant step in im­prov­ing gen­der di­ver­sity. The women that start work­ing in truck­ing with­out some sort of for­mal in­duc­tion, like a work ex­pe­ri­ence pro­gram, are likely join­ing their fam­ily busi­ness. Help­ing girls who don’t have this back­ground un­der­stand the dif­fer­ent op­tions, from ware­hous­ing to driv­ing and man­age­ment, is key to get­ting them into the in­dus­try from the get-go.

Trans­port Women Aus­tralia (TWA) is one or­gan­i­sa­tion work­ing to cre­ate op­por­tu­ni­ties in trans­port for women. Formed in 1999 by women who wanted to deal with in­dus­try is­sues from a fe­male per­spec­tive, the or­gan­i­sa­tion is now work­ing on a ca­reers book and is also in talks with the Guides As­so­ci­a­tion to cre­ate a trans­port badge awarded for pro­fi­ciency in the area.

But McMil­lan says in­dus­try bod­ies, trade me­dia and the govern­ment also need to do a bet­ter job of pro­mot­ing high-pro­file women to high­light the avail­able ca­reer op­por­tu­ni­ties. The good news is that this is al­ready un­der­way. The Queens­land Truck­ing As­so­ci­a­tion (QTA) cel­e­brates In­ter­na­tional Women’s Day each year, and this

year the Aus­tralian Truck­ing As­so­ci­a­tion (ATA) joined in to launch nom­i­na­tions for the Truck­ing In­dus­try Women of the Year Award, an ac­co­lade that went to Dick­en­son for her con­tri­bu­tions to the sec­tor.


The ATA sug­gests that one of the ma­jor hur­dles to get­ting more women into the driver’s seat is the pres­sure of bal­anc­ing the job with fam­ily and personal life. Long hours, lots of time on the road and low pay aren’t com­pat­i­ble with sup­port­ing kids and man­ag­ing the bulk of the work at home.

“As em­ploy­ers, we’ve got to start look­ing at dif­fer­ent ways of ad­dress­ing this be­cause of the skills short­age,” Dick­en­son says.

“And men need flex­i­bil­ity to be with their fam­i­lies too. So it’s some­thing that the in­dus­try re­ally has to tackle.”

Both Dick­en­son and McMil­lan point to job shar­ing to im­prove flex­i­bil­ity for all drivers. “Two-up driv­ing with hus­band and wife teams or part­ners is very ef­fec­tive on long-haul trips, and job shar­ing is an ex­cel­lent idea,” McMil­lan says.

It also comes back to aware­ness. Help­ing peo­ple un­der­stand the dif­fer­ent job func­tions in truck­ing and freight makes it a more ap­proach­able sec­tor for women, dis­pelling the idea that long-haul truck­ing is the only path.


To pro­vide th­ese op­por­tu­ni­ties, train­ing for girls is key. Dick­en­son’s phi­los­o­phy is that it’s im­por­tant to give young peo­ple a go, which will in turn mean they’re more likely to stick around and progress through the busi­ness.

“We’ve had drivers that have come to us with just a car li­cense, and we’ve slowly helped them get their body truck li­cense, then their semi, then B-dou­bles and even road trains. There’s a ca­reer pro­gres­sion they can fol­low.”

McMil­lan agrees with the im­por­tance of train­ing, but stresses that smaller com­pa­nies of­ten don’t have the in­fra­struc­ture or funds to train some­one, even if they’d like to. In­dus­try bod­ies and trans­port or­gan­i­sa­tions need to pro­vide sup­port and help get younger work­ers on board. Luck­ily, there are sev­eral start-ups tak­ing on the task. Pilbara Heavy Haulage Girls, a Kar­ratha-based not-for-profit or­gan­i­sa­tion, has re­ceived pub­lic­ity for its hot-pink trucks and, more im­por­tantly, its pro­fes­sional de­vel­op­ment ser­vices for newly li­censed truck drivers, with a fo­cus on re­duc­ing gen­der dis­par­ity.


While or­gan­i­sa­tions like Pilbara Heavy Haulage Girls and TWA do very valu­able work, it’s not just a mat­ter of women look­ing out for each other.

Male ex­ec­u­tives need to proac­tively back fe­male em­ploy­ees to make sure they’re not drift­ing out of the in­dus­try due to a lack of op­por­tu­nity or sup­port.

“Over the years, I’ve been for­tu­nate enough to be among men who have as­sisted me to grow and be­come who I am today, be­liev­ing that I knew the in­dus­try and that I was pas­sion­ate about it, so they put me for­ward for se­nior po­si­tions,” Dick­en­son says.

Un­for­tu­nately, there’s still some work to do in ban­ish­ing old-school at­ti­tudes, ac­cord­ing to Boschetti: “There are still those older guys who think this is a man’s area and ask why a woman is do­ing it, or ask to speak to your male col­league in­stead.”

A sur­vey con­ducted by TWA re­vealed an over­whelm­ing 72 per cent of women in the in­dus­try said they faced chal­lenges like dis­crim­i­na­tion, un­even play­ing fields and dis­mis­sive at­ti­tudes. Con­fronting this prob­lem head-on will be cru­cial to spark change in the in­dus­try.


Train­ing and aware­ness are the most press­ing steps for the in­dus­try to tackle. But em­ploy­ers and po­ten­tial em­ploy­ees need to be proac­tive in seek­ing out op­por­tu­ni­ties to turn the gen­der gap around. McMil­lan urges women and girls who are in­ter­ested in the in­dus­try to reach out to lo­cal trans­port com­pa­nies and speak to them about work ex­pe­ri­ence or site vis­its, even if they don’t have the right li­cence or qual­i­fi­ca­tions yet.

The jobs are there, Dick­en­son says, there just aren’t many women step­ping up yet.

“How can our in­dus­try start to raise aware­ness of all the dif­fer­ent op­por­tu­ni­ties for women?

“It’s the million-dol­lar ques­tion.”

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