Women at the wheel
Changing the status quo and closing the gender gap in the transport industry
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?
GETTING A FOOT IN THE DOOR
“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.
ALLOWING FOR MORE FLEXIBILITY
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.
OFFERING A CAREER TRAJECTORY
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.
SUPPORT FROM THE TOP
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.”