Australia’s transport and trucking industry has long been dominated by men. Women hold just 14 per cent of full-time transport roles and only account for three per cent of truck drivers.
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.
The Australian road freight industry is growing at three per cent a year. In the next twenty 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. Closing the gap is one of the smartest business decisions you can make.
Provide A Foot In The Door
Tracie Dickenson, Director at Daryl Dickenson Transport and a long-term Teletrac Navman customer, says women in the industry are hugely underrepresented in management positions and hands-on roles, but dominate admin functions. Businesses face an uphill battle to dispel the perception that transport is all “blokes in blue singlets and stubbies”.
The biggest challenge for organisations looking to employ more women is raising awareness of all the different roles available in transport. Tracie works hard to get students excited about the industry, particularly girls, by travelling to schools with her daughter for career days. But for the most part, they’re not aware of the options. “When you ask a group of kids what jobs there are in a transport business, they all put their hands up and say drivers."
Caitlin Boschetti, Procurement and Logistics Manager at James Stockfeed and another Teletrac Navman customer, 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.”
Offering industry experience is crucial if your business wants to improve gender diversity. Women who don’t have a family connection to the industry don’t necessarily know about all the different roles available, from warehousing to driving and management. Offering work experience programs and promoting entry-level or trainee positions to girls at school-level will help to get them involved.
Chair of Transport Women Australia Pam McMillan tells us that industry bodies, trade media and 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. This year the Australian Trucking Association (ATA) celebrated International Women’s Day by launching nominations for the Trucking Industry Women of the Year Award, an accolade that went to Tracie for her contributions to the sector.
Offer A Career Trajectory
To provide more diverse opportunities, training for girls is also essential. Tracie’s philosophy is that it’s important to give young people a go, as 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.” If you’ve got the capability, offering a clear career path will help you tackle the driver shortage and open up more opportunities for female employees.
Some businesses might not have the infrastructure or funds to train someone, even if you’d like to. This is where industry bodies and other organisations can provide support and help get younger workers on board. For example, Pilbara Heavy Haulage Girls, a Karratha-based not-for-profit organisation, received publicity for its hot-pink trucks and professional development services for newly licensed truck drivers, with a focus on reducing gender disparity.
Support From The Top
It’s not just a matter of women looking out for each other. Male executives need to back female employees to make sure they’re not drifting out of the industry due to a lack of opportunity or support.
Unfortunately, there’s also work to do in banishing old-school attitudes. “There’s 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”, Caitlin says. A survey conducted by TWA shows 72 per cent of women in the industry face challenges like discrimination, uneven playing fields and dismissive attitudes. Confronting this problem head-on will be crucial to spark change in the industry.
Take The Initiative
Both employers and potential employees need to proactively seek out opportunities to turn the gender gap around. Pam urges women and girls who are interested in the industry to contact local transport companies and ask about work experience or site visits, even if they don’t have the right license or qualifications yet. For businesses, the key is building awareness at a school and university level so women can get some hands-on experience. “How can our industry start to raise awareness of all the different opportunities for women?”, Tracie asks. “It’s the million-dollar question!”
Original article seen with November 2017, Issue 373 of ATN Magazine.