The Australian road transport industry has traditionally been dominated by men. But as the world changes, and more women are entering and staying in the workforce, the role of women in the workforce and their positive impact on the economy cannot be ignored—and the road transport industry is no exception to this change.
The steady progression of more women taking up driving jobs within the transport industry is not only a sign that women can and do enjoy driving trucks, but also that they are keen to be a part of the indispensable profession driving Australia’s goods (and economy).
Encouraging greater female participation within the industry can help to increase employment opportunities for women and significantly challenge outdated gender stereotypes, which both work towards to much-needed change in public perception of the trucking industry.
Gender gap, driver lack
According to a 2016 study by National Transport Commission, the Australian freight task is expected to see a 26 per cent growth by 2026.
This growth amplifies the urgency for more truck drivers. The current truck driver shortage is forcing operators to take pursue concrete strategies to overcome this problem.
But a solution that could well end this shortage is often overlooked—the inclusion and increase of women in the trucking industry.
And this solution, potentially significantly increasing the number of professional truck drivers on (exactly what the industry needs), sure isn’t a new idea.
As effective as this move would be, however, there are hurdles that need to be overcome.
Firstly, there is glaring gender disparity within the trucking industry; women account for only 3 per cent of Australia’s truck driving force—which can be tied to the public’s stereotyped perceptions of the profession.
Secondly, women may not always be in the know about opportunities for them within the industry. This begs the question—what steps can we take to close the information gap and put more female truck drivers behind the wheel?
What’s one way we could encourage women to join the trucking industry?
We speak with the Chair of Transport Women Australia Limited (TWAL), Jacquelene Brotherton, to get an insight.
Ms Brotherton believes that women established within the industry should be championed, which can encourage an inclusive environment for future female truck drivers.
“The perception once upon a time was that it isn’t a female-friendly industry. But people are more open now, and the industry offers equal opportunity for skilled drivers as long as they are prepared to do their job,” Ms Brotherton explains.
“We ought to bring our women truckies more into the spotlight so that the next generation of female truckies can have role models or inspirations that look like them. By setting current women truckies as industry examples, the profession will be more easily relatable to aspiring female truckies.”
Women in the spotlight
Acknowledging the gender gap is the first step towards a feasible solution to help bridge it and the shortage of drivers, but we can do more.
- Recruiters and fleet managers can assist in putting more female truck drivers on the road by communicating that the industry is an inclusive space for all.
- Language matters. Job descriptions that elucidate the need for trained truck drivers—without gendered language such as “He is expected to have X amount of experience”—establishes the point that the industry is interested in efficient drivers, regardless of gender.
- The power of mainstream media and advertising shouldn’t be overlooked. Content that portray women operating trucks will help to increase public awareness of our truck industry as an equal opportunity space.
Such inclusion of female truck drivers in mainstream media—and perhaps also in government-sponsored campaigns—can also increase visibility of women within the industry, which could encourage other women to join.
Case in point – this recent piece by SBS on Australian women truck drivers is a great example of how female truck drivers can be championed by media outlets.
The wee ones
Change begins when we’re young.
There are new initiatives and mentorship opportunities for young women that specifically aim to raise awareness of career opportunities within the Australian transport industry. One such initiative is the Wheels Badge program, a collaboration between TWAL and Girl Guides Australia.
Ms Brotherton explains that the program aims to familiarise girls with the industry at an early age.
“The program is set up with the intention to introduce women to the industry—right from when they are little girls, so they can endear themselves to a career in trucks.
“And I think this program will help dismiss undue, negative stereotypes associated with trucking, normalise the role women can play in the profession and make it approachable for women from an earlier age.” Ms Brotherton said.
Training and guidance
- As with all industries, when looking to recruit and retain capable employees, bolstering training programs and tailoring them for different individuals will help develop the appropriate skill sets needed for the profession.
- A new female-specific pilot training program at Wodonga TAFE has recently been announced to encourage more women to consider joining the industry as drivers.
- These opportunities can help boost the confidence of women by providing them with gender-inclusive opportunities to acquire the necessary skills.
Thanks to social media, truck drivers today can stay connected to their family and friends wherever their job may take them—a boon for truckies who are often away from their loved ones during long-haul operations.
However, the power of social media isn’t just limited to staying connected. It can be used as a platform to increase positive visibility of the profession, and thus increase the numbers of drivers entering the pool.
Ms Brotherton suggests the industry use social media platforms in their inclusive recruitment push, and actively promote women in the profession.
“National truck-based award ceremonies such as the National Australian Trucking Industry Woman of the Year Award recognise the work women are doing within the truck industry, and this event is attended by trucking media.
“Identifying and promoting these women as key influencers via social media platforms can not only help attract more women to trucking careers, but also be an avenue to provide a reliable, informed view of the industry from the inside.”
Want more stories on women truck drivers? Have a read of our Q&A with Julie Russell.