When Sandra Ambrose-Clark, president of ESJ Carrier Corp., told her daughter's teacher she was up for the Influential Woman in Trucking Award from Women in Trucking and Navistar, the teacher was surprised. How could Ambrose-Clark, a vivacious and well-dressed woman with an impeccable manicure, be in trucking?
“I think it's an image thing,” said Ambrose-Clark during a WIT panel discussion at the Truckload Carriers Association meeting last month.
When she explains to people like her daughter's teacher about the wide variety of jobs women hold in trucking, they're surprised. Women are not only drivers, but also dispatchers, customer service reps, trucking company owners and executives.
“I think it's looked at as an industry where there is just driving, rather than a broad array of careers,” said Ambrose-Clark. “I think they look at it as a lifestyle and not a career.”
We need to do a better job of educating those inside and outside the industry about the opportunities in trucking careers, especially for women.
There are more women reporters and editors covering the industry than there were when I started more than 20 years ago, I'm happy to report. The WIT association has helped bring together women from all levels, from truck maker executives to truck drivers. But overall, there are still too few women in our companies.
The percentage of women drivers has not gone up appreciably in the last couple of decades, which has important implications for the driver shortage.
I've been talking to a lot of fleet executives who are seriously concerned about the looming driver shortage, which for many is already a problem.
As we'll explore in our next issue, the industry is reaching out to try to broaden the driver pool.
Women need to be part of that expanded pool. And while spec'ing equipment with automatic and automated transmissions and other female-friendly features is a step in the right direction, developing a female-friendly culture needs to go well beyond that.
It's important to get women more involved in all areas of trucking companies, including leadership positions. This would be good not only to improve the female-friendliness of the company when recruiting drivers, but it also would be good for the company as a whole.
A five-year study found that female managers — as rated by their bosses, themselves and the people who work for them — were rated significantly better than their male counterparts. This difference extends beyond the “softer” skills such as communication, feedback and empowerment to such areas as decisiveness, planning and setting standards, according to Lawrence A. Pfaff and Associates, a Michigan-based human resource consulting firm.
Another study found that women leaders are more empathic and flexible. It also found that women were stronger in interpersonal skills than their male counterparts, according to Caliper, a Princeton-based management consulting firm. In that report, Regina Sacha, vice president of Human Resources for FedEx Custom Critical, was quoted as saying, “We're looking at a different paradigm of leadership, and it plays naturally to the strengths of women. The tide has turned. The leadership skills that come naturally to women are now absolutely necessary for companies to continue to thrive.”
Other professions once dominated by men have made great strides. For instance, the majority of students enrolled in medical and law school today are women. Women are even being allowed into combat roles in the armed forces. It's time for trucking to do some catching up.
From the April issue of HDT magazine.