The trucking industry has, historically, thought of itself as no place for women, however, this is clearly wrong. Women have contributed a lot to the trucking industry over the years and proved to be the backbone of many trucking organisations.
Having said this, the industry as a whole has managed to keep women at bay in many areas and retained the image this is a man’s world in which women have no place. Many women wanting to get a place in the industry have had to fight tooth and nail to get and hold a position, had to work much harder than a man in the same position.
The traditional roles women have undertaken in trucking can be divided into two distinct streams. One is as the support and organiser for the man who is the boss, but out there on the road driving trucks. The second are the feisty women who has broken into trucking on their own terms to prove a point about their equality.
We have to remember these were very different times, society as a whole had an attitude in which trucking wasn’t considered ladylike. It may be difficult to take our minds back to the last century, but it was acceptable in many circles to denigrate and be prejudiced against women.
In the past, many of the women active in the industry came into it as part of the team. Quite often, for an owner driver, the only way to run the business was to have someone who could answer the phone and ring around for work, while the truck was on the road.
I myself, in my first stint as an owner driver had a wife at home, looking after two toddlers, answering calls and looking for backloads. I would then find the odd telephone box and call in to see if there was any work and where it was.
She would not have regarded herself as a part of the trucking industry, but loading agents and bad payers had to learn how to deal with her. This scenario would have been duplicated in many thousands across the country. Some of these partners have gone on to run large operations themselves, as a result of circumstances, the ATA Chair, Noelene Watson, being a case in point.
Other women working in the trucking industry were there purely to make a point. If men wanted to exclude them, they were going to fight for their place. And fight they did, some of them, taking on the aggressive culture then prevalent. I myself have seen a female driver lay out a workshop foreman for saying the wrong thing.
What we need to realise now is how far these days are behind us. The industry has changed, but needs to change further. Enlightened companies are getting the best out of reliable female truckies, but they are also met with ignorance and prejudice out on the road, or at pickup and delivery points.
First of all the trucking industry is short of good quality drivers and can’t afford to ignore 50 per cent of the population as a possible solution. Secondly, trucking cannot be a marginal industry anymore, trying to live outside the mores current in the rest of the business world. The make up of the trucking industry needs to reflect the make up of society as a whole.
There have been some exemplary businesses driving change and they need to be applauded, but we need to bring everyone with us. There is no room for neanderthal attitudes towards women, the trucking industry has some great financial and lifestyle benefits for everyone involved. We need to make the working atmosphere in trucking, into one in which any woman would feel comfortable to work.