There’s No Stopping Women in Trucking Industry
A group of Nova Scotia women are breaking down barriers in an industry traditionally dominated by men.
The women are training to enter the trucking industry as part of ‘Women Unlimited’, a Nova Scotia Community College program that introduces women to opportunities in trades.
Tammy Tortola says it’s the “freedom” of driving on the open road that has attracted her to the industry.
“You don’t have to worry, you don’t have a care in the world,” Tortola told CTV Atlantic.
She said the idea that only men could drive long haul trucks is simply a stereotype that needs to be put to rest.
“There’s no stopping us,” Tortola said. “Once we got into the program, we got our confidence up. We know we can do just as good as anybody else.”
Trucking school recruiter Emily Stokes said only three per cent of truck drivers currently on the road are female.
“It’s amazing to see 20 women here,” she said. “To be here today with them and see how excited they are to get out into the workforce, it’s incredible.”
Some of the women admit that they were worried their gender might be a barrier to entering the industry.
“You barely ever hear of any women drivers and I just hope I can be part of the team and break that,” student Dawn MacLeod said. “I always wanted to truck drive, for as long as I can remember.”
Joanne Millen-Mackenzie is a woman on a mission. Many missions. A shortcut through a single hall at the Truck World trade show has to be completed in a series of stops and starts between greetings and laughs. She is quick to ask fellow drivers if she’ll see them again at Trucking for a Cure, the award-winning convoy she supports in the ﬁght against breast cancer. Fellow female drivers are reminded to attend a reception honoring women who work behind the wheel. And that reminds her: The crowd would enjoy a snack.
She heads back to the room where a reception was just held in her honor. Millen-Mackenzie, the ﬁrst woman ever to be named HighwayStar of the Year, is already shifting the attention elsewhere. This time it’s to support a group representing the 3% of Canada’s drivers who are female. There’s no need to let the leftover food go to waste.
“Women need to know we can do what we want out here, and there’s nothing we can’t be,” Mackenzie said hours before, as she hoisted a winner’s cheque for $10,000 from Newcom Business Media. “It’s not, ‘Who’s going to let you?’ It’s, ‘Who’s going to stop you?’”
Trucking for a Cure is not forgotten, either. Other prizes included a jacket from Chevron, a watch from Freightliner, and a free bunk heater from Eberspaecher. But she already had a bunk heater. Could she auction it off in the name of Trucking for a Cure? Of course, the sponsor tells her.
The annual events held in Woodstock and Prescott, Ontario are always at the top of mind. Where the ﬁrst convoy featured 35 trucks, last year’s installment included 88. And they raised $85,000 in 2015 alone, bringing the total raised to an astounding $400,000 for the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation. Since 2013 it has been the organization’s largest revenue-generating, third-party community event in Ontario.“
Joanne lives and breathes for the opportunity to spread the word about what the foundation is doing to ﬁnd a cure for breast cancer, and does everything in her power,” said Niyousha Nejatpour, of the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation.
Many people sitting at a desk would struggle raising that kind of money, adds her boss, Highland Transport vice president – operations Terry Gardiner. “The real heroes are the people who work hard every day and give back to their community,” he says. “She does it from behind the wheel.” Even when visiting family, some of the time is spent in the sleeper, answering emails, making fundraising pitches, and posting Facebook updates.
But there is a personal connection to honor. She saw the ravages of the disease that ultimately claimed her Auntie Anna, whose name is immortalized on the side of the pink Peterbilt – Pinkie – that she drives for Highland Transport. “She was a huge inspiration to me, and to all of us. She was our glue. She kept us together. She taught me so much about cancer and what she had gone through,” Millen-Mackenzie says. She remembers complaining about her ﬁrst mammogram, but only until she heard her aunt’s familiar Scottish brogue. “She was in the other room saying, ‘Oh my God, you’re a truck driver. Suck it up.
’”She did. She does. Behind the wheel of Pinkie.“
When we go to shows like Fergus (Ontario), it was the ﬁrst truck that anybody saw when they came in the gates,” she says. It leads to emotional meetings. Many approach the cab crying, and offering thanks for supporting a cause dear to their hearts. Driving a famous truck does have its challenges, like waking up ﬁrst thing in the morning to ﬁnd a busload of tourists taking pictures. “You got to remember to be dressed,” she adds with a smile. And there are always people taking photos to tag on Facebook. There is no sneaking into town without word reaching her mom in Brockville, Ontario, either. “I get that phone call, ‘So what are you doing?’ And I know she knows I’m there.”
The commitment to ﬁghting breast cancer is one of the things that helped her stand apart from about 100 other applicants for HighwayStar of the Year. “HighwayStar is more than what the person does as a driver,” observes Joe Glionna, vice president and general manager of Newcom Business Media, the publishers of Today’s Trucking.“
I’m just so proud of her,” added Millen-Mackenzie’s brother, Steve Millen, between teary hugs. “If they weren’t doing this, who would be doing this?”
There are times that Steve wishes she held a different job and lived close by so he could visit on the occasional evening or weekend. “But I know that she believes in what she does,” he says. “So her family accepts that her visits take place around the demands of her job and her Trucking for a Cure responsibilities.”
Millen-Mackenzie can’t explain exactly why she decided to become a truck driver. She remembers drivers from a local reﬁnery and St. Lawrence Cement visiting her family’s tavern in Oakville, Ontario. And she was always fascinated by the trucks. But the connection probably had more to do with her grandfather, who owned a taxi. “I always wanted to drive with him,” she says. Her dad, who died when she was 15, worked with ocean-going freighters. That fact is not lost on her, either. “Forty years later,” she says, “I’m going to those same ports he used to service.”
Her career behind the wheel began as a courier driver for TNT Express Worldwide, and then shifted to straight trucks for Wilson’s Stationery. The idea to earn an AZ licence came 24 years ago, when Employment Canada was running a program to place women in non-traditional roles. The extent of the gender gap was obvious as soon as she noticed that she was the only woman among a class of 50 men. “It intimidated me quite a bit,” she says. And the instructor always seemed to call on her for answers. “It made me want to study harder because I didn’t want to look like the idiot.”
It’s still one of the best decisions she ever made. Millen-Mackenzie clearly loves the job. “The ofﬁce window is your wind-shield,” she says. “And you’re helping the economy. You know the importance of what you’re doing.” She is clearly skilled at the related gearing and steering, too. Millen-Mackenzie was the only woman in the 2008/09 Ontario Truck Driving Championships, placing third in the regional tandem-tandem division.
There are still challenges to the job. She points to the physical demands of opening the doors on intermodal containers sealed tight by the sea air. But Millen-Mackenzie is quick to stress that it’s not a problem for all female drivers. Female friends are hauling steel and logs alike. “I just got to ﬁnd myself a young buck to travel with,” she says with a smirk.
Friends think she is doing just ﬁne already. “Joanne’s life as a woman in the trucking industry is a perfect example of what women can bring to this tradition-ally male-dominated industry,” says Laura Horner, a co-worker.“
What sets Joanne apart is her positive attitude – toward her job, the industry, the people around her, and life in general. In the many years I have known Joanne, I have never heard her speak unkindly or disrespectfully about anyone or any-thing,” adds Joanne Ritchie, executive director of the Owner-Operator’s Business Association of Canada. “OK, maybe just a bit of between-us-girls grumbling and eye rolling now and again.” What truck driver doesn’t grumble from time to time?
And there are always others to draw into the cause. Al Holbrook, a driver trainer with Canada Building Materials, ﬁrst met Millen-Mackenzie at a Truck World six years ago, when he stopped into the Trucking for a Cure booth. He wanted to discuss plans to paint one of the company’s trucks pink. “Little did I know that I would be drawn in by the human tornado that is Joanne,” he says. “I have attended every convoy with our pink mixer since. Not that Joanne has given me a choice.”And there’s one other detail to address with her own truck. The markings on the cab will soon recognize Millen-Mackenzie as HighwayStar of the Year. Maybe with one small tweak to the logo. “We’re going to have to pink that HighwayStar out,” she says. It will look perfect in pink.
A Female Driver’s Experience
The mission of Women In Trucking Association is to increase the percentage of women employed in the trucking industry. While we represent all careers in transportation, much of our work focuses on the professional driver’s challenges. Specifically, we look at obstacles that might keep women from considering a career in transportation.
Many carriers’ representatives have bluntly stated that they don’t “care about the gender of their drivers. They remark that they hire men and women and treat them equally. If that is true, then why are there twenty men to every woman behind the wheel?Instead of ignoring the fact that men and women are physically and emotionally different, let’s embrace the differences and work on making the environment better for all drivers. This means we need to look at our hiring and training practices more closely.
One carrier felt that a same gender training policy would address harassment issues by allowing women to be trained by a female trainer. Unfortunately, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) determined that the longer waiting period for women to be assigned to a female trainer constituted discrimination. Now, women are assigned to the next available trainer regardless of gender.
This means that men and women must share bunk space while out on the road. Private activities such as changing clothes, personal hygiene and other intimate routines are no longer secretive. This could create a very uncomfortable environment for a woman who is struggling to learn how to drive a tractor-trailer in heavy , shift gears and back into tiny loading docks.If the woman is married or has a close relationship with someone who might not understand the situation, this could create even more stress during her training.
Recently, a new female recruit contacted me about her training experience at a school. She was expected to sleep in a bunk house type environment with the male students at the training facility. She was not told about this in advance. Instead, the school recruiter told her she would have lodging during her stay.
When she arrived at the school, she was shown her bunk in the sleeping quarters occupied by all men. She offered to stay in a hotel at her own cost, but was told this was not an option. She left the school and found another place that didn’t expect her to sleep in a room with men. “The importance of allowing female trainees to obtain a private hotel room for themselves, even if it means paying out of pocket without reimbursement (is important),” she said. “If I was given this option before arriving or once I arrived I would very likely have stayed for training and be currently employed there despite the vague description of boarding I was given,” she added.
While I was familiar with opposite gender training while on the road, I was surprised to hear that some schools treat all of their students the same, to the extent they have to sleep in the same room.
Are we really attracting women into the trucking industry with policies like these?
The Women In Trucking Association Facebook page has nearly 10,000 folks who share their expertise when asked. I created a poll and asked the female drivers to respond to the following question. “Did any of you have to share sleeping space with males during training (not in the truck, but at the school or carrier’s facility)?”
I was surprised to learn that ten percent of the respondents were provided a shared sleeping facility with men. Some of the drivers stated the names of their training provider. Many of these are members of Women In Trucking Association.
This is truly unacceptable and could be a reason some women won’t succeed as professional drivers if they are concerned about their safety, or their personal items in a non-private area.
Even the men agreed. A male driver commented about sharing a space with anyone because he would “be nervous (about) them stealing his belongings.” Another male driver said his wife would not have accepted the arrangement.
We have a long way to go before we’ve addressed the challenges women face as they consider a career as a professional driver. However, personal safety and privacy while in training should be the standard for all drivers.
Men and women are not the same and carriers that ignore gender differences are not creating a positive environment for the demographic we are trying to attract. If you are a training facility that expects all of your students to share sleeping quarters, we ask you to consider whether this would be acceptable if that woman was your own daughter, wife, mother or sister. If not, then change it.