30th April 2021

Gender gap: the solution for replacing an ageing workforce?

How reducing the gender gap could be the solution to many of the haulage industry’s challenges

In the UK, the road haulage industry continues to suffer from a skills gap. With an ageing workforce, there are simply not enough young drivers coming through to replace them. 

In addition, turnover of staff is relatively high. As a result of Covid-19, this situation is becoming even more pronounced, with fewer provisional drivers able to take tests in the past year than would normally be expected. Driver Require reported that at least 16,000 new passes have effectively been ‘lost to the pandemic in 2020.

Acclimatising to new rules relating to Brexit have also made it harder to manage than ever before. While getting used to new ways of working will eventually normalise, closing an increasing skills gap is a larger challenge – especially with an estimated 79,000 EU nationals leaving the country’s logistics industry in 2020.

It has been estimated that there are around 320,000 truck drivers currently operating in the UK, but as demand and challenges continue to grow, something has to be done to cope with the increasing pressure on the UK’s haulage industry. With so many challenges ahead, the industry must use this time of dramatic change as an opportunity to become a more open and appealing career option for millions of people.

Jodi Smith is a female truck driver from Hertfordshire, but she initially found it difficult to break into the industry. She says, "I applied at a few places and nowhere really got back to me. I went out on the road to see if I could drive the lorries and they said I was really good, but if I’m completely honest I don’t think they wanted a female." 

Women in the industry

The stereotypical perceptions of ‘the trucker’ and the haulage industry are heavily influenced by the idea that it is a masculine profession, with employee demographics also reflecting this gender stereotype. Currently, 47% of the UK’s workforce is female, but in the transport sector, this figure drops dramatically, to only 20%. Worse still, the number of female truck drivers is just 1%.

While this disparity is nothing new, in an industry where tens of thousands of new drivers are needed, action needs to be taken to reduce the gender gap as quickly as possible – but what needs to be done to make the industry more appealing to women and therefore reducing the skills gap and gender gap at the same time?

Emma Westwood, Commerical Manager at SNAP says, "I worked as a branch manager at a national builders merchant for several years before joining SNAP. Both are very male-dominated industries. But there shouldn't be such a divide in the modern world, and we need to break down the barriers. 

"The industry should be doing all it can to encourage and enable women to join, not only to help fill the number of vacancies for drivers but to improve the gender gap in other roles across the trade."

How can the industry approve its appeal?

Attracting women to a role that is 99% male is a significant challenge. So, what can be done to encourage female drivers to take up roles in the industry?

Develop a gender-neutral voice

The first thing to change is the tone of voice. After decades of being a ‘masculine profession’, elements of the culture and language may have become normalised in a way that is potentially off-putting for recruits. Coming into an industry with such a reputation to find a workforce that is 80% or more male, could be enough to deter many potential female applicants.

Jodi Smith says, "the male-dominated industry definitely puts some females off from doing the job. None of my girl mates from school would really do it and they don’t know how I do it. It’s not for everyone and it does put women off.” 

From job adverts to posters and promotional materials, take a closer look at the tone of voice to ensure that the audience’s gender is not assumed. 

Increase active participation and inclusivity

While culture is not something that can be changed overnight, increased inclusivity and supporting a rise in the number of senior roles for women will help to demonstrate that a concerted effort is being made to make the industry more accessible.

It is important to demonstrate that women’s voices are genuinely valued rather than being a token. Supporting initiatives and working with organisations like Women in Transport is a great way to gain insight and understanding of the changes that need to be made.

Promoting female role models are an important element of demonstrating improvements and encouraging interest in the industry as a career option. Increasing the involvement of existing female employees in recruitment and training processes will help to build confidence and reassure new female hires. It will also highlight where changes are needed and help to flag issues that may have otherwise not been identified. Similarly, companies that have women in leadership roles must also make improvements at all levels of the business – a figurehead is not going to be enough to convince a new employee if the culture ‘on the ground’ has not shifted.

Supporting female talent

Actively setting gender diversity goals and providing opportunities to develop female talents will also help to address the gender imbalance in haulage, demonstrating that the industry is moving away from its ‘boy’s club’ image.

Jodi Smith would highly recommend truck driving to any other females. She says, "as long as you can remain calm, use your head, work well in a team, take advice, take criticism and you’ve got good banter, it's a great job.” 

Ultimately, the key is to make a genuine and concerted effort to increase diversity by eliminating gender discrimination and bias.

Benefits of the industry

While there is work to be done to adjust the perceptions surrounding the industry and its culture, there are a broad range of positives for people looking to join the industry;

Gender pay gap

While there remains a disparity in the number of female employees, trucking is an industry where the gender pay gap is much smaller than most.

The UK’s gender pay gap among full-time employees in April 2020 was 7.4%, down from 9.0% in April 2019. In contrast, the equivalent pay gap for the land transport sector for 2019 was 1.1% – significantly lower than the national average and the lowest of the UK’s transportation and storage sector.

Job opportunities

With young people in the UK more than twice as likely to have lost their job due to Covid-19 in 2020, many haulage companies are likely to be recruiting - both in operations roles and as drivers. As of April 2021, the average salary for an HGV driver in the UK was £32,500, which is £2,900 higher than the UK average.

While skills will be required for certain roles, such as being a driver, there are many industry roles within that do not require university-level qualifications and allow applicants to secure entry-level positions with the scope to develop a career. Of course, accessibility to the industry is not in itself gender-based, but women must be made aware that such roles are available to them despite the perception of a male-dominated culture. 

Currently, the industry is facing several significant challenges. Actively encouraging the recruitment of women through a shift in presentation, culture and language, will help to make the industry more appealing to women who might otherwise not consider a career in haulage – helping to improve representation and reduce both the gender gap and skills gap simultaneously.

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