“Always up for a challenge,” as she says, Mandy enrolled in the program. After a few months, she had her Ontario AZ trucking license and had been hired on to a large trucking company, working out of its Scarborough terminal.

The trucking industry needs Mandy — and lots more like her. Trucking remains the main mode of freight transport in Canada but it’s facing huge labour shortages; according to Canadian Trucking Alliance projections, the industry could be short as many as 48,000 drivers by 2024.

In the last decade, the industry has recognized the need to open the field to women who, as of 2011, made up only 3% of truckers in this country. “It wasn’t just the right thing to do; it was a business imperative,” says Isabelle Hétu, director of Programs and Services at Trucking HR Canada, an Ottawa-based non-profit that works on human resources issues in the trucking and logistics industries. In 2014, her organization launched a nation-wide “Women with Drive” initiative, designed to draw more women into the industry.

“I don’t want to
be a snitch, I don’t
want to get in
nobody to
protect me.”

It’s not always an easy fit. A seasoned Ontario-based female trucker who prefers to remain nameless referred to an “Old Boys Club” in trucking that makes women feel like “they should be fetching the coffee” and tells millennials to keep their mouths shut. She has heard stories from female colleagues who have been asked to drive overloaded trucks, neglected by their dispatchers and sent on stretches without sufficient re-fueling options— but she says most are afraid to lodge formal complaints. They’re in a tiny minority and they fear for their jobs.

“This is my life — my bread.”

When Mandy joined the company, she asked how many women drivers were on staff and was told three, but that none were black like her. But she hasn’t reached out to any of her female colleagues, nor is she in any rush to do so. “I don’t want to be a snitch, I don’t want to get in trouble. I’ll be working overnights here. There’s nobody to protect me. This is my life — my bread.”

Nadine Gauthier
Photo: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

But not all female truckers have a hard time. Nadine Gauthier, 45, who has been driving trucks in the Montreal area for 14 years, absolutely loves her work. “You’re free, you get to see a lot of places and meet a lot of new people,” she says. Evidently, she’s also good at it; in 2015, she became the first woman to be named Ambassadeur de la Route (Highway Ambassador) by the Association du Camionnage du Québec (Quebec Trucking Association), a distinction handed out every three years to truck drivers with a perfect driving record. Nadine says she has never experienced even a hint of discrimination at work and is glad to see the number of women drivers rising, slowly but surely, as employers offer more family-friendly schedules in an effort to recruit women.

Meanwhile, three months into her job, Mandy Cooper is still on probation and trying to remain optimistic. She hasn’t gotten along well with either of her trainers, who have “treated me like a child,” berated her and reported every mistake she made back to her manager. But she’s determined to stick it out and says that most of her co-workers have been supportive.

Mandy will be glad to put the training behind her. Once she’s been formally hired, she’ll feel more secure. “I’m looking forward to giving this a shot on my own,” she says.

Only 3% of commercial truck drivers in Canada are women.

Commercial truck drivers

are women

Data source: The Women’s Trucking Federation of Canada

In 2017, the Commission continued its work in promoting employment opportunity of the four groups of people designated by the Employment Equity Act: women, persons with disabilities, Indigenous persons and visible minorities. Future issue-based audits will include gender-based analysis so that the Commission can determine whether progress is being made with regards to the representation of women throughout all sectors of the workforce.