EDMONTON, Alta. – Alberta Motor Transport Association (AMTA) president Chris Nash believes companies that do not embrace diversity and inclusiveness will soon struggle to find talent.
“Diversity will bring more ideas and progression,” Nash said during the Women Building Futures Work Proud Summit in Edmonton Oct. 3. “Going forward, it will be less appealing to work for a company that is not diverse.”
Nash was part of a four-person panel that tackled the question several company executives may ask themselves of late: why does being a divers and inclusive workplace matter?
Nash said during his more than 30 years of experience in the industry before coming to his current role with the AMTA, he saw firsthand the challenges of inclusivity in trucking, particularly when it comes to women.
“I remember back when women first started coming into the workplace, (women) had no place to change, and where it’s gone from there is that it’s better but there’s still more to go,” said Nash. “We have to step back and not go the status quo. It’s going to have an impact; there’s going to be a possible cost upfront. It’s similar to trying to get across the river – you can continue to swim or we can build a bridge.”
Nash said the AMTA works to promote these ideas to the industry and its members, making it more accessible to more people who can bring these ideas to the industry.
Paul Verhesen, CEO of Clark Builders Group of Companies, said with each generation, the biases we see toward women in traditional male roles starts to diminish.
“The next generation is far more inclusive and accepting of diversity than even my generation,” said Verhesen. “It’s going to get better than it is today, given the fact that the unconscious bias is getting less and less.”
Nash said companies need to examine the reasons a person would decide to leave a position, and then compare that to the list of reasons someone working in an industry where they are typically not the type of person to fill such a role would have.
“It really goes back to quality of life and how you can give that to your staff and the people around you,” Nash said. “It has to come from leadership, it can’t come just from your HR department or your dispatcher or people up front, it has to come from the top for it to be successful and move forward.”
Dean Wilcox, vice-president of the Edmonton refinery for Suncor Energy, said his company is short-staffed, and ignoring the female talent pool would be a mistake.
“If we want to strive for top performance from a business perspective and attract the best and the brightest, it’s a necessity today,” said Wilcox. “It’s also the right thing to do.”
Verhesen said businesses that reject the idea of diversity and inclusiveness will miss something.
“When you put a different group of individuals who have had different experiences, different life lessons, the thinking and the outcome of thought benefits the business far greater than if you put a bunch of similar folks together in a room,” he said.
In addition to diversity as it pertains to women, Wilcox underscored the importance of other under-represented groups as well, like Aboriginals. He said top companies are tapping into Indigenous groups to bring the best pool of candidates through their doors.
Millennials were another group addressed during the panel discussion.
Nash said it can be a challenge for his generation to wrap their minds around the millennial worker and the different attitude they bring to the table compared to generations before.
“We have the millennials coming, which we’re responsible for because we gave them everything and brought them to this point,” he said, stirring a chuckle from the crowd. “If we don’t think about what we’re going to do to bring them in, we’re going to have challenges. You have to think about how to change your workplace to accommodate them.”
Companies looking to bring more diversity and inclusivity to their workplaces must do so in a well-thought out manner, and avoid going at it half-assed.
Brent Davis, vice-president of mining solutions for Finning Canada, said he has been part of efforts that seemed like good ideas at the time, but backfired.
“It came across as a straight gender-diversity play, not an inclusive play,” said Davis. “And the unintended impact of a good overall vision was that the thought of ‘am I getting this job just because I’m female and not because I’m good at doing this job?’”
Davis said the “good idea” was implemented without proper planning and education, and it ended up creating an unintended negative impact that slowed down the entire process of diversification and inclusiveness.
Now, the company educates its employees why diversity and inclusion is important, something Davis said most people understand.
Nash said the AMTA establishes benchmarks and measurements of what an employee should be, regardless of gender or identity.
“Really that’s the starting point for all of us,” he said. “(We need to) start looking at how we see value in an employee, that’s the start point of it all.”
Verhesen believes conversations about inclusivity need to happen earlier rather than later, and one of his biggest regrets is that his company was not forward-thinking when it needed to be.
“There’s only two ways to change,” said Verhesen. “You either choose to change or you’re forced to change, and as humans, I believe we don’t often choose to change. Being forced to change obviously isn’t the right way to do things. You’re better off if you make a conscious decision to make changes as opposed to being forced.”
Verhesen added that one of the industry’s biggest challenges is its past success.
“As an industry, we’ve been very successful doing it the old way…the old boys club or however you want to characterize that,” he said. “So there’s still a belief out there that why would we change something that has always worked for us? There are societal pressures to be more inclusive and more diverse than we have in the past, so I think our biggest hurdle is our past success.”
Nash said the trucking industry also waited too long to move toward diversity and inclusiveness.
With the average age of a truck driver now 47-year-old, and expected to be 49 by 2024, there is a need for fresh blood.
“A lot of the work we do as an industry is how we can show the industry is good, but in order to do that we have to make some changes,” said Nash. “I think of myself, and I went off the highway because of quality of life. I needed to be home more. My kids walked right past me and didn’t want to have anything to do with me because I was gone all week. How do we create our work atmosphere to make it more inclusive so that people can have that quality of life?”
One area Nash pointed to that needs improvement is rest stops, which are lacking in Alberta and nationwide.
“When your option to pull over is a wide spot and there are no facilities, it’s not really a thrilling adventure,” he said. “It would be like walking out your door where you work and having to go to the washroom outside.
“It’s things like that that we have to look at the bigger picture and these are going to be larger fixes that we need to make.”