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Women in Trucking, CarriersEdge to launch Diversity & Inclusion Index – FreightWaves

  • CarriersEdge CEO: “The beauty is [the survey] is not about current events —  it’s about how you treat your people.”
  • The initiative comes amid nationwide reckoning over systemic racism and lack of diversity in American business.

Women in Trucking (WIT) and CarriersEdge are launching a survey and contest to collect and share best practices in diversity and inclusivity across the industry.

The WIT Diversity & Inclusion Index, to be unveiled formally during WIT’s annual conference in November, will document the programs that fleets currently use and recognize creative solutions in different areas. 

“Our approach is going to be to make companies try and put their best foot forward,” said Jane Jazrawy, CEO of CarriersEdge, a provider of online training for truck drivers.

The culmination of a months-long effort by a task force led by Debbie Sparks, WIT’s vice president, the Index is modeled after the Best Fleets to Drive For program, and will collect details from participating fleets about diversity and inclusivity efforts across the company, from hiring to onboarding, management, coaching and leadership development. 

Interviews with executives and anonymous employee surveys also will be used to capture both program ideas and feedback on effectiveness.

“It’s not just gender diversity but ethnic and ability diversity as well,” said Jazrawy, who spoke to FreightWaves about the genesis and purpose of the Index earlier this month.

Diversity: The right thing to do, and profitable too

A growing body of research shows that diversity, defined broadly, actually increases profitability in companies, Jazrawy explained.

Exactly why this is the case is complex. But drawing on research into noteworthy examples of poor decision-making, from plane crashes to the financial meltdown of 2008, Jazrawy said homogenous groups tend to make poor decisions because groupthink prevents the airing of alternative perspectives that might lead to better or more innovative solutions.

That perils of groupthink “aren’t limited to a large group of white men,” she clarified. “It’s a large, homogenous group of any kind.” 

Slow progress, but potential for trucking ‘to shine

Data from a 2019 WIT and FreightWaves survey show the trucking industry is making some strides in gender diversity. Women now make up over 10% of over-the-road (OTR) truck drivers, an increase of almost 30% over the 7.89% seen in the WIT Association’s 2018 survey. The increase came after an industrywide push to hire more female drivers in response to the previous year’s capacity crunch. 

The trend is not limited to drivers. The number of female executives in trucking companies climbed close to 24% year-over-year.

Trucking is still very much a white male industry, said Jazrawy.  Even so, she believes diversity and inclusion is an area where the industry can “really shine.”

That’s partly because the other industries are not succeeding that much. She pointed to Uber (NYSE: UBER), roiled by sexual harassment claims several years ago, as well as the seemingly endless stream of stories and reports about male tech leaders and employees who engage in similar behaviors. 

At least when it comes to sharing best practices, trucking tends to operate by different rules, Jazrawy believes, as carriers often adopt best practices as a whole. The idea of guaranteed pay is one example, she said, with more companies who pay their drivers a minimum weekly amount showing up in the Best Fleets to Drive For survey.

In its 13th year, Best Fleets surveys for-hire carriers to determine which fleets provide the best workplace experiences for their drivers.

“I don’t think Facebook and Google are getting together to discuss best practices,” observed Jazrawy, “whereas large trucking companies will be in the same room.”

Connecting the dots between technology and diversity

That openness has its limits, however.

“The biggest thing happening in the trucking industry is the introduction of technology and the upheaval that goes along with that,” Jazrawy said. Among the reactions to the upheaval is a resistance to planning, a tendency “to hold onto the old way of doing things for a lot longer than we should.”

Citing as an example the ELD mandate, in which many companies waited until the last minute to adopt the technology, she said diversity can help mitigate the negative impacts of change by bringing together people with different ideas about how to manage disruption.

Each industry diversifies in its own way

Jazrawy said her conversations with trucking companies have convinced her that the majority want to diversify — they just don’t know what steps to take. Carriers shouldn’t necessarily import a generic diversity initiative that might work fine outside of the industry, she cautioned. “It needs a made-in-trucking flavor to it.”

Designed to provide a road map for the industry, the Index will address diversity across company divisions. Top-scoring carriers will receive awards for particular efforts or programs such as best recruiting, best leadership and best representation.

Jazrawy said one of the lessons she’s learned over the years is that carriers need to make diversity visible, whether it’s putting more people of color and women on stage during trucking conferences or featuring women in ads for truck drivers — a common practice now, not so five years ago. 

How to talk about systemic racism, sexism

The Index comes amid a nationwide reckoning over systemic racism and lack of diversity in all aspects of American life and business. While the survey questions won’t employ words like “racism” or “sexism,” according to Jazrawy, they will likely address such issues as preventing harassement, toxic environments and discrimination.

“You can ask a question — you just have to change the way you ask it,” she said.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the Best Fleets survey contained a question about how the company handles natural disasters.

“When you ask those general questions and a news event happens, that’s what you naturally talk about,” Jazrawy noted.  “The beauty is [the survey] is not about current events —  it’s about how you treat your people.”

No judgement, no fear

The first edition of the Index will launch in March 2021, but WIT and CarriersEdge want to introduce the idea at the WIT conference this fall so companies have time to get used to the idea.

“This is going to be a new direction for people, and there is going to be a lot of fear involved,” Jazrawy said.

Seeking to allay those fears, she reiterated the program’s goals: to share the best aspects of the trucking industry. 

“It is not our place to judge. Companies are going through a process of self-evaluation, and we are guiding them through.”

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