“Don’t Fall Into The Trap That You Have To Be One Of The Boys To Work In The Transport Industry”: Fiona McDonagh On Navigating Her Career Journey
New Zealand was the first country in the world to give women the right to vote and has always fiercely pioneered gender equality. However, there is plenty more to be done towards a more gender-balanced workforce in the transport industry. Despite the growing numbers of skilled women working in all layers, from driving to logistics and leadership positions, of the roughly 124,000 class 5 licence holders, only 3 percent are female.
As a historically male-dominated industry with high barriers to entry for women, a change from within is needed more than ever. Recently, in America, the industry has utilised more female drivers, who have a lower accident rate than men, and are half as likely to leave one job and go to another within the industry. Doing well with diversity also boosts a company’s employer attractiveness. In fact, 49.8% of respondents in a New Zealand 2021 diversity survey indicated that gender is the most important diversity focus for organisations. Studies also show that gender diversity can lead to more innovative thinking and serves as a positive signal for investors that a company is competently run.
This International Women’s Day, as a part of the Going the Extra Mile campaign, Teletrac Navman is championing women in the transport sector, who are inspiring role models for women across the globe by advocating for a world that is more diverse and inclusive. In keeping with this year’s theme, #BreaktheBias, we talked to Fiona McDonagh, Membership Manager at Ia Ara Aotearoa Transporting New Zealand, about her career pathway, and her advice for women considering a career in an industry famous for being “a man’s world”.
From an unfamiliar industry to a dream job
Before joining the transport sector and working for Transporting New Zealand, a forum that represents 1,200 individual road freight transport companies, which operate 14,000 heavy trucks across the country, Fiona worked in the retail industry. Looking back, she says this customer service background gave her an edge on building relationships in the transport industry. After 16 years working for a bulk transport company in Hamilton, she decided to move to the capital. In Wellington, she was approached by the CEO of Transporting New Zealand, Nick Leggett, to join the organisation as Project Manager for Te ara ki tua Road to success, Driver Traineeship Programme, and was promoted to Membership Manager in January of this year.
“I didn’t pay too much attention to trucks on the roads or know anyone who was a truck driver. But the opportunity presented itself, and once I was in, I was hooked. It was at a time when we were on the cusp of some changes here in New Zealand around employment thinking and women moving into different industries, so it was really exciting.”
The last couple of years with Covid also highlight how essential truck drivers are.
“With 93% of all products moved around New Zealand on the back of trucks, why not become a truck driver? It’s certainly a sustainable career.”
Forging the pathway for women
Speaking about her experience as a woman in the industry, Fiona said it was still “a buzz” for her whenever she saw a woman behind the wheel of one of the bigger rigs on the road.
“It always brings a smile to my face and it’s great to know that’s happening more and more often, which is terrific.”
For Fiona, having more women in the industry means progression.
“It means that we've opened another avenue for women to explore a career doing what they love, whether that’s behind the wheel, in an operational space or even under the bonnet.”
She believes that women have a lot to bring to the game.
“The guys are realising that having a woman on the team lifts everyone and it provides a balance in the workplace. We bring skills and experiences to the roles in a way that gives us a different perspective, a different way to look at problem solving, addressing the situation, and contributing to the team as a whole. While it's a very traditional space, we are making real inroads, and it’s exciting to see more and more women coming into the roles that have primarily been done by men.”
Being yourself, and counting on your support network
When asked about her advice for women considering a career in the industry, she stressed the importance of being yourself and having meaningful connection.
“Don’t fall into the trap that you have to be one of the boys to work with the boys, have confidence in the skills and the ability that you bring. Be open to learning, listen to those who want to teach. Get to know them, work alongside them and ask for help when you need it,” Fiona suggested.
“I guess the other thing would be to make sure that you've got a really awesome support network. Surround yourself with strong women who understand the pressures of not only this environment, but just life in general, the balance that we struggle to achieve in all the industries, across the world. Covid throws us off balance even more, so being able to have a network of women that you can vent to, rage at, cry with, celebrate with, share and draw on their strength can help us maintain our mental wellbeing.”
Talking about how women can empower one another, she said she has learned through the years that women don’t necessarily need reaching out more, but they rather realise and understand the importance of connection. “We know that it's good for our souls and mental health, whether that’s just to blow off steam or to work through a problem, find some sort of other ways of doing something.”