Do you remember the 1964 Bob Dylan song, The Times They Are a-Changin'? It does seem to me that this sentiment is true today as I look around the commercial truck tire and trucking industries and see women in roles that traditionally have long been held by men.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' (BLS) most recent data book on women in the labor force, it is a good time to be a female professional in the U.S. The number of women in the workforce has grown significantly since 1970. It peaked at 60 percent in 1999 and has remained at a steady 58 percent since.
In 2012the most recent datathe unemployment rate for women was lower than it was for men. Women have taken advantage of education opportunities and 38 percent of employed women aged 25 to 64 earned college degrees that year. That's up from just 11 percent in 1970. In fact, in 2013 more than half of all associate's, bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees were awarded to women.
This greatly benefited women, as 28 percent of wives in dual-income families made more than their husbands, which was a marked increase of more than 10 percent since 1987.
However, women still face problems according to the data. Employed women work fewer hours than men and more working women than working men live below the poverty line. Across all professions, women are estimated to earn only 82 percent of what men earn. Of all female military veterans, 8.3 percent were unemployed in 2012 compared with only 6.9 percent of male veterans.
The tire manufacturing industry has been identified as one of six industries that has strong growth in revenue and employment of female workers. As we all know, tire manufacturing capacity has expanded since the Great Recession and has also benefited from tariffs placed on Chinese consumer tire imports.
Domestic tire shipments rose an annualized 3.3 percent over the 2009-2014 period. Due to the growth in this industry, tire companies are now facing a shortage of skilled and educated workers and are already tapping into the education and expertise the female talent pool provides. As a result the number of women working in the tire manufacturing industry grew an annualized 16.8 percent from 2009 to 2013.
Some tire companies have R&D development training programs that work recent engineering and science graduates through different areas of R&D, production and marketing. The number of new female recruits has been rising for most of these companies. For instance, last year at Continental Tire the Americas L.L.C. more than one-third of the new appointments in tire development were women, which shows just how well qualified women are in technical areas now.
Sing it again: The times they are a-changin'.
When I started working at the old Roadway Expressnow YRC Worldwide Inc.in 1977 at the height of the Sexual Revolution, the only women in the field outside of the clerical support staff were in sales. I was the only woman manager in the equipment maintenance department. By the 1980s there were only two or three female terminal managers in a Fortune 500 company with more than 600 terminals.
There were no laws regarding sexual harassment and sexual discrimination. You could walk into a terminal and see more women in the mechanics' calendars that you did in trucks or in the maintenance facility. There were only men's restrooms and showers. There were no accommodations for women and women were not welcomed.
I remember when I completed my training to learn to conduct a DOT inspection on a tractor and trailer, my test was to inspect a unit parked in the ready line, which could be viewed from the drivers' lounge on the second floor over the garage. I passed my test with flying colors and while being congratulated by the garage supervisor, a driver walked by and said, You don't even look like a woman!
Obviously, he had watched me crawling under, around and through the tractor and trailer and was not happy that a (fairly dirty) woman had penetrated this all-male bastion.
While some men disliked women in the workplace, others were delighted. The first time I met one of the company's maintenance directors, he said to me, Boy, I'd sure like to hump you! I had to decide quickly whether to belt him or just laugh. As it turned out, having a good sense of humor really paid off.
I still hated the guy, but at least I had a job and what turned out to be a great 19-year career with Roadway.
My job as manager of tire maintenance was to take a neglected tire maintenance program, revamp it, and then implement it in the field in order to reduce tire costs. I knew nothing about tires when I took this job except that they were black and round and required air, but fortunately Roadway Express was the largest user of 11R24.5 radial tires in the country at the time and was based in Akron, which was still the Rubber Capital of the World.
Back in those days, most fleets were still on bias tires. Goodyear and the former Firestone Tire & Rubber Co. were happy to take me under their wings and provide me with the tire education I needed. Roadway also was Bandag Inc.'s largest customer, so I learned a lot about retreading by working in a Bandag shop for a couple of weeks.
But it took several years and a lot of very hard work to acquire the knowledge I needed as well as earn the respect of the men I had to work with both in the headquarters office and in the field. I found that whatever women do, they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good. Luckily this was not difficult.
As part of my job, I spent a lot of time traveling to Roadway's 11 garage locations, training technicians, supervisors and garage managers in all aspects of tire maintenance including scrap-tire analysis, tire repairing and on-vehicle tire and wheel inspection. I then evaluated and graded each garage on the level of maintenance it was performing along with the retreader it was using.
Since the garage was responsible for inspecting its retread facility monthly, a bad retread grade was included in the overall garage grade as well. This work was physically tiring, dirty and nastyespecially in the pouring rain, freezing snow and blazing heat. But, you know, it was the best job I ever had. I could see the great improvement in tire maintenance with both the tires and wheels as well as the company's bottom line.
In addition, it was rewarding to see the level of pride personnel had when a garage earned a good grade from me.
Fortunately, women entering the tire and trucking industries today are protected by sexual harassment and sexual discrimination laws. Having said that though, sexual discrimination and harassment can still be found in both the tire and trucking industries.
Managers, technicians, salesmen and other men can give women a helluva time if they wantand they often do. They can make a woman supervisor's life hell unless she learns to become as tough as they are, and they can be equally hard on a woman turning a wrench or doing some other traditional male task.
The thinking seems to be that you're taking a job away from another man.
Today the tire industry labor force as a whole is just 17 percent female. Why would a company want more women on its staff? Well, women generally have perspectives that are different than those of men and bring different approaches to problem solving.
They have some skills that are better, such as completing paperwork, taking better care of their equipment and handling details. In addition, I think women are better listeners and can handle irate customers and often diffuse an ugly situation much more quickly than a man can. They show greater empathy for customers' problems and provide them with greater assurance that their problems will be handled correctly.
As someone once told me, it's better to have employees with good people skills and train them in the technical areas of their jobs, than to hire technically oriented people and have to train them in good people-handling skills. People skills are much harder to learn.
So how do you attract women to your company? First, look at your job adsdo they always show men? Include female employees in your career brochures and on your website.
Focus your search engine optimization (SEO) marketing toward females. Are there women visible in management roles in your company? If so, women will feel welcomed and valued by the company when they see other women in leadership roles.
The most important thing to do is create a culture that values and appreciates women in nontraditional roles. Bring more attention to their successes and show that there is nothing holding women back in your company.
Women in non-traditional roles also can benefit greatly by having a mentor. Often women tend to be more passive when considering managerial opportunitiesnot because they aren't capable but because they don't feel ready to take that next step. That is why it is invaluable for a woman to have a mentor who emboldens her to take the next step and while providing the encouragement and support to help her succeed.
I had a wonderful mentor who not only recognized my abilities but encouraged me to overcome the obstacles I encountered in the workplace and gave me the confidence I needed in myself to climb the corporate ladder.
The times they are a-changin'. Isn't it time your company changed, too?