Women in the Driver’s Seat: an exploratory study of perceptions and experiences of female truck drivers and their employers in South Africa
The road freight industry is essential to Southern African economies, and South Africa, the largest economy and port of entry and exit for the majority of goods coming and going to the region, has a shortage of trained, quality truck drivers. This study investigates the extent to which employers are hiring female drivers in response to this skilled-labour shortage and brings to light the experiences of both employers and female truck drivers in South Africa’s road freight industry. Although there is a dearth of literature on the experiences of women in skilled blue-collar work in South Africa, previous studies from the developed world have established certain expectations for the integration of women into traditionally male-dominated fields; the results of this study are discussed in relation to these expectations. Findings suggest that women are increasingly targeted for employment, beyond the requirements of affirmative action legislation, due to the perception that female drivers are safer, more conscientious, less likely to endanger public safety and company property, and less likely to engage in risky forms of behaviour including those associated with exposure to HIV/AIDS. This has led some employers to conclude that the female drivers they employ are not only equal but superior to their male colleagues. While female drivers note challenges in gaining entry and acceptance in the industry, they also report a near-unanimously positive experience with colleagues and supervisors. This study furthers our understanding of changing gender dynamics in South Africa as well as the secondary impacts of HIV/AIDS on southern African countries. The future of female employment in South Africa’s road freight industry holds both opportunities and challenges.