I recently conducted a survey of commercial fleet managers asking them to tell me their greatest challenges. One fleet manager, who I have known for a number of years, replied that her biggest challenge was dealing with “the issues of being a female fleet manager.” Frankly, I was surprised by her response. I assumed (wrongly) that those issues were long behind us. Later, I asked a number of other female fleet managers whether they were encountering similar problems. The majority told me that there was absolutely no difference in how they were treated compared to men. However, this was not a universal reply.
“I've been in this business for a long time and to this day, I have to say that the women I know, and myself included, have to work four times harder for the respect of top management and fleet vendors and manufacturers,” said one female fleet manager. “Within my own organization, I still get challenged on basic fleet management guidelines. I am always looking for benchmarks to prove that my answer is okay — it gets frustrating.” This is from a fleet management veteran with decades of experience.
The knee-jerk reaction from some readers may be to say that these women are not fully competent, hence the reason for management second-guessing their decisions. But I can tell you this is not the case. These are highly competent fleet managers.
Here’s what another female fleet manager told me. “In my own company, the senior management isn’t all that supportive of me because I am a female. They do not trust my decisions and will ask my boss (a male) to recheck information. (They are all younger than I am.) This upsets me greatly.”
Vendors are the Worst Offenders
Some women say they are treated differently by fleet vendors. Here’s one example. “We had gone out for bid to choose a new leasing provider. Our bid process was finalized, and we chose a vendor, so I contacted the other parties to let them know that they did not win the business. Three out of the four vendors I called tried to manipulate the situation and make me feel as if I didn't know how to do my job or know what was best for my company. They insulted my intelligence and were verbally abusive.”
Another female fleet manager concurs. “Within my organization, I am treated equally. However when it comes to vendors, it can be a different story. Many a maintenance vendor has lost our business as a result of treating me as an incompetent. It is amazing how blatant they can be about it.”
Working in the public sector has its own challenges for women, especially in building credibility. “There are a few men who feel that a woman cannot understand the complexities of heavy-duty trucks mounted with loaders, digger derricks, sewer cleaning equipment, and aerial lifts.”
Woman fleet managers also feel the disparagement of company drivers. “My own fleet drivers (mostly male) sometimes question my directives regarding repairs. I hear from others that these drivers say: “She doesn’t know what the proper repairs entail.” This attitude extends to repair facilities, said another fleet manager. “When I call to check on vehicle repairs, I can hear in their tone of voice that they question my judgment, and when they explain the needed repairs, they do so as if they are talking to a child with lots of extra details to make sure I understand. I have handled our fleet for almost 25 years.”
Good News, Bad News
Some fleet managers say that being a woman also impacts career advancement. “I have been in fleet management and related fields for more than 20 years. The ‘glass ceiling’ for women with fleet-related responsibilities has opened up. However, I do not see the advancement as prevalent as other jobs in a corporate environment. To gain advancement within fleet and related fields, I have moved several times due to stymied situations.”
Some female fleet managers feel they are held accountable to a higher degree of decorum than men. For instance, they feel pressure to maintain an unquestionable level of professionalism in the office and at work-related social functions. “Too much wine at the company Christmas party can put an end to respect.”
Women also still lag behind men in average salary and are sometimes hired at lower start salaries. The compensation gap between men and women performing the same job, at comparable fleets, remains a troublesome issue. However, this is by no means true for all female fleet managers. I can tell you, based on the results of Automotive Fleet’s biennial salary survey, one of the highest paid fleet managers in the U.S. is a woman.
The good news is that these are the experiences of a minority of women fleet managers. The bad news is that these attitudes still exist. This needs to change. As an industry, we must demand it. Let me know what you think.