Photo of Lesley O'Brien, Freightlink Europe

Lesley O’Brien

Lesley O’Brien is a Partner at Freightlink Europe and Freight Train and a Founder member of She’s RHA. She is also the sole female Board member of the Road Haulage Association (RHA) nationally.

She’s RHA aims to support, encourage and empower a network of industry individuals of all ages and skill sets to create and promote a diverse and inclusive transport community.

What’s the initiative?

Lesley says “Only 8% of the transport industry workforce is women.  Less than 2% of HGV drivers are women. Indeed, being a woman in the word of transport can be a lonely place. Women were shouting out to me to create a forum for women working in a male culture to meet, connect and support one another.

In 2016, I approached the Board of the Road Haulage Association (RHA) to create She’s RHA with the mission to encourage, support and empower women to have a voice and courage to develop to be the best they could possibly be.

However, women are not the only people underrepresented in our industry. The focus of She’s RHA is now to promote diversity in our industry by being more inclusive and attracting people of every age, culture, race, religion and skill set – representative of the society in which we live.”

Who has it helped/who will it help?

“The transport and logistics industry has a skills crisis.  We need to employ an additional 1.2 million by 2022 and, by 2020, 66% of graduates will be women!

The McKinsey report states that businesses with a more diverse workforce perform better than those with less diverse workforces. Additionally, research from Business in the Community concludes that having three or more women at Board level changes business culture, creating greater scrutiny, inclusion and collaboration.

Attracting more women to the world of transport and logistics will therefore benefit an industry which is the backbone of our economy. Over 95% of everything we eat, drink, consume comes on the back of a lorry!!

The She’s RHA community is growing, with over 200 members supporting one another and sharing best practice on a daily basis. In 2017, She’s RHA supported the M6 Toll in a campaign to give one lucky lady funding to become a Class 1 driver.”

What’s worked?

“The first step to change is buy in from the top. It has been a massive achievement in itself to gain the support of the RHA Board, to be given a project manager, a voice at RHA conferences and for Diversity & Inclusion to now be included as an official RHA campaign.

Women are really keen to link with schools to educate children.  Already She’s RHA role models have delivered school workshops, attended careers event and we are now working with the charity Career Ready.

In 2016, I was invited to present at the Microlise transport conference and, in 2018, I was invited back to deliver a workshop on the benefits of a diverse workforce and the steps leading to change. These are small steps, but Rome was not built in a day!

One of my initial objectives was to get more ladies on the RHA Regional Council and Board.  Whilst I remain the only lady at Board level, I have encouraged four other ladies to join me on RHA Regional Council and three other women have joined councils throughout the UK.

We have gained recognition at government level, are working with the APPG for women in transport, have a male champion in the DfT and have recently partnered with Creating Inclusive Cultures to be able to tap into a larger knowledge bank and extend the geographical range of events for our members.

I am invited to write columns in Commercial Motor Magazine, speaking out for women on a range of transport issues and of course promoting diversity (the magazine is to transport what Vogue is to fashion!).

What have you learnt? Any challenges?

“Over the years, my challenges have been numerable – from being asked, ‘shouldn’t you be at home making dinner for your husband?’, to being threatened, to She’s RHA being dismissed as ‘that woman’s’ thing’.

The constant challenge is convincing a male dominated industry of the benefits of Diversity & Inclusion in the workforce and to change the perspective of our industry as being pale, male and stale.

Despite all this, I do believe that one of the main challenges can be women themselves. We too must be bold and brave and have the confidence to overcome the imposter syndrome from which we all seem to suffer.

We too must believe in our self-worth and push ourselves forward. I have learnt that nobody succeeded by being a wallflower. Speaking out does not result in ridicule, but respect.

Regretfully, such wisdom comes with age.  Prior to speaking in front of an audience of over 1000 people alongside Princess Anne, my husband said to me, “Lesley, be strong, be brave and fly.” This is my constant message to myself and all women.

Why we’re sharing these stories

An individual or organisation from each of our five categories will be recognised at our Igniting Inspiration recognition event in November, but we want to publish all relevant stories to spread awareness of all the positive work that goes on in the North!