The importance of women in the trucking industry
While women only make up a small percentage of truckers on the road—10.2 percent to be exact—their importance to the industry as a whole cannot be understated.
Just like their male counterparts, women have been involved in trucking since its start. Luella Bates, the first licensed woman trucker, played a key role during the infancy of the trucking industry as she was a renowned truck demonstrator and driver.
Since Bates laid the foundation for women in the industry all those years ago, many improvements have been made. However, there is still a ways to go, as women continue to make up a small minority in the industry as a whole.
As previously mentioned, they currently make up a tiny 10 percent of truckers on the road. Additionally, according to a survey conducted by Women in Trucking, when you combine all trucking categories, about 38 percent of fleet safety is managed by women.
Among non-executive positions, women represent nearly 44 percent of the overall workforce and among tech companies, which continue to play a crucial role in the industry as a whole, women make up 19 percent.
Nonetheless, with the shortage of truckers expected to increase in the coming years, women may play a key role in keeping the industry afloat. With hopes of an increase in representation for women on the road and in front office positions, many difficulties they face must be addressed and rectified to create a safer and equal work environment.
As the driver shortage has continued to increase—and is expected to grow to 160,000 by 2028—many decision-makers have decided to increase their recruitment of women.
One step that was taken to begin the process was the introduction of the Promoting Women in the Trucking Workforce Act, which was a bipartisan bill that was introduced by Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.).
According to a press release on the matter, the bill would require the FMCSA Administrator to establish a Women of Trucking Advisory Board.
The board would be in charge of the following:
- Identify industry trends that directly and indirectly discourage women from pursuing careers in trucking
- Identify ways trucking companies, nonprofit organizations, and trucking associations may coordinate to facilitate or support women pursuing careers in trucking.
- Identify ways to expand existing opportunities for women in the trucking agency.
- Identify opportunities to enhance trucking training, mentorship, education, and outreach programs that are exclusive to women.
Additionally, the advisory board would consist of “no fewer than seven members” who will be appointed by the FMCSA Administrator. The administrator would also be required to submit a report on the board’s findings and recommendations to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.
Upon its initial introduction in November 2019, prominent trucking associations such as the Women in Trucking and American Trucking Associations came out in favor of the bill.
However, with no updates on the bill’s progress since November of last year, it seems as if the legislative push to increase the number of women in trucking has, at the very least, been put on pause.
So, without assistance and data from the government, companies themselves will have to commit to including more women in their ranks. And according to Bulk Transporter, this is something that companies such as Prime Inc. have begun working on.
In order to bring more women into the industry, Prime Inc. has begun to offer passenger permits that allow drivers to bring family and pets along with them on the road, a video system in the truck for drivers to communicate with their loved ones, and finally, guaranteed time off.
But while those are nice sentiments, they mostly do very little to address many of the difficulties that women have faced, and continue to face, when they enter into the trucking profession.
According to the president and CEO of Women in Trucking, Ellen Voie, the biggest difficulty that women in trucking face is safety, or the lack thereof.
In a live radio show that Voie hosted in 2018 on SiriusXM Road Dog, she explained that in a survey that was conducted, women in trucking rated safety at a 4.4 out of 10, adding that women are more likely to leave a trucking company because of faulty and dangerous equipment.
“We think safety means they want to feel safe on the road and make sure equipment doesn't break down,” Voie said according to Trucker.com.
However, the lack of safety for women in the industry does not only extend to equipment, as they also face a variety of incidents, many involving men. In an interview with CNBC, truckers Gina Petelle and Lanelle Devlin shared their experiences while on the road.
In the article, Petelle mentions that she’s had men flash their genitals at her on several occasions, while Devlin says she’s had men tell her that she should be home having babies. These actions, while perhaps not indicative of the general population of drivers, are major red flags for women truckers and surely will de-incentivize them from joining the trucking industry.
In addition to safety, however, women truckers can also have a harder time doing their job, as they’re faced with various obstacles daily.
Drawing from the information she’s gathered from working at Women in Trucking, Voie says that women feel like they’re not being treated fairly, adding that they feel like dispatchers specifically treat them less fairly.
Without the help of dispatchers, it can be difficult to get by in the industry. Dispatchers play a crucial part in booking loads, so when your loads aren’t the best, that can ultimately affect your paycheck at the end of the week.
Another difficulty that women face is waiting times when dealing with shippers and receivers. According to a 2018 study conducted by the American Transportation Research Institute, women are about 83 percent more likely than men to be delayed six or more hours by shippers and receivers.
Additionally, 55 percent of women drivers reported that shippers and receivers are the main reasons for their appointments being delayed.
However, while women are statistically more likely to face delays than men, many women interviewed in the study did not feel it was due to discrimination.
“I think male drivers have a shorter fuse than women do when it comes to waiting,” said one respondent. “I am less likely to go in and start drama and throw a fit because I’m not empty yet, as opposed to the guy next to me. A lot of my male driving friends become aggravated more quickly.”
And that same sentiment is shared by a fellow female driver:
“I would say to my husband ‘let’s be patient and not go in yet because they are short-staffed,” she said. “And he would insist that we need to go in now because we had an appointment…I think it’s possible the people at shippers and receivers are yelled at more by men than by women.”
In the end, women face plenty of difficulties in the male-dominated trucking industry, and there are still plenty of issues that need to be resolved in order to meet their needs so that they can feel safer and equal while on the road. And as the driver shortage continues to grow exponentially, it might be in the industry’s best interest to make these changes sooner rather than later.