Number of Female Truckers Slides as Women Face Industry Hurdles

September 28, 2016 by Tiffany Hsu, @tiffkhsu

As industries go, oil and gas extraction, ship and boat building and crop production are pretty macho. But not as much as trucking, which has a lower percentage of women in the workforce, according to the federal government.

Women made up 46.8 percent of all laborers 16 years or older last year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But of the more than 2 million workers in the trucking transportation field, just 11.4 percent were female  — on par with sectors such as iron, steel and cement manufacturing and mineral mining.

And their ranks continue to shrink.

Even as the overall number of active truckers in the U.S. swelled 1.8 percent year over year to 3.5 million in 2015, the cadre of female drivers shrank 10 percent, or 20,000, to 177,000, according to a recent report from the American Trucking Assns.

The most recent count has women constituting just 5.1 percent of truck drivers — the smallest percentage since 2011.

Desiree Ann Wood, president of the nonprofit group REAL Women in Trucking, Inc., blames a disconnect between portrayals of the industry and a much harsher reality. Last year, 70 incoming female truckers reached out to the group for help; fewer than 30 have done so this year.

“This job is not for everyone, regardless of whether you’re a man or a woman or how big or small or strong or weak you are,” said Wood, who is a trucker for a private farm operation. “It’s really a lot of people falling through the cracks in the first two or three weeks and even more in the first six months — it’s a real churn-and-burn system.”

Freight demand began sliding toward the end of last year, stressing businesses all along the trucking supply chain.

Ellen Voie, president of the nonprofit Women In Trucking organization, said the negative economic trend might have contributed to a decline in female drivers.

Most women enter trucking because of a man — a father, a partner — and find employment as part of a team, she said.

ellen voie president of women in trucking headshot

Ellen Voie, president of Women in Trucking

“Anecdotally, whenever freight goes down and there aren’t enough miles for a team, the guy keeps running and the wife goes home and looks for another job,” Voie said.

But both Voie and Wood aren’t entirely convinced that women truckers are losing ground. The government numbers are convoluted and include not just long-haul truckers but also delivery drivers who do short, small runs to local retailers, they said.

Wood said that she was told by the Bureau of Labor Statistics that the data are collected from U.S. census records, which are based on questionnaires that frequently traveling drivers likely miss.

“When you haven’t checked your mail for three months, you get the urgent stuff and everything else goes into the trash,” she said.

In 2014, the American Trucking Associations reported a surge of female truckers. And in addition to growing membership in her own group, Voie said she has heard reports of more women joining carriers and truck driving schools.

Covenant Transport of Chattanooga, Tenn., says it has one of the largest female fleets in the industry, with women making up more than 15 percent of its professional drivers. The company operates a Facebook page called Women of Covenant with 250 likes.

Last year, Miami-based commercial fleet management service Ryder System Inc. said it would offer a “female-friendly vehicle package for lease” that includes ergonomic details such as adjusted height, better placement of cab grab handles and dash cluster gauges, adjustable seat belt straps, a cab security system and more accessible oil and coolant checks.

Voie said her organization is preparing an index based on surveys of hundreds of trucking carriers focused on so-called over-the-road drivers.

“I’ve never felt that the government numbers truly reflect the situation,” she said. “We’re moving the needle. I know we are.”

Still, trucking life is tough for women.

“We’re not telling them what it’s really like, not giving them a full impression of the challenges they’ll face once they’re in this industry,” Voie said. “Instead, we just say, ‘This is a great job and you’ll make x number of dollars.’”

Wood, who said she personally endured a “horrible” training experience, said that many aspiring female truckers are women who are “trying to overcome difficult life situations” and “want a chance to make a life for themselves and become self-sufficient.”

“They hear that there’s a massive trucker shortage from these media campaigns about how trucking welcomes them and is designing lady trucks for them,” she said. “They don’t hear that you could get sexually assaulted or beat up during training, that there are these abhorrent, ridiculously unsafe carriers that recruit like crazy but are never held accountable.”

Another concern: a dearth of female trainers, according to Marge Bailey, chief executive of job board and informational website LadyTruckDrivers.com.

“The main concern I heard all the time is that women are waiting three weeks, two months, six months for companies to get them female trainers,” she said. “They feel safer that way.”

Bailey, who has worked in the industry for nearly four decades, said she explains to women that male trainers have gone through background checks, but notes that some companies refuse to pair female students with male trainers for liability reasons.

By some measures, only one in six women make it through training, Wood said. But in the interim, companies “get a few weeks out of them working 14 or 15 cents a mile.”

Wood is bursting with horror stories. There’s the female trainer with three decades of experience who helped male truckers get jobs with major retailers but was told she wasn’t qualified for the same roles. Or the women who have to resort to using a boyfriend’s or brother’s email address to inquire about positions.

Then, there are women in shipping and receiving, recruiting or freight research who “sit in their business suits and heels and look down their nose at lady truckers,” Wood said.

“That’s reality for what’s going on,” Wood said. “There are a lot of local jobs where women are just overlooked, where companies won’t even entertain the idea of your resume. You have to be kind of clever to engage them.”

Even the carriers that want to hire women drivers are at a loss.

“They don’t know how or where to recruit or what women are looking for in a job,” Voie said.

Female truckers want good relationships with their dispatchers and a sense of purpose, she said. And they need guidance.

Trucking organizations for women increasingly offer mentorship programs and operate forums and blog posts where drivers can discuss culture shock on the road, mental health, safety, tactics for getting security clearance to enter nuclear facilities, beauty tips and more.

“We need to give these women accurate information from Day One to keep them safe,” Wood said. “Women do make awesome truck drivers, but knowledge is power.”

5 Responses

  1. Pat Hockaday

    We need to face the reality of OTR trucking. Wether your male or female, OTR trucking is a 24/7 JOB that pays Piece Work Wages that amount to less than the Federal Minimum Wage for most.
    2015 BLS has the median earnings for Heavy & Tractor Trailer Drivers at $40,260.00.Divide that by a 300 day work year and that’s $134.00 for a 24hr AT Work/Work day. http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes533032.htm
    Our TIME is governed more and more as the years go by. We cannot produce as many pieces today as we did yesterday and the pay per piece has not been upwardly adjusted to compensate for the increased time spent to produce fewer pieces.
    It takes TIME to Produce Pieces!
    The corporate cheerleaders lure the unsuspecting into this industry with promises of making the “BIG Bucks” and it doesn’t take very long to figure out $600.00 for a 168hr work week amounts to nothing especially when you have a family that you only see a few days a month. They tell us that our work station is our “Home Away From Home as if that justifies Unpaid hours and days spent “AT Work/Working”!
    I would like to believe that Women have better opportunities in other career fields other than living in a truck anywhere USA and working as a “Day Laborer” waiting for a work assignments that may or may not pay the bills this week!
    Women ca do this job and they make excellent Drivers but where is the incentive?
    So many have come into OTR trucking with high hopes only to leave in debt.
    The word has gotten out that trucking isn’t a good opportunity for men or women!
    Pat Hockaday (JoJo)

  2. Desiree

    A few follow up remarks:

    The survey data of women truckers training experience shows that only about 11% of women are married. Most are single or divorced contrary to Voie’s portrayal.

    Covenant Transport is where I experienced my very unsafe training and was advised by seasoned female drivers I should not report the sexual misconduct to avoid retaliation. I hope people realize how powerful this wall of silence is to a vulnerable individual trying to become a qualified truck driver.

    Sex harassment and discrimination training and annual retraining is nearly non existent in entry-level truck driver training. This is quite different from any other corporate industry where the training is an all day, perhaps, 2 day workshop.

    Until there is accountability in this area we will continue to see stagnant numbers of women remaining in the truck driver sector.

  3. Ladytrucker

    Humm to this artical. I started my career as a truck driver in Jan. Of 1996. Basically what you put out there is what you get back. Respect is what I have been given on the most part,sure there are those people the will give the high 5 every once in a while,but for the most part of this job it has been rewarding. Again what you put out there you get back! But isn’t that everywhere. Sure the income isn’t what it should be. I got off the road in 2000 making .49/mile went to school became a massage therapist for 10 years.the economy hit in 2008, thankfully I still kept my cdls, so back in the truck. But could only get .30/mile back then so our income has a little to be desired. Yes it’s different today then back then. And I now team with my new husband for 1 1/2 yrs making .22/mile each.
    As far as the training, I don’t think anyone out there has had a great time with it,but if you are persistent you will learn the ropes. It’s with any new job. I am now 60years old. And can still do this job as good or even better,as time improves all thing. If you want to work it’s there for you. I have worked for a number of some of the major companies out there. If your looking for a job that’s going to hand it to you, then you better look for a sugar daddy.
    Woman make great drivers as do the men it’s working as a round about team. Truck drivers keep America moving. Be proud of the job you do . And for heaven’s sake stop all the whining. I’ve had alot of thumbs up from the 4wheelers over the years. One thing I’d like to stress, is women learn the job. Hook,unhook crank ’em down and back that trailer in that hole. Do the job don’t just be a steering wheel holder.Cause one day you might have to do it by yourself. I laugh, when someone asks my husband, does your wife do the job, or does he do it all. Well with the husband and wife team sometimes you see it. It’s a no wonder the way some women are treated. All I say is do the job and do it right all aspects of it . And you’ll be treated how you want to be treated. And if not, who cares anyway if your doing your job right. If you need help honest help and knowledge ask it is there.
    Back in the day I had alot of help from the old hands. As the saying goes out here, “If you think you know it all then it’s time for you to get off the road” Be proud keep America rolling.”


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