“It’s always a unique thing to see a female driver in the cab of a big truck, but it’s not as unique as it used to be,” Sherri Garner Brumbaugh, President and CEO of Garner Trucking Inc .. “The number of female operators is increasing, and when I see one driving a truck, I always give them a thumbs up and a smile because they are changing our industry. ”
It’s a change experts say has taken decades and accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic, leading more American women to embark on careers crossing the country’s highways behind the wheel of the largest vehicles on the road.
Trucking companies need all the bodies they can get at a time when the number of trailers loaded with cargo far exceeds the number of drivers who can get them to their destination. The surge in consumer spending has overtaken the ability of the US supply chain to transport anything Americans want to buy.
For many companies, hiring female truck drivers is helping to fill the labor shortage.
“In the mid-20th century, people considered trucking a ‘man’s job’ because of its demanding physique,” said Ellen Voie, president and CEO of Women in Trucking, a non-profit organization. which encourages the employment of women in the field. “Technological improvements like power steering, power brakes, the way you drop your trailer and more mean that you no longer have to be a man also big and beefy to get the job done.
“And, in fact, women are proving that they have specific talents that – in many ways – make them uniquely suited for the job.”
Increase in the number of female drivers
Georgia-based driver Vanita Johnson has been on the road as a trucker for almost a year.
“I’m 50 and just started this new career, but I’ve been in awe of trucks since I was little,” Johnson said.
She has young memories of driving with her parents from their home in Pittsburgh, Pa., To visit her family in West Virginia, Maryland and Ohio. On the highways, she saw truck after truck and wondered where they were going.
Lane says Americans have traditionally held truck drivers in high regard as part of their open road romance.
“Truck drivers were once called the ‘knights of the road’,” she said. “We saw them not only as literally hauling the American economy in their trucks, but also as being there to help us regular four-wheel drive drivers if something went wrong. They were American knights and it was a profession. noble.
This vision has eroded over the past decades. Waves of experienced drivers have retired, and there has been a lack of young drivers entering the field to replace them. The American Trucking Association estimates that the industry will need more than 1.2 million new drivers over the next decade, forcing companies to do a better job of attracting recruits.
“Those of us in charge of trucking companies need to find ways to better meet the needs of potential drivers,” explained Brumbaugh. “It means if a driver says he has to be home on the weekends, we have to find a way to do it. But it also means attracting this potentially untapped group of female drivers, especially those in the middle and older ages, for whom driving on the open road might be appealing.
Industry openings appear to be working, albeit slowly.
While only about 3% of truck drivers were women in 2007, the year Women in Trucking was founded, a recent survey by the group found that the percentage had more than tripled.
Discovering the open road
It was the pandemic that brought many women, including Vanita Johnson, into the trucking industry.
“I had worked in education for years, but I always remembered my childhood dream of becoming a truck driver,” she said. “When we switched to virtual classes because of the coronavirus, it wasn’t something I wanted to do. I quit my job, tried to figure out what was to come next, and that’s when I decided to get my license.
Johnson said she was surprised that six of the 10 graduates from her truck driving class were women.
“There are so many amazing women, including women much older than me, on the road. Women of all shapes, sizes, ages and races, ”she said. “It’s a brotherhood here.”
Voie said she sees many new pilots who, like Johnson, discover a love for their new career.
“First of all, it’s a job that pays well when so many other people lose their jobs, and it’s a job that gives you independence when people worry about COVID,” he said. she declared. “But it’s also a job that gives you the freedom to drive coast to coast, lets you visit family and friends along the way, and lets you admire the sunrises and sunsets that most of us miss. Many of the women I speak with rediscover what has historically made the job so special. ”
For all of its advantages, however, being a truck driver is anything but easy.
Long hours and long stretches away from home, sleeping in your truck and navigating the busy highways of the United States are just a few of the challenges drivers face.
“It’s one of the most dangerous jobs there is,” said Kellylynn McLaughlin, who has been a truck driver for more than seven years and helps train new drivers. “You have to understand the equipment and you also have to constantly anticipate what’s going on there while you are driving. ”
There are also issues of harassment that women should be concerned about in an industry where men outnumber women far more.
This harassment can encompass anything from dangerous and uncomfortable situations when training with members of the opposite sex to teasing and unwanted attention when entering a cargo area during the day – or at a truck stop at night.
“The first three months of driving, I organized my schedule so that I wouldn’t have to stop at truck stops after dark,” McLaughlin recalls. “I have long blonde hair and there is no doubt that I am a woman when I stop with my truck. I felt like I walked through a bunch of guys waiting to see if I was going to screw up. I prefer to start very early so that I don’t have to deal with this.
A rewarding job
But McLaughlin said as his skills improved, so did his confidence.
“Now I feel like, ‘You know what? Let them watch, because I’m damn good at it! ‘ She said with a smile. “I remember arriving at a loading dock and hearing someone shout on the dock that it was a female driver. All of these guys walked out onto the platform to watch with their arms crossed, and I absolutely pulled it off. My heart was pounding in my chest, but I was perfect and they recognized how good I was at my job.
Voie noted that research increasingly shows there are benefits for companies that employ more female drivers.
“According to the American Transportation Research Institute, male commercial drivers are 20% more likely to be involved in an accident in all statistically significant areas than their female counterparts,” Voie said. “Data shows women are safer and more risk averse, so even when they are involved in an accident it is at a slower speed with less loss of life and less damage to equipment. .
Voie said he has heard numerous reports in the industry that women provide better customer service and take better care of their equipment.
But Johnson said that during her year on the job, although she has faced difficult situations with male drivers, she does not view the relationship between male and female drivers as confrontational.
“For every guy out there that’s not good, there’s a dozen who are wonderful and want us to be successful because they see us as colleagues,” she said. “My experience on the road has been wonderful. I meet amazing people, see our beautiful country, and help people get the goods they need during America’s tough times. I couldn’t be happier with my choice to become a truck driver.