When you pass a semi-truck on the highway, do you expect to see a man or a woman? Historically, you’ve likely seen a man, however that may be changing. There are more women truckers than ever before, who experience specific benefits — and drawbacks — to entering a field that has traditionally been filled by men. To further explore the growing role of female drivers in the industry, we’re breaking down what it is like to be a woman trucker.
Even though women make up approximately 50% of the overall workforce, only 7.8% of all professional drivers are women. That’s a pretty stark difference, suggesting that commercial driving certainly has room for improvement. However, there is good news. In 2010, women made up an even lower 4.6% share of all drivers, so there has been solid growth in female employment over the past decade. And long-haul trucking has a better record than the overall driver count, with women making up 10% of over-the-road drivers.
Things get more interesting when you look even closer at the industry, with some segments having greater employment equality than others. Currently, women account for
- 4% of diesel technicians,
- 8% of freight firm owners,
- 36% of transportation executives,
- 38% of fleet safety professionals, and
- 45% of non-executive employees.
Statistics also show a compelling difference between men and women in regards to vehicle operation safety. According to the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI), men are 88% more likely to be convicted of reckless or negligent driving, 78% more likely to violate seat-belt laws, and 73% more likely to be convicted of running a stoplight. Of course, simple numbers do not paint the entire picture, so let’s jump into the pros and cons of women in trucking.
The benefits for women truckers start with the same benefits that every trucker enjoys. These include financial security in an industry that desperately needs to retain drivers, freedom on the open road, knowing you’re making an important difference in the nation’s economy, and opportunities to one day be your own boss by becoming an owner-operator.
Equitable pay is one benefit that many women truckers especially appreciate. Fleets almost always have pre-established pay rates, whether it’s by the mile, route, hour, or load. Whichever it may be, trucking firms’ pre-set pay rates largely prevent any conscious or subconscious gender pay disparities.
It’s also a good time to be a woman trucker, because the industry has realized that women must be part of the solution to solving the driver shortage. Fleets are now actively marketing job openings for women, welcoming female applicants, offering trucks with modern transmission systems and cabs that better fit women, and providing crews and equipment to assist with loading and unloading. Truck stops have also begun upgrading their facilities with women in mind by putting better lighting and surveillance systems in their parking lots, improving fitness rooms, offering healthier food, and even providing hair dryers in their private showers.
And as previously mentioned, women are statistically safer vehicle operators than male drivers. By driving safely, women are helping to protect their firms and the overall industry from financial liability and harsher regulations. Safe women truckers also improve the reputation of their peers by helping to end the unfair assumption that semi trucks are dangerous to share the road with.
Finally, many women openly embrace the challenge of being a trucker. These female drivers enjoy disrupting stereotypes, proving that women can do what is often thought of as a “man’s job,” and inspiring other women to follow their trucking dreams. Just like their male counterparts, women drivers have a passion for trucking and find satisfaction in contributing to and improving the industry.
Unfortunately, being a trucker — already a tough job — still comes with additional challenges for women. Some training schools do not have separate facilities for women, forcing them to live and sleep in the same spaces as the men. Additionally, many training schools and fleet coaching programs fail to employ female trainers who could better relate to female drivers and help them work through the extra obstacles women face in the industry.
The challenges don’t stop once women are on the road. Many trucks are still manufactured on the assumption that a driver will be a larger male, making it difficult for some women to sit comfortably while still reaching the necessary pedals and other controls. And then there is the treatment from co-workers, loading crews, and other workers encountered along the way.
Unquestionably, most male truckers are good men who would be quick to defend a woman if they witnessed anything unprofessional. Yet sexism, sexual harassment, and even violence still happen too often for women truckers. Virtually every female driver has been subjected to inappropriate and degrading comments, whether it’s insulting their fitness to be a trucker or objectifying their bodies. Women truckers also have to keep on high alert for sexual predators and human traffickers whenever their truck is not actively rolling down the road. A recent survey by Women in Trucking asked women drivers how safe they felt on the job — on a scale from one to ten, the average response was a mere 4.4.
Many women truckers feel they have to go out of their way to
- remain in well-lit areas,
- park where they can walk a clear and direct line to the truck stop,
- park near the front line of truck and avoid the back of the lot,
- avoid walking between trailers out of the sight of other witnesses,
- have a trusted friend or coworker stand watch at truck stop showers or avoid showers entirely,
- keep a whistle, stun gun, or pepper spray with them at all times,
- keep a baseball bat or other defensive tool in the cab, and
- keep their doors locked at all times, no matter what.
In addition to struggles related specifically to women, female truckers also have to deal with all the usual challenges of being a trucker. Typical drawbacks of the occupation include long working hours, extended time away from home, problems remaining connected to family and friends, and difficulty staying healthy by eating right and exercising while on the road.
Clearly, trucking has become more equitable in recent years, but still has improvements to make. There are several solutions that could potentially answer all the challenges we just described, which would require individual drivers, companies, and regulators to take the initiative to make a better environment for women truckers. At the national level, a bipartisan group of U.S. Senators (2 Republicans, 2 Democrats) recently reintroduced the Promoting Women in Trucking Workforce Act.
The legislation would direct the FMCSA to establish a Women of Trucking Advisory Board tasked with identifying trends that discourage women from pursuing trucking careers, ways trucking companies and associations can support women truckers, and opportunities to enhance the trucking experience for women. The FMCSA administrator would be required to share the results of the board to Congress, including detailed strategies that could be adopted into federal law.
We’ll be watching closely to see what happens with the bill. And if you’re a woman trucker, we want to hear from you! What have your experiences in the industry been like? Let us know in the comments below. And whether you’re a man or a woman, if you’re looking for your next commercial vehicle, be sure to check out all the trucks and vans available for-sale on CommercialTruckTrader.com and on our sister site NextTruckOnline.com.