When Ingrid Brown started driving a truck in 1979, it was rare for her to see another woman on the road. Back then, the owner-operator knew of six other female drivers who ran a regular route from North Carolina to California, and they would leave handwritten notes for each other at truck stops.
“We didn’t have cell phones, but we kept in touch with each other. There was a bond,” said Brown, who drives for Rabbit River, based in Holland, MI.
Today, Brown sees more female counterparts on the road, and social media makes it easier to stay in touch. Yet research from the Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) shows that while women account for 50% of the working population, the transportation industry attracts less than 15% of the female workforce.
“In the past, women didn’t think about it. Women have to see other women doing it before they start thinking about it,” said Ellen Voie, founder of the Women In Trucking (WIT) Association.
That is why flatbed fleet Lone Star Transportation encourages women to share their experiences. “It gives other female drivers the confidence they can do it too,” said Kristi Williams, chief financial officer for the Fort Worth, TX-based carrier.
Lone Star has emphasized outreach to women as part of its social media strategy. It has created a “women in trucking” page on its website and produced a YouTube video featuring a female driver.
“We found that to attract the female drivers, no one could do that better than the women who are already here,” said Williams.
Peterbilt Motors Co. also does outreach through the Peterbilt Women Initiative, an advocacy group comprised of employees who come together to inspire and empower women, said Tina Albert, co-chair of the initiative and an assistant plant manager.
“We need to change women’s perception of the transportation industry to be more attractive to female candidates. Women need to know how exciting the industry is and how much pride can come from contributing to such an important sector of our economy,” Albert explained.
Treana Moniz, a driver for Bison Transport, has noticed a change since she started driving 12 years ago. “What was once just a male occupation is now becoming more and more versatile,” she said. “The trucking industry is so wide there are opportunities for anyone.” That includes driving, safety positions, mechanics and back-office work.
Josephine Berisha, senior vice president of compensation and benefits for XPO Logistics, said the company is seeing double-digit increases in the number of women joining its logistics business and single-digit increases on the less-than-truckload side.
One area of the warehouse where XPO is seeing women excel is in operating forklifts. “These are some of the higher paying hourly jobs in the warehouse, and our female-powered industrial truck operators are being promoted rapidly,” Berisha said.
A safer driver
One reason fleets are seeking out women drivers is that they tend to be safer. Jeremy Reymer, CEO of DriverReach, an applicant tracking system and member of the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) Research Advisory Committee, said male truckers have an 88% higher risk of receiving a reckless driving conviction than their female counterparts.
Males also have a 78% higher risk of receiving a seat belt violation, a 73% higher risk of receiving a traffic signal conviction, and a 70% higher risk of receiving a speeding conviction.
Williams said women tend to log more total miles and stay with their carriers longer. “Anecdotal information says they’re better at paperwork and build stronger relationships,” she said.
Jodi Godfrey, a research associate with MTI, noted the number of women in managerial positions is also growing, and more women are tackling safety and highly technical positions.
“Women tend to be more attracted to communal goal positions and roles where they’re helping society,” she said. “I see more women coming into higher education for civil engineering. In general, the trend for educational attainment has shifted where women account for a higher share of people with degrees.”
Adding more female drivers will translate into more women in leadership positions within the industry, Williams said. “Some of the key people in operations started as drivers,” she explained. “Our CEO started as a driver, and a lot of our key managers have been drivers.”
Importance of mentoring
Williams, who joined Lone Star in 1997 as a staff accountant, said her mentor, former controller and current chief financial officer Don Murray, aided in her success with the company. “He gave me a big picture view of my role, and it really helped to shape who I became,” she said.
Today, Williams works to mentor those on her team, including the existing controller, Tamela Yarbrough, who has been with the company for 12 years.
As drivers, both Brown and Moniz see themselves as mentors. “Not only do I drive for Bison, but I am also on the driver advisory board, and I go to recruiting events. I represent Bison in the truck driving championships and convoy for the Special Olympics,” Moniz said.
Moniz just signed on at Bison to be a driver mentor and said “it will be awesome to help and encourage” drivers as they begin their careers. She is also a Road Knight for the Ontario Trucking Association and serves as an Image Team member for Women In Trucking.
Brown serves on the Women In Trucking Image Team and is part of a safety campaign with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. “I’m on billboards, public radio, XM Sirius Radio, and I have my name on a TA/Petro,” she said. “I like to share my experience.”
Role models are powerful and are one of the best ways to get women in jobs that have been male dominated, such as driving, XPO’s Berisha said. “There’s no better role model at XPO than Ina Daly, an LTL driver. She’s been with us for almost 35 years, and she’s broken down barriers as the first woman to win the National Truck Driving Championship,” she said.
Attracting Women to Transportation
Voie said Women In Trucking research has shown that 83% of women come into the industry because of a family member or friend.
Brown was exposed to the industry through her grandfather, who was a truck driver, and her father, who owned a road construction company. Brown started by learning to drive dump trucks and heavy equipment. She bought her first truck in 1979 and now hauls everything from reefers to livestock trailers.
Moniz got interested in driving while in high school, but didn’t enter the industry until later in life. She has been driving since 2007, joining Bison Transport in 2013.
“I met a truck driver at the restaurant where I was a waitress. We started dating, and he found I was very interested in trucking,” she said. After running as a team for about five years, “our relationship ended, but I wasn’t ready to give up trucking. I went out on my own and was hired by another company.”
Challenges still exist
Women still face challenges. Voie said training can cause concern for women if they are asked to share a sleeper cab with a male co-worker. “I have a hard time with our training situation and how we mix men and women in the cab together and try to be gender blind. It just doesn’t work,” Voie said.
Lone Star has a company-owned lodging facility in a fenced location where new drivers stay during training.
“Every driver stays in a comfortable private room with a bathroom and Wi-Fi,” Williams said, adding that drivers’ significant others are welcome to stay as well. “We know this is a family job. We invite them to bring their spouses so they can see who we are, what we value, and how much we appreciate them.”
When drivers take part in securement and road training, they ride with an experienced driver of the same sex during the day, and at night stay in a hotel or the company lodging. “We’ve gotten a lot of traction from our efforts. We’ve hired three women in the past five months. All of them have said the mentor securement training has been fabulous,” Williams said.
Ensuring comfortable equipment
Years ago, female drivers put pillows under their seats to see over the dash or blocks on the pedals to reach them, Voie said, explaining that trucks were built to the 90th percentile male. Now manufacturers are working to make vehicles more ergonomic for women. “We’ve challenged the truck manufacturers to look at it as a home instead of a truck,” she said.
Peterbilt has invested in product updates, such as an emergency alert switch that serves as a panic button with flashing external lights and audible alarms when activated. Also, the Model 579 UltraLoft was designed with improved ergonomics specifically for the shorter-statured driver. “Trucks need to be designed so that women can easily drive the vehicle,” Albert explained.
Brown has served on the Peterbilt interior team to share the challenges women can face. “I’m 5’2”. The seatbelt cuts across my jaw,” she said. “Those things really matter.”
Making early connections
Godfrey said it is crucial to connect with kids as early as kindergarten to help them understand that transportation is an interesting industry. “The more you encourage transportation play and the idea of what we can accomplish by focusing our energy on transportation, it will attract more kids,” she said.
Women In Trucking is working on getting in front of girls with its female truck driver doll and supply chain activity and coloring book for children. Peterbilt’s Albert said getting young girls interested in STEAM —Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math— will help get more women in the industry.
“To get women interested, you need to plant the seeds in young minds, and let them know about the opportunities that are out there,” Moniz said.
Elsewhere, XPO Logistics has partnered with Girls With Impact, which is a live, online entrepreneurship program for teenage girls. In addition to sponsoring 15 high school students to take live, after-school classes through a “mini-MBA” online program, XPO’s senior women leaders will visit with the girls at the company’s headquarters.
“If women are interested, they will seek it out. They just need to know there are people out here that will be glad to help and encourage them on their journey,” Moniz said.
Providing long-term support
Godfrey said she was surprised by the number of women who leave the transportation industry once they have children. “There are not enough policies in place to allow women to take time off for childbearing. The companies doing it the best are the companies that have very proactive paternal and maternal policies,” she said.
XPO has addressed the issue by offering free, comprehensive supplemental care for new parents and expectant mothers as well as pregnancy care and family leave policies.
The company is focusing on the compensation that supports a woman and her family, and the benefits that safeguard their health and well-being, Berisha said. “Women aren’t asking for exceptional treatment. They want pay and benefits that meet their needs. We’re happy to be a leader in terms of hiring women, but we’re determined to keep that momentum going,” she said.
Williams stressed that women, like all workers, want an equal opportunity for career advancement. “At Lone Star, women find we take them and their ambitions seriously. We create a transparent career path that can lead to career advancement and more money,” she said.
Brown said her “steering wheel doesn’t know what gender is holding it and said shippers are ambivalent about what gender of driver picks up and delivers loads. I get paid the same thing any guy does that takes a load. I don’t get loaded last because I’m a woman. I’m fairly treated,” she said.
Sisters follow father’s lead behind the wheel
Asia and Mahogany Scroggins are sisters who both drive trucks for Tyson Foods. They said it felt like a natural profession because they simply followed in their father’s footsteps.
“Our father has always been a truck driver, so we’ve been around trucks since we were little girls; we’re very comfortable being around the trucks and the lifestyle,” Asia said.
The Scroggins sisters drive as a team, which they said gives them a support system on the road.
“It helps to have each other because it can be very stressful and sometimes emotional. When either one of us is having a bad day, we know that we still love each other and always have that genuine support on the road,” Mahogany said.
She noted that Tyson has invested in technology that makes life easier, including the Hadley Smart Valve.
“It means less strain on us and enables improved valve response time for extra control and easier coupling/uncoupling of trailers, which can be very difficult,” she said, adding that the Bendix Wingman Fusion system provides a combination of safety technologies to provide assistance and road-monitoring sensors.
Asia said more women outside of the industry are approaching them to learn about their story. “Women seem more curious than before and aren’t afraid to act on it,” she said. “We need more female drivers out there talking about their experiences and sharing their stories and the opportunities that come with truck driving.”
“When we came to Tyson Foods, other drivers treated us with respect and served as our mentors—men and women—and that helped a lot,” Mahogany explained.
“We love knowing that our job has a real purpose because we are helping feed America,” she continued. “And that makes us and our family feel good,” Asia said.