Trucking is one of the largest industries in the United States, with more than 3.5 million active drivers and approximately 8.7 million people employed altogether. Despite the massive numbers, however, the trucking industry is facing a labor shortage that is expected to grow tremendously in the coming years. One important reason for this shortage? While women have grown to constitute an increasingly larger percentage of the overall workforce, female drivers make up only about 5.8 percent of the trucking industry. This disparity is slowly changing, but the industry still faces plenty of challenges when it comes to recruiting women.
THE TRUCKING STEREOTYPE
It’s no doubt that trucking has always been a male-dominated profession. The job has long been seen as too tough, too undignified, too difficult for women. Many people tend to conjure up images of a rough-and-tumble world filled with big, burly men, where sexism is rampant and self-respecting women have no place. Even women who are interested in the job are often dissuaded by the pervasive belief that women simply aren’t very good at driving and handling the often complex spatial tasks inherent to the job.
The industry has struggled for years to shed these outdated and harmful stereotypes, and it’s turned many women away from what might otherwise be a rewarding career. Perceptions are slowly changing, however, and the industry itself has begun to take the lead. As companies increasingly begin to feel the effects of driver shortages, they’ve been forced to reevaluate recruitment tactics in an effort to appeal more to drivers of either gender.
APPEALING TO WOMEN
The stereotypical view of the trucking industry often masks the reality that trucking can be a great opportunity for women. In the face of a pronounced labor shortage, companies are often hiring even in areas where jobs in other industries are hard to come by. Research by the U.S. Department of Labor shows that women in “non-traditional” industries like trucking often earn more than their counterparts in more traditional careers, with little to no income inequality between genders. The ability to travel and see new areas of the country is also appealing for many female drivers.
Most importantly, however, the industry is evolving to cater to a much broader range of people. Most modern trucks feature redesigned ergonomics, making them more comfortable and functional for people of all sizes and body types. Many also offer larger sleeper cabs and other amenities meant to make life in the driver’s seat more appealing, and things like power steering and automatic transmissions have made it easier than ever for newcomers to step behind the wheel. Truck stops – often seen in the past as dirty and unsafe – are also undergoing an image rehabilitation. In addition to becoming cleaner, safer and easier to navigate, many truck stops now include private showers, laundry facilities and other services.
DRIVING THE INDUSTRY FORWARD
While women can benefit from the trucking industry, the opposite is also true. The immediate practical impact is obvious – women represent a large and desperately needed labor force that has gone largely untapped by the industry – but the appeal goes well beyond that. Despite the stereotype that women are poor drivers, the statistics suggest just the opposite. Many carriers who’ve sought to hire more women have found that female drivers tend to get into fewer accidents overall, incur about 25 percent lower costs per accident on average and ultimately lead to savings over their male counterparts. This tendency toward caution and risk-avoidance is all the more important as drivers are often expected to push themselves further and cover greater distances in shorter periods of time.
Women bring other valuable traits to the table, too. Many carriers have reported that female drivers often provide better service to customers, are easier to train and cause fewer disciplinary issues. Perhaps most importantly, women tend to do a better job of processing paperwork and keeping their log books up to date. In an industry where mileage and driving time are tightly regulated, even small slip-ups can cause major problems for carriers and their drivers. By being more meticulous about tracking details and filling out the appropriate paperwork for each trip, female drivers have the potential to save carriers valuable time and money.
Attitudes toward trucking and the role women play in the industry are changing, but progress has come slowly. The percentage of female drivers has gradually grown in recent years, from 4.6 percent in 2010 to 5.8 percent in 2014. There’s no doubt the industry is stronger with women playing an active role, and everyone from carriers to truck manufacturers to truck stop chains has made a concerted effort to provide more open and equal opportunities regardless of gender. Women still face unique challenges in breaking into the industry, but the future looks welcoming and the barriers to entry have never been lower.