Vanita Johnson, after 13 years of teaching and education administration switched to the position she had always wanted: behind the wheel on a big truck.
Johnson completed a three-week trucking course, obtained her commercial driver's licence and became an owner-operator. Johnson joined a larger business and has been transporting shipments for more than two years.
She is one of many women in the trucking industry who are leading efforts to include more women. Women In Trucking, an association that focuses on increasing the number of female truck drivers, technicians, and executives, especially younger women, or those who are switching careers like Johnson, works to increase this rate.
Johnson stated that although there are ups and downs to trucking, you can overcome them because of the women pioneers who have paved their way. You have a support route to help you navigate this male-populated industry. It offers freedom and travel.
Johnson stated that she has found her male counterparts to be a great help in her trucking career. Johnson said that the wages are a bonus compared to her teaching salary.
The Covid pandemic in the U.S. made it even more urgent to encourage more women to take up trucking. It caused chaos in the education and service industries. Trucking, however, has not slowed down. Many teachers, service workers, and nurses who suffered from burnout made the transition to trucking.
Initiatives to recruit women drivers from other industries are on the rise as the industry faces a severe shortage of drivers. International Brotherhood of Teamsters and other unions have been working to eliminate violence and harassment of women in the workplace and to remove any barriers that might prevent women from entering the field, such as safety risks, wage disparities, and lack of training or support.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, women now account for almost 8% of all truck drivers and delivery drivers. According to the 2022 Women In Trucking Index, this number is 14% for Class A license road driver (any driver who can drive vehicles over 26,000 pounds), nearly double what it was five years ago.
According to the index, women account for almost 33% of C-Suite transportation executives, compared to 24% four years ago.
WIT CEO Ellen Voie said that women are often better candidates for truckers than men because they are less likely to take road risks and have strong multi-tasking and communication skills. The American Transportation Research Institute found that male commercial drivers are 20% more likely than women to be in an accident at intersections.
Voie stated that "More and greater numbers of women are taking up safety roles like safety director or safety manager. That's a great spot for women, because women are more likely to take on risk, whether they're in the boardroom, or as drivers."
How to manage shortages
Many women entered the trucking industry during the pandemic. However, Covid-19 lockdowns prevented testing and training of truck drivers. Surging demand and disruptions in supply chain caused a long-lasting shortage of truckers.
American Trucking Associations has reported that there is a shortage in drivers for 2021. They also warn that the shortfall could rise to 160,000 drivers by 2030.
According to the ATA, to meet demand, the industry will need to hire a million more drivers in the next decade. However, as of 2021, just under 2.1million people were employed as heavy- and tractor-trailer truck driver, according the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
According to a BLS report, the annual turnover rate for large truckload carriers was 94% in 2017 and 1995 respectively.
Volatility in volume remains a problem, leaving the industry in flux when it comes to hiring.
Kucharski stated that Americans are changing their diets, and they are finding it harder to afford certain things. "We are all competing for the same product and we're not as busy due to inflation.
Truckers often get paid for their driving time. They are not compensated for time spent waiting to load and unload goods. This creates uncertainty for truckers. Many truckers also have to pay for their fuel and do not receive health insurance.
Angelique Temple has been involved in trucking for 23 years. She spent 20 years pulling hazmat as company driver and she had six children. In 2021, she switched to Tornado Transport as the owner-operator. However, she nearly lost her business because she was only paying $5,000 per week for fuel.
Temple stated that she drives routes less than 200 miles now and works with local brokers in order to reduce "rollercoaster price fluctuations". She manages medical supplies, dry foods and other essential products while setting her prices.
She said that it's not a shortage in drivers, but a shortage in qualified professionals.
Temple stated, "There aren't many people out there who have the dedication and loyalty it takes to do what is necessary." They don't want sacrifice. They want to be able to return home and make money.
The industry is booming with women
For more than just behind-the-wheel jobs, women have been entering the trucking industry at a higher rate. The 2022 WIT Index found that women in dispatcher and safety positions topped 40% while women in human resource and talent management averaged almost 75%.
WIT reports that women in technical roles make up only 3.7% of the workforce. According to the ATA, the industry will require approximately 200,000 technicians in the next decade to meet maintenance needs. Women In Motion, an initiative of the ATA, aims to make it easier for women to take on these roles.
Trucks were made for men. Uniforms were designed for men. Because they were locker-room showers, we didn't have any showers at truck stops for women. It was not a level playing field.
A February survey conducted by JW Surety Bonds found that 83% of female truckers believe more young people should be interested in trucking. A survey of 386 truck drivers, 60% of whom were women, found that female truckers felt 18% less lonely than male truckers and 28% less likely regret being a truck driver.
Maddie Weirman (reactive data lead at Fractl), who conducted the research, said that there are TikTok videos where a lot more women are excited to work on their own, that their schedules are more flexible and that they get great pay. "Women are beginning to recognize that there are many opportunities for them."
According to JW Surety Bonds, 56% of female truckers earned between $50,000 and $100,000 per year. 41% made less than $50,000.
Tenstreet, a driver software company, found that women are more likely to claim they are paid fairly than men at 58.5% compared to 55.3% in men.
According to Tenstreet data, women are also more likely than men to have never been professional drivers and to have worked for fewer carriers. However, they were more likely report having a good relationship to their dispatcher.
Brad Fulton, Tenstreet's director of research, stated that many women have entered the industry from the "ground floor", with the hopes of making it more inclusive and equal.
Fulton stated that women are becoming more experienced and are starting to recognize some of the stress. He also said that the industry should focus more on work-life balance to ensure workers aren't "driving themselves to the ground".
Safety concerns are also a concern. JW Surety Bonds found that 68% of women truckers felt safer working overall, as opposed to 78% of men truckers. The majority of women who were surveyed said they carry pepper spray and a knife in case of harassment or assault.
Empowering women truckers
Voie founded WIT 16 years ago. The industry was only 3% female when Voie started it. Today, WIT has more than 8,000 members from 10 countries.
"Trucks were made for men. Uniforms were designed for men. Voie stated that there weren't any showers available at truck stops for women, as they were locker-room showers.
WIT offers a Driver Ambassador Program that allows for hands-on learning and recognition programs such as member of the month. WIT offers mentorship to those who are just starting out in the industry as well as trainings in self-defense and anti-harassment.
Voie stated that social media has helped bring attention to the industry. Clarissa Rankin is a professional truck driver who has been driving for five years. She runs a TikTok trucking account that has received nearly 40 million likes.
Voie stated that one of the top hits on TikTok was a driver performing a pretrip inspection. We know this because truck drivers do pretrip inspections every day. It's people who are interested in the industry and curious about how women can do this job.
Regan Morton is a transgender Indiana woman who leads WIT's LGBTQ Taskforce. She said that the industry made her feel more welcome. She believes that companies should target potential LGBTQ drivers more effectively.
Morton, a member of Teamsters, said that the trucking industry allows one to be who they are and not be constantly dealing with other people.
Morton, whose father was truck driver, stated that health care coverage can be a problem, especially for LGBTQ drivers. Morton stated that drivers with diabetes and other health conditions have found it more difficult to enter the trucking industry. She also said that it is hard for long-term workers to return home to see their doctors after work. She said that some common insurance plans do not cover all medical needs during the gender transition.
Voie stated that despite these difficulties, she believes there will be more women-owned trucking business and more women taking over the family trucking company. WIT partnered up with Expediter Services in order to establish 150 women-owned transportation businesses, which included financing the first truck for women drivers.
Baylor Trucking's president Cari Baylor called the eight-decade-old family business, Baylor Trucking, a "Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks type of American dream story." Her family grew from just one truck to more than 200.
Baylor Trucking was once responsible for saving Thanksgiving in Canada, she stated. They had delivered Ocean Spray cranberry juice shipments. It also works with expedited shippers for IVF kits, chemotherapy treatments, and Taylor Swift merchandise.
She stated that the industry has made great strides to be more inclusive, with improvements such as automatic transmissions for all bodies, flexible work weeks, and advanced technology equipped everything from radar to video.
Baylor stated that the industry has much to do to improve safety and amenities in rest areas. However, she acknowledged that there are many benefits to introducing women to trucking.
Baylor stated that the trucking industry learned from the pandemic that it must be more adaptable to provide healthier lifestyles for professional drivers, regardless of their sex. I want college graduates and young women to see that there are many other opportunities than professional driving in the transportation sector.