A dispatch from the annual Women in Trucking conference
Not long ago, trucking was a sought-after, even romanticized, career — one for free spirits and road warriors alike. Just look at cult-classic movies like ‘Smokey the Bandit.’
Fast forward to last week’s annual Women in Trucking Accelerate! conference in Dallas — a hub for shared learning, stories, and industry tips — and all eyes were on the industry’s next chapter. Amid an unprecedented driver shortage, one patriotic refrain emerged: “Truckers move America.”
Though the trucking industry is known for being male dominated, particularly when it comes to over-the-road driver roles, that may be changing. A shift to connected culture has led to transportation companies recruiting directly online, increasingly attracting young and tech-savvy employees through apps and software designed to make their lives easier. Here at Vector, for instance, our LoadDocs app allows drivers to photograph and send essential trip documents, cutting processing time and getting them paid faster.
On social media, drivers are also publishing their own narratives through YouTube videos and hashtags like #roadlife. Last week’s conference included another unconventional marketing tool — a truck-driving doll named Clare — designed to encourage young girls to consider as a career in the field.
Still, as it stands, comprehensive data on the number of women working in trucking isn’t easy to find. Statistics from government agencies like the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) do not break down detailed job data by gender. The BLS does report that women make up 21 percent of all transportation, storage and distribution managers, compared to upwards of 70 percent in fields like health services.
Industry reports have attempted to bridge the information gap and provide more detailed data on women in trucking based on carrier surveys. Emilie Worsham, a data scientist with Omnitracs, cited an average range of 6–12 percent female drivers in a presentation at last week’s event, though states including Wyoming and New Mexico have a slightly higher 14 percent of women drivers.
Worsham, who spoke about improving fleet operations by better analyzing the potential benefits of addressing the gender gap, cited estimates that women are less likely to voluntarily leave trucking jobs (61 percent turnover, compared to 65 percent for men) and slightly less likely to get into a preventable accident (3.41 per 100 women drivers, compared to 3.44 for men).
“Women take fewer risks, crash less, collaborate more, work efficiently, are eager to learn and train, put more effort into choosing a company and stay longer,” added Leah Shaver, chief operating officer of The National Transportation Institute, during a presentation at the conference.
Joann Lublin, a Pulitzer-prize winner and news editor for The Wall Street Journal, spoke about how equal pay for female and male drivers — as opposed to a national average where women make less than $.80 for every $1 a man makes for equal work — could be positioned to attract women to the industry.
Still, an Adcom Group survey of 600 drivers across the country presented at the event found that negative ideas about drivers being less educated or isolated on the road can be a barrier to entry, though personally knowing someone in the industry can help overcome stereotypes. Other speakers addressed the importance of safe work environments, emphasizing that how carriers respond to allegations of sexual harassment is extremely important for company reputation.
“There seems to be more support for dispatchers and administrative staff than the company’s drivers in some situations,” one anonymous driver said, according to a breakout presentation on ‘How Popular Culture Shapes Young People’s Image of Trucking’ at the event last week. “A solid, reliable staff focused on driver needs would make a huge difference in my opinion.”
In addition to doubling down on recruiting suitable for the digital age, speakers discussed potential solutions to the driver shortage including lifting age restrictions, better access to training, more company efforts to make driving single-parent friendly, and more investment in in-truck technology to make drivers’ lives easier.