With more and more trucking companies seeking out female drivers, it’s imperative to outline the career trajectory of a woman in the field. Balancing out the gender disparity is not an uncommon feat in similar, male-dominated industries. However, combatting the truck driver shortage adds a level of complexity.
Career Guide for Women in Trucking
Women are navigating a field that is in desperate need of workers, regardless of gender. For this reason, a guide detailing how to start a successful career as a female truck driver is necessary. While it may seem easier to get a trucking job as a woman due to high demand, this may not always be the case.
Gender Representation in the Trucking Industry
As of 2020, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that only 12.4% of truck transportation employees are women. An even smaller percentage — 6.6% — are actual truck drivers. Although this doesn’t seem like much, it’s a sharp increase compared to recent years. FreightWaves highlighted the industry-wide push for more women in trucking as a direct response to the capacity crunch of 2018.
While there was an overall shift to greater diversity in driver segments, the focus was on women drivers — namely due to safety concerns. It’s a misconception that women drivers are inferior. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act notes that “women truck drivers have been shown to be 20 percent less likely than male counterparts to be involved in a crash.”
Challenges Faced by Women in the Industry
Although the overall perspective has changed, women in the trucking industry still face unique challenges. Some of these hurdles aren’t exclusive to the field, but there is value in addressing them. These challenges may be amplified due to the volatile nature of the trucking profession, including:
- The irregular schedules;
- The size of the vehicles;
- The weight of the cargo;
- Hard-to-find parking;
- Odd hours;
- High insurance costs;
- Long wait times at customer facilities.
This isn’t an all-inclusive list, and safety is a concern. However, a positive aspect of trucking is that drivers are paid by the mile or load percentage. This means that women are likely paid the same as men for their efforts.
Stereotypes and Gender Bias
Gender stereotypes are insidious when they violate basic human rights. For this guide, gender will refer to the binary male and female — but noncomforming genders are also acknowledged and should be studied in regards to trucking careers as soon as possible. Gender bias is the conscious or unconscious judgment of an individual or group based on their presenting gender. This occurs due to underlying, preconceived notions based on past experiences or societal influences.
When this is happening in the workplace, it can be particularly detrimental to morale and safety. Considering the pattern of men dominating the trucking industry, the societal view of trucking is that it is for men only. Sexism, itself, may also rear its ugly head in a male-dominated field. Women may be treated differently based on the fact that they are women. Some examples are:
- Less chance of being picked for big hauls;
- A lack of safety tools and training provided when working alone and at night;
- Improper accommodations for children or elderly dependents while away;
- Disparaging comments about job efficacy;
- Inappropriate advances from coworkers.
A mindset that only considers male truck drivers leads to a male-configured work environment. Especially with trucking happening mostly on the road, it may be difficult for women to get the help that they need if in danger. However, the future for female truck drivers looks bright, and other women in the field have tips and tricks for a successful haul.
Discrimination and Harassment
If gender biases are acted upon, they may result in discrimination or even harassment. A prime example of this in the trucking industry is found in the suit that the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed against CRST, a large trucking company that uses a double-driver model. Monika Starke and about 270 female employees of CRST put forth that the Cedar Rapids trucking conglomerate had fostered a hostile work environment — more specifically, a work environment that allowed sexual harassment to fester.
During new-driver training, female trainees were paired with two male trainers. While this isn’t inherently bad, the trainers went on to sexually harass these women — and reports were largely ignored. This isn’t a one-off instance. As a woman in the trucking industry, keep an eye out for red flags. Some examples of discrimination and harassment based on gender identity include:
- A company only hiring women for certain job positions;
- HR reprimanding women for being “too aggressive” while praising their male counterparts for the same trait;
- Coworkers talking about women in a derogatory manner — even if not directed toward you or any specific employee.
This isn’t an exhaustive list of all the situations in which women may be discriminated against or harassed — in the trucking industry and otherwise. For that reason, pay attention to signals that may show you’re being targeted based on your sex or gender. Report any incidents to HR and follow up to make sure something is done. While trucking enterprises are stepping up to the plate, there are still possibilities of discrimination slipping through the cracks.
Gender stereotypes sometimes perpetuate traditional gender roles. For instance, a female truck driver may also be primarily responsible for taking care of the children. However, she will also be on the road for long periods. Maintaining a healthy work-life balance is crucial to a successful truck driving career. With the long hours and miles between you and your home life, you will want to find a trucking company that provides adequate time off and, perhaps, even monetary assistance for caretakers.
Beyond caretaking duties, women may also generally miss their life at home — whether that be in the form of pets, family members, or even just the solace of their own bed at night. Over the years, truck drivers have learned to cope with homesickness in certain ways. When feeling that pang of sadness on the road, remember to:
- Use tech to your advantage — with video calls, pet cams, or even long-distance touch lamps;
- Acknowledge your emotions — working through them rather than bottling them up;
- Seek support from other truck drivers — that know exactly what you’re going through.
- Find little ways to pay homage to your home life — whether that’s buying souvenirs along your route or taking pictures with a cardboard cutout of your spouse, get creative;
- Stay active — whenever possible, like taking a brisk walk at rest stops or during detention time;
- Eat healthily — by packing or planning sensible options and, at the very least, remember to eat and stay hydrated regularly;
- Distract yourself — with a hobby, friend, podcast, audiobook, or ride-along pet.
Women are thought to be more self-aware than men are, but this may not always be the case. Research shows that there may be no significant gender difference in emotional perception. For this reason, keeping on top of your mental health as a female truck driver is not necessarily easy and should be taken seriously. Make sure to choose an employer that values your health and wellness, and your career will be better for it in the long run.
How To Bring More Women Into Trucking
The future of women in trucking looks bright, but only if employers and individuals work together. Trucking companies are already embracing diversity in hiring. The gender gap is far from closed, however, and there are ways to remedy that beyond hiring initiatives. The transportation sector, as a whole, has a responsibility to shift stereotypes. This includes company heads, employees, and potential candidates taking charge and:
- Confronting unconscious biases — through gamifying or simple discussion;
- Providing (and participating in) safe training and work environments — that offer actionable steps if you feel unsafe at any point;
- Advocating for visibility of female freight workers — by talking with friends and family or posting the life of a female truck driver on social media platforms.
Often, all it takes is an open and honest conversation. If people aren’t aware of their biases, they’re not going to actively try and change them. Putting female truck drivers at the forefront of marketing campaigns, social media posts, and even talks with your friends may increase the likelihood that other women will join forces.
Training, Education, Certifications
Once you have decided to pursue a career in truck driving, it’s time to acquire the mandatory training and certifications. Most drivers of commercial vehicles will have to obtain a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) or Commercial Motor Vehicle (CMV) license and certification. This is usually achieved by completing driving school. State governments facilitate these licensures, so check with your home location to find out how to go about getting certified. This is the first step in becoming a truck driver, but you will have to have the knowledge and expertise to pass testing.
You may find trucking education and coaching via mentorship opportunities and development courses. There are some programs designed to help women, in particular, find their place in the trucking world. To determine if truck driving is right for you and take the first step to learning the ropes, check out:
- LeadHERtrucking from Women in Trucking (WIT);
- Engage Mentor Match through WIT;
- The Women in Trucking Foundation (WITF) Scholarship
- WIT Professional Development Certification Training
It may also be worthwhile to research the company or companies that you would like to work for. Find out the closest reputable company to your home location. Then, research to see if they have any on-site training or certification available. Of course, make sure to vet the company to determine if they are focused on treating women fairly in the workplace. Look for obvious signs of consideration on the trucking company’s website, such as:
- Female-specific training courses;
- Safety tips for women;
- Pictures depicting female drivers;
- Positive reviews on Glassdoor from other women;
- A clean track record.
Even if a trucking company appears to value its employees, do your research. Being aware of the risks associated with becoming a female freight worker is the first step to keeping yourself safe when pursuing this exciting career.
Finding and Landing a Trucking Job as a Woman
Many of the aforementioned mentoring and training programs will have affiliated job assistance. Your mentor or coach may recommend a certain job opening to you and help place you in that position. It all depends on your level of expertise and the trajectory you’d like to take in your trucking career. Several trucking and freight positions stray from traditional driving.
Job Boards and Bulletins
The first step is to peruse available job listings. Search “trucking jobs”, “CDL”, “driver”, or any combination of those terms on job sites to obtain relevant results. You may also want to filter by location to see only those job openings that are close to you. Larger trucking corporations may even have their own careers section on their website — so if you know the company you want to work for, that’s a great place to start. Some examples of sites to search include:
The Schneider careers section for women highlights their awards from WIT and Forbes. These are good indicators that a trucking company values and seeks out female candidates.
Getting Paid as a Female Truck Driver
While most reports show equality in the pay of male and female truck drivers, it’s imperative to stay vigilant about your pay. The average is balanced, but there are always outliers. Sometimes, job postings will clearly state the starting pay rate. Even if they do, make sure to:
- Research industry- and company-specific salaries;
- Ask for payment details at the right time during hiring;
- Read the fine print in the contract when you get a job offer;
- Negotiate salary if it’s not up to standards.
Of course, starting your own trucking company could change how things work financially.
Starting A Woman-Owned Trucking Business
If you want to take initiative, start your own trucking company. This is a substantial move for enacting change and bringing representation to the middle- and top-management levels of the trucking industry. If you choose to go this route, there are some challenges and considerations to keep in mind.
If you do decide to start your own trucking company, you must obtain a specific number to operate. This is known as operating authority — or trucking authority — and comes in a few different forms. Most often, the required registrations include:
- A Motor Carrier (MC) number;
- A U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) number;
- Registration with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMSCA).
There are other types of numbers in addition to an MC number — such as Freight Forwarder (FF) and Mexico-specific (MX) docket numbers. You may need a different type of operating authority based on the specific functions and location of your trucking business.
Credit and Business Loans
Credit is the first thing you’ll want to check before launching a freight company. While having challenged credit doesn’t necessarily preclude you from operating a business, a good credit history can certainly make things easier. Do some research on how to enhance your credit score and procure some business loans to suit your needs.
Women starting trucking companies are particularly susceptible to financial issues due to societal pressures inhibiting their funds and professional activities in the past. However, trucking is a special industry in that it allows for some financial wiggle room. A process known as freight factoring does not restrict activity based on the personal or business credit of the trucking company owner. This makes freight factoring a fantastic option, especially if you are unable to secure a business loan for the full trucking company startup costs.
Trucking factoring — or freight factoring — is the process of selling your unpaid freight bills to an external company for a cash advance. Factoring with bad credit is possible, and it may be the key to starting up your small trucking business. Just make sure to have attainable financial goals in mind, securing your future and raising your ability to borrow and pay back money for your business.
Understanding Load Boards
Load boards are online resources that identify places for trucking companies to find loads that need to be delivered. They can register, and then select loads they are willing to deliver. Before even beginning your business, research the best load boards for trucking company owners. This way, you’re not caught off guard on how to pick and choose delivery loads.
General Business Startup Content
It’s crucial to do as much research as you can on startups to be better prepared for what you may encounter. Here are some examples of useful content when thinking about starting a trucking business — as a woman or otherwise:
- Getting started with freight factoring;
- Essentials you need to start a business;
- How to estimate startup costs;
- How to accurately predict profit;
- Marketing your startup effectively;
- Secrets of running a startup;
- And how to avoid common startup mistakes.
The most important thing to remember is that you will make mistakes. Everyone does, and your business will be better for it in the long run. Learn from your mistakes, and move forward — representing women in the trucking industry everywhere. If you want to become a female owner-operator of a trucking company, it’s certainly within reach with the right preparation.
Professional Trucking Associations
Whether you’re starting a trucking business or simply embarking on a trucking career path, there are associations created to help with the process. There are general trucking affiliations to look into, and there are organizations specific to women to help you achieve greatness in the field — whatever that may look like for you.
Women-Specific Organizations and Events
- Women in Trucking and the Accelerate! Conference;
- Real Women in Trucking;
- The Women in Trucking Foundation;
- SHE Trucking.
General Trucking Associations
- OOIDA — One Voice for Truckers Everywhere;
- Trucking.org — The Voice of America’s Trucking Industry;
- Truckload Carriers Association;
- Truckers Emergency Assistance.
Reach out to other female truck drivers and owner-operators to share your experiences and to help expand your support network. Trucking as a woman is a wonderful career path, and you are helping to advance women in the field by pursuing this profession.