A plentiful job market may sound like great news for everyone — but while low unemployment benefits job seekers, it can actually hurt industries facing worker shortages, such as trucking. These companies are now struggling to fill open positions and prepare for future growth.
Trucking’s challenges demand new approaches to hiring, such as venturing outside the traditional talent pool. While the vast majority of drivers are men, women are often-overlooked candidates who can also excel in these roles. To learn more about the opportunities for women in trucking and transportation, we spoke with Ellen Voie, founder and CEO of the nonprofit Women in Trucking Association (WIT).
Why women and trucking are a good match
Trucking is big business: According to Indeed data, over 1 million truck driver jobs were posted on the platform in 2018. But as everyone in the industry knows, it is tough to hire: job-seeker interest falls short of demand, and the shortage of drivers is predicted to grow, reaching 160,000 by the year 2028.
Companies have long struggled to fill open trucker positions, but the situation has grown worse thanks to high turnover, retirement and increased demand for goods, driving an increased need for drivers. Yet a key demographic is consistently missed in the industry’s recruiting efforts: women.
While women represent nearly 50% of the general labor force, they account for fewer than 8% of truck drivers (though this number appears to be slightly on the rise). Women have much to contribute to this industry; not only are they 20% less likely than men to be involved in a crash, but according to Voie, carriers regularly tell her that women take better care of their equipment, are easier to train, and have superior customer service and paperwork skills.
Voie founded WIT in 2007 aiming to promote gender diversity, celebrate accomplishments and minimize challenges for women in the trucking industry. It started small but has blossomed into a global operation with over 4,000 members and a huge social media following.
There are many benefits of trucking and transportation careers that women may not be aware of, Voie says. The average annual salary for heavy and tractor-trailer drivers is just over $43,000 — well above the federal minimum wage — and some companies have been raising pay to attract workers. Furthermore, there is no gender pay gap among drivers.
“You’re either paid by the mile, the load [or] the percentage,” says Voie.
For women without a college degree, driving a truck offers better benefits and greater stability than common positions such as food service or home health aides. What’s more, Voie notes that drivers have clear opportunities for advancement into management or office roles.
Trucking companies want to hire more women
Despite the upsides, image is an issue when it comes to women in the industry. Since over 90% of drivers are male, trucking has long been viewed as a masculine profession. Thanks to this unconscious bias, employers may not be aware that their recruiting efforts primarily target men. Similarly, many female job seekers simply don’t have trucking careers on their radars.
“People hire people who look like them,” observes Voie. “That has made it harder to get more women in leadership roles in transportation.” The problem isn’t that companies don’t want to hire women, she says — it’s that “they just don’t know how.”
One simple solution, Voie says, is for trucking companies to intentionally target job ads to women. WIT developed a recruiting guide to help employers with these efforts, and Voie regularly presents on strategies and best practices at industry events.
“Trucking companies say to me, ‘I don’t care [about] their age, gender or ethnicity. I just want a good driver,” Voie recounts. “I say, ‘Well, you should care. If your recruiting heads are all men, … it’s not going to attract women.” She adds that some companies may be driving female workers away by highlighting job risks or using sexist ad content, such as pictures of scantily clad women.
Social media offers unique insights into the communities of women most likely to consider a career in trucking, Voie notes. For example, WIT’s Facebook page has a whopping 11,000 female followers; since 80% of them also happen to be motorcyclists, Voie now encourages trucking companies to do publicity at motorcycle events.
In all of these efforts, “we really try to highlight women who are role models and pioneers,” Voie says.
When considering trucking, women prioritize safety
Some of the challenges for female truck drivers go deeper than bias. Safety concerns are common, encompassing everything from poor vehicle maintenance to dangerous or poorly lit loading docks to pushing workers to drive in inclement weather.
Trucking companies with that type of culture “will drive women away,” Voie says, since they “will leave a carrier if they don’t feel safe.”
WIT works with truck stops to improve safety, recommending changes such as improved lighting or additional security guards. The organization also hosts self-defense workshops and collaborates with truck manufacturers to equip cabs with safety alarms and ergonomic additions for female drivers.
Another way to improve safety is to work in shifts with a partner; in fact, trucking is a late-in-life career change for many women, Voie notes, when “a husband or boyfriend who is a professional driver says, ‘Hey, the kids are gone. Why don’t you come out on the road with me?” According to WIT’s internal data, 83% of women get into the business this way, and the average age of a woman driver is 50.
But long-haul trucking isn’t the only option, and “a lot of women don’t realize that there are great jobs in this industry where they can be home every night,” says Voie. These include hauling fuel or driving garbage trucks (where, she is quick to point out, the driver has no contact with the actual trash).
The future for women in trucking
While Voie celebrates that women are now more empowered to work in traditionally male roles, she acknowledges it’s not always easy.
“A lot of women will be afraid to speak up in a male-dominated environment because they’re afraid that the men ... will say, ‘You don’t know what you’re talking about,’” she says. “That does happen, so you have to be able to deflect any criticism.” She reminds women to fight imposter syndrome and remember that they do belong.
A confidence gap exists among male and female job seekers, as well: according to one study, women tend to only apply for jobs if they meet 100% of the requirements, whereas men will apply if they fit 60%. Voie encourages women to find their inner confidence, both when applying for jobs and owning at-work accomplishments.
“Women don’t raise their hand enough and say, ‘I did this!’” Voie observes. “The next time someone ... compliments you or gives you an award, just say, ‘Thank you.’”
The growing worker shortage and increasing demand for goods makes this an important moment in trucking. Thanks largely to the work of Voie and WIT, the industry is taking important steps to recruit female drivers — and women are beginning to respond.
Voie is optimistic about the future and excited for her next projects, which involve driver safety and recruiting truckers from the LGBTQ community.
“It’s taken a long time,” she says, “but finally, trucking companies are … saying, ‘We see the value in hiring women. Help us.’”