At the turn of the millennium, female truckers represented a mere 3% of the total industry; but by 2022 this number was up to almost 14%, having nearly doubled since 2018. Associations such as Women in Trucking (WIT) and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters are working hard to ensure this figure keeps rising.
The trucking industry has taken a hit in recent years, with COVID-19 leading to severe shortages both in the US and globally. In 2021, the American Trucking Association reported a shortage of 80,000 drivers and warned of the possibility of this figure rising to 160,000 by 2030. To ensure that the supply of workers meets current demand, the industry will have to employ a million new drivers in the next ten years.
To navigate this shortage, many women were encouraged to join the industry. However, with the lasting effects of the COVID-19 pandemic stalling training and testing for truck drivers, the full impact of this has not yet been realised. Added to this, increased fuel costs have meant that trucking businesses' balance sheets remain tight.
One female trucker, Angelique Temple, began trucking 23 years ago and started her own transport company, Tornado Transport, in 2021. She described the last few years as a "rollercoaster." Her company has been transporting vital goods such as medical supplies and dried food, but recently she has been paying as much as $5,000 a month to cover food costs.
Temple outlined that another challenge she had found was a shortage of qualified professionals. She said, "You don't have a lot of people out there that have the dedication and loyalty that it takes to do what needs to be done."
Truckers are often only paid for their driving time and are rarely compensated for overtime when waiting for goods to be loaded and unloaded. This, coupled with a lack of healthcare benefits, has generated a level of uncertainty that has pushed people away from applying to work in the industry.
The severe male domination of the industry has also led to it mostly catering to them. For example, WIT reported that issues, including a lack of female uniforms and a lack of accommodation for females across the industry, have deterred women from joining the profession. Multiple women complained of truck stops not having female locker rooms or showers, as well as gender-based harassment. 32% of women truckers reported feeling unsafe according to a JW Surety Bonds survey.
But associations such as the Teamsters union and WIT are attempting to rev up the industry by lowering barriers and encouraging more females to join. WIT runs a Driver Ambassador Program that offers hands-on education and provides mentorship programs, as well as training in self-defense and anti-harassment initiatives. Meanwhile, Teamsters are working to end gender-based violence and remove barriers such as safety risks, wage inequities, and a lack of training and support.
According to the 2022 WIT Index, women are entering the industry at higher rates. Women in dispatcher and safety roles reached a peak of 40%, while women in human resource roles and talent management account for almost three-quarters of the industry. However, these numbers fall when looking at women in technician roles; currently, just 3.7% of women occupy this space.
Although efforts are clearly being made to accommodate and attract more female truckers, there is evidently some way to go yet. Installing better amenities at truck stops, as well as informed training sessions to make all drivers feel safer, is a must to boost numbers and avoid a national shortage of truckers. Women can play a vital role in the industry’s future if businesses wake up to this important shift.