When you hear the words “truck driver,” what image comes to mind? If you’re like most people, you probably envision a grizzled, bearded man between the ages of about 40 and 60. Likewise, you might be surprised to learn that women comprise nearly 10 percent of the driver pool at Werner Enterprises, one of the largest freight carriers in America. Over the course of the past decade, more and more women have been joining the ranks of truck drivers and challenging long-held stereotypes about the profession. So what’s driving this new trend in the trucking industry?
Demand for Drivers
According to American Trucking Associations (ATA), there is a current shortage of 48,000 truck drivers nationwide. By 2024, this figure is projected to balloon to roughly 175,000. ATA attributes this problem to industry growth and a retiring workforce. The ATA estimates that in the next 10 years the industry will need to hire 890,000 new drivers to keep up with the demand. To accomplish this monumental task, Trucking companies have begun actively recruiting from previously untapped demographic groups. Foremost among these is women. Today, women account for roughly 6 percent of the total truck driver population in the U.S.
Derek Leathers, President and chief operating officer of Werner, had this to say about the shift in recruitment efforts in a recent interview with CNBC. “There have been a lot of stereotypes over the years about the independent, male truck driver in a macho industry, a macho career. That doesn’t work in favor of attracting women to the industry … It’s just the simple idea of us making it very, very clear that we want them.”
So the trucking industry needs female drivers to sustain itself for the future. But what’s in it for women?
In many industries, women still have to fight to earn wages comparable to those of their male counterparts. In the trucking industry, miles are money regardless of gender. The more you drive, the more you make. This is an appealing business model for working women who have struggled to earn equal wages in the past. As long as female drivers put the time in, they can safely expect to earn the same amount of money as their male peers.
As if the trucking industry needed another incentive to recruit women to the workforce, female drivers have proven to be especially safe and reliable drivers. According to Leathers, the female drivers at Werner have “about a 25 percent lower accident cost.” This translates to huge savings for large trucking companies that might spend millions of dollars each year due to accident related damages. “What carriers are telling me is that they want more female drivers for the safety issue and … women are often better with the customers, paperwork, better with equipment and often easier to train,” says Ellen Voie, founder and chief executive of the Women in Trucking Association.
To attract more women to the workforce, trucking companies are taking steps to make their businesses more female-friendly. Ryder, for example, introduced a new line of ergonomic trucking packages designed specifically for women this year. Other companies are adding more trucks with automatic transmissions to their fleets to making the profession more accessible to people who might otherwise be intimidated by the prospect of driving a big rig.
With trucking companies hemorrhaging retiring baby boomers, this new influx of female employees may be just what the industry needs to thrive in the coming years.