Editor’s Note: Filling the Driver’s Seat is a series delving into fleets’ driver recruitment and retention strategies through the lens of the people leading the efforts. Know someone we should profile? Email [email protected].
When Ellen Voie used to impress upon trucking executives the need for more women in the industry 15 years ago, she often heard variations of the same, dismissive response.
“Oh, Ellen, we just hire the best person,” recounted Voie, president and CEO of the nonprofit advocacy group Women in Trucking. “We don't care about their age, their ethnicity, their gender.”
She would usually reply by rattling off some of the many ways freight carriers catered to male drivers over their female counterparts.
“‘Really? How come your uniforms are all designed for men?’” Voie said she asked. “‘How come the trucks are designed for men? How come you don’t have showers or washrooms for women?’ Things like that. It really wasn't a level playing field. But it’s getting there.”
Voie is a CDL holder who founded the Women in Trucking Association in 2007 to encourage the industry to hire more women and minimize the barriers they face.
Fifteen years later, the group has the ear of the industry and federal officials, who have taken truck rides with its Image Team drivers. It has authored research whitepapers on gender bias and harassment, same-gender training policies and the lack of truck parking, which are available for download on its website. Women in Trucking is expecting 1,500 attendees to hear FMCSA head Robin Hutcheson speak at its Accelerate conference in Dallas this month.
Women in Trucking’s roughly 7,000 members now include driving students, truck drivers, OEM workers and major corporations such as Amazon and Walmart, Voie said. The organization operates in 10 countries, and 15% of members are men who support its mission.
Women make up nearly 14% of professional drivers, according to the 2022 Women in Transportation Index, which measures trucking jobs performed by women. The American Trucking Associations, however, estimates the percentage of women truckers remains at about 8%, and U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg harped on the employment gap during the ATA Management Conference & Exhibition in San Diego last month.
To boost the ranks of female drivers, carriers need to do more to address safety issues — the primary barrier for women in the industry, according to Voie. Concerns include harassment, discrimination, and a lack of secure and well-lit places to park.
Beyond its advocacy to carriers and federal officials, Women in Trucking works with truck stop operators to improve lighting and security, especially in areas where drivers report concerns. It also has succeeded in getting some OEMs to add a panic button to truck cabs that could improve law enforcement response times in an emergency.
“The reason women leave the industry as professional drivers is because they don't feel safe,” Voie said. “We feel that that’s just unacceptable.”
A fleet’s safety culture makes a difference in whether women are willing to take driving jobs, Voie said. Carriers should focus on their equipment maintenance practices and how often they are dispatching drivers to potentially unsafe locations. They should also consider empowering drivers to turn down a trip due to safety concerns, including hazardous weather.
Further work remains, such as urging more carriers to provide same-gender trainers, separate hotel rooms or other accommodations to women recruits. Voie said the strategies could improve recruitment by eliminating awkward, if not dangerous, situations in which young women are left sleeping in a cab or a room with an older, male trainer.
“The research that we've done shows that women value a company that looks out for them,” she said.