Trucking has been and is a male dominated industry, but a significant number of women have found their niche in a “man’s world”.
Commercial trucking in the 21st century will attract drivers from all walks of life. The only criteria for wealth creation are hard work and perseverance. Regardless of nationality, ethnicity or gender, there are numerous options for anyone who wants to climb aboard a large rig.
As diverse as the trucking landscape is, the path to success can be staggered for many minority drivers. The industry is not without remnants of scars and sexism, which may partly explain why women make up only 7.8% of 3,364,000 U.S. truckers on the road in 2020, according to the Department of Labor.
For some, these statistic can call to action, while others simply view them as the natural order of things – however, the ever-changing demographics of trucking are increasingly making the thoughts and opinions of minority drivers an invaluable asset.
FreightWaves met with an owner and operator about her perspective on the trucking business. For privacy reasons, the driver, a Reliance Partners customer, asked her to simply refer to her as “Wendy” from Washington state.
In many ways, Wendy is not your typical trucker. She is the mother of five children who got behind the wheel later in life. Since women make up only 4% of owners and operators, Wendy’s testimony is particularly illuminating.
Wendy’s reason for starting long haul is similar to that of most drivers: she wanted a well-paying job to support her children. While she entered the industry later than usual, Wendy was no stranger to trucking.
“When I lived in a mill town, I didn’t have any negative opinions about truck drivers because I was familiar with timber trucks. When we learned to drive [growing up]We learned to give trucks right of way, ”said Wendy, adding that her first husband was a timber truck driver.
Her 16 years on the road consist of a handful of breaks with drivers, including drying trucks, tanker hauling agricultural produce and fertilizers – with hazmat, double and triple endorsements. Their wide range of cargo has taken them through much of the Lower 48, with additional travel through nine Canadian provinces in addition to a few Alaskan excursions.
Years of experience in driving a fleet gave her the confidence to start on her own. “Honestly, there isn’t a perfect company out there,” said Wendy. Right now she’s sticking to hauling dry van trailers across the Pacific Northwest and hitching everything up, including bales of recycled paper, small tractors, charcoal briquettes, beer, and garbanzo beans.
Like most drivers, Wendy summarizes her fleet career as a learning phase with its ups and downs. However, she feels that being a mother is sometimes an added burden, as she often found it difficult to balance good planning and pay with the needs of raising five children.
In addition, Wendy experienced a number of prejudices from employees and other drivers. She mentioned a case where her engine started first thing in the morning, but any start after that may or may not happen. The foreman finally addressed the situation and stated that it “starts well,” much to Wendy’s frustration, who knew the underlying problem was not being properly assessed.
“As a woman, if I tell my mechanic something is wrong, even if I can’t identify the problem, something is wrong,” said Wendy. “It gets better but there is still a stigma that riders don’t know about mechanical problems, but it’s worse for women riders.”
Wendy speaks of the stigmatization of women’s incompetence in trucking as a problem that is hidden from view. In her opinion, many people assume that a woman in the taxi is not the commodore, but maybe the wife of the actual driver. What’s worse, she once overheard other truckers on the CB radio to derogate her performance for being a woman.
“I once delivered a load of road deicer to a construction site for the Ministry of Transport. I came in with my papers and gave them to the man who said, “I don’t want to talk to you. I want to speak to the driver, ”said Wendy. “I told him I was his driver, to whom he said, ‘You won’t be able to get it where I need you to put it. ‘
“I told him that ‘my boss wouldn’t send you a driver who couldn’t do the job, so I’m pretty confident I can do the job for you,'” said Wendy, explaining that the worker later apologized pretty nervous. “There’s still a stigma out there. If you are a driver you have to be “that type of person” or “that type of person”. You’d think it would go away these days, but it doesn’t. “
As a woman, Wendy learned to roll with the punches and knows that not everyone in the industry is prejudiced like this. Despite her few negative experiences, she insists that the trucking community becomes a more acceptable place.
“I can’t change anyone’s idea or opinion about who I am or what I do. I just do my job, ”said Wendy.
Wendy does not exactly assume her identity as a “truck driver” and is also not sure whether other drivers have the same attitude. She attributes differences in day-to-day work as a major factor and explains that the women she encounters tend to lead teams or are hired out to smaller businesses in a localized area.
“Most of all, I think over the years I’ve come to realize that the title ‘truck driver’ doesn’t define you,” said Wendy. “Whether I am personally or someone else, we all have our own quirks, needs and whatever. We’re just more visible [as women] because we are all grouped together. “
She continued, “Think about your circle of friends. It is not made up of a group of people who are exactly the same. Instead, they’re a group of people who have similar points of interest, right? Unfortunately, truckers’ interest points revolve around the paycheck. But after that everyone has different interests. “
Wendy prefers to drive long distances. She states that the workload goes well with her personal life.
“The more control I can have over my situation, the better off I am,” said Wendy. “I have to drive 11 hours every day and be tired by bedtime for the rest of my life to function well. However, other people only want to work eight hours on and twelve hours off. There are so big differences between what people need and want and what they are getting. ”
Wendy’s advice to automotive companies and the industry as a whole is to consider the personal life of every driver and invest in ways to make their off-road lives easier.
New perspectives are learned through conversations with unique people. Conversely, camaraderie can also be established through similarities in upbringing and viewpoints, finding that many of our daily challenges actually go beyond gender.
“Whether they’re male or female, listen to your drivers,” said Wendy. “People will tell you what they want and need, whether or not they can define it in such a way that it easily translates into your company.”
The top benefits for Wendy were 401 (k) employer-related contributions, adequate health care options, and childcare benefits.
“When I came to the tanker company early in my career, I was looking for a good income because I was paying for child support, daycare and everything else to look after five children. So I really appreciated the level of income the company made and the work ethic that helped me achieve this, ”said Wendy.
As the owner and operator, Wendy operates primarily in her home state of Washington, Oregon and Idaho, but has ventured as far as Oklahoma, Missouri and Ohio. Since her children study from home, she occasionally drives trucks across the Pacific Northwest.
When asked if her kids would like to follow in their mother’s footsteps, Wendy suggests that she will likely remain the only female trucker in the family.
“I think I’m just a mom who has Diesel in my boots and at some point decided to own and run it,” said Wendy.
For more FreightWaves content from Jack Glenn, click here.
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