Tell us about your organization, Women in Trucking (WIT). Why did you start the organization?
The Women In Trucking Association, Inc. was formed 14 years ago in March 2007. It’s a non-profit organization with the mission to encourage the employment of women in the trucking industry, promote their accomplishments and minimize obstacles faced by women working in the industry. For over a decade, we’ve been focused on this clear mission to encourage employment, address obstacles and celebrate success. It’s supported by a passionate leadership team, highly engaged members, and committed sponsors and partners. We continue to build a strong community among our members (primarily business professionals and professional drivers) who believe in and support our mission.
My husband and I started our own trucking company. I also did freelance work as a transportation consultant while I ran our small carrier, raised two children and attended college to earn my bachelor’s and then master’s degree in communication. I became executive director of Trucker Buddy International where I led the program for six years. Then, I was recruited by Schneider National to lead their retention efforts. My job was to initiate corporate level programs designed to attract and retain non-traditional groups, such as women! That was in 2007 when the Women In Trucking Association was formed. I copied a lot from the female pilot’s organization, but tapped into the people who supported this mission. I had a great team who shared my passion, and we put together a fantastic staff, board and support group. Here we are, nearly twelve years later, with a success story I could never have imagined.
Who do you serve?
Our members are both corporate and individual members who support our mission. Our membership demographics include drivers, operations and logistics professionals, executives, business development managers and sales and marketing professionals, to name a few.
How do you support and mentor women in the trucking industry?
At our conference we have a networking event where we have a “speed mentoring” program to encourage attendees to follow through on a mentor/mentee relationship. We also have a formal mentoring site where people can sign up to become a mentor or find a mentor.
What are some of the issues that challenge women in trucking?
For drivers, the number one priority is safety. We address that by working with truck stops on safety, security and lighting. We also have self-defense training at our events. We work with the truck cab manufacturers on safety in the truck (alarm system).
For women working in the office, the challenges include working up the corporate ladder and how to attract, retain and elevate women. We have speakers and webinars to promote better negotiation skills, how to succeed in a male dominated environment, how to identify and remove unconscious bias and so much more.
Are things changing for women who work in trucking? How?
Yes, we are moving forward and bringing more women into the industry. The Department of Labor currently show the number of professional “Driver/sales workers and truck drivers” as 3,364.000 in the United States. Of those, 7.8% are women, which means there are 262,392 female drivers. If we use those Department of Labor figures, then there has 88 percent increase in female drivers since 2010. This is pretty amazing, and we would like to take credit for this increase. Well, what the heck, we will take credit for this increase because we’ve made it our mission to bring more women into the trucking industry. However, their description doesn’t seem focus on over the road or long-haul professional drivers. For that reason, the board of directors at the Women In Trucking Association determined that we need to know if we are making a difference in this industry. So, we decided to create our own WIT Index. Using numerous sources we determined that women make up about 10% of all over the road drivers. We also learned that only 4% of diesel technicians are women and that about 38% of fleet safety professionals are women.
Do you think the pandemic showed everyone how important the supply chain is and how big a part of the equation trucking is? Is trucking getting the recognition it deserves now?
For now, the non-trucking public has an increased awareness and appreciation for professional drivers because they finally made a connection between the trucks on the road and the items in the grocery store (toilet paper, for example). We hope this level of awareness will continue, as it brought more people into the industry when they saw how stable the jobs are and how valuable the industry is in the economy. Our hope is that the sentiment endures.
Let’s talk about safety and security on the road for women truckers. Do you feel women truckers are safe? Several years ago, women truck drivers were asked to rate how safe they felt on the job on a scale of one to ten in a survey conducted by your organization. The average response was 4.4 out of 10. Talk about the results of that survey – what you learned and how you are helping improve women’s safety on the road?
Some of our drivers will share stories about their safety being compromised but others will tell you they’ve never felt unsafe. I will tell you that women are more “situationally aware,” when they are doing their job. Whether it’s avoiding walking between trucks, walking with purpose and staying in well-lit areas, women are typically more conscious when it comes to personal safety.
Safety is encompassed in three areas. First, how safe is the equipment provided by the carrier? Is it well maintained or not? A breakdown on the side of the road is extremely unsafe. Secondly, where is the driver expected to pick up and deliver? Is it a well-lit area with fencing and security guards or is it in a run down part of town or in a bad neighborhood? The third area of safety involves the company culture. Is the driver expected to run when there is inclement weather or unsafe road conditions or a storm is brewing or even in an area of town where there are protests? What are the company expectations in regard to the driver being able to make the decision to stop or not?
When we learned that women reported their level of overall safety at 4.4 on a scale of one to ten, we knew we had to address this. We approached the Federal Motor Carrier Administration (FMCSA) and initiated a study on crimes against female (and minority) drivers. We are currently in the final stages of this study and will work with the FMCSA to address these areas.
We also realize there is an issue regarding harassment in training and we support a same gender training option for motor carriers.
More recently, we have initiated a partnership with the National Association of Truck Stop operators to start a “Hear something, say something,” campaign regarding harassment. If someone overhears another person harassing anyone they need to speak up.
Finally, we offer a free “Anti-Harassment Employment Guide” to our carrier members with lots of information on identifying, addressing and eliminating harassment on the job. We also offer webinars about personal safety. In the near future, we will have a free “Life Skills Training” program for all drivers entering the industry to better prepare themselves for the lifestyle, and this will include personal safety as well as health, financial acumen and so much more.
Sexism, sexual harassment, personal safety, hygiene and an overall trucker lifestyle associated with poor health are all concerns for female drivers. Is the environment changing? Talk about sexual harassment in this industry.
The environment is changing and carriers are getting more aggressive in addressing sexual harassment. There is a zero tolerance policy and trucking companies are doing their best to ensure that harassment does not occur. Our same gender training policy option provides one solution, but there are also best practices by carriers who pay for their drivers to sleep in hotels every night instead of sharing a sleeper berth (which in my opinion is incomprehensible).
Former US Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao appointed you to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administrator (FMCSA) Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee for a two-year term. Tell us about that committee and what your goals will be during your tenure.
I am honored to be appointed to the Safety Advisory Committee and also pleased that three of our Image Team members serve on the Driver subcommittee. Since this group will focus on safety, I envision that truck parking will be a large part of the discussion. However, as of this date, we have not had our first meeting yet.
Being a truck driver can be isolating but I imagine being a female truck driver can be even more so. Talk about how WIT helps combat isolation for women in the industry.
We recognized the need for our drivers to have both physical and mental health support. We paid for 180 days of free “Fit to Pass,” and “Talk Now,” services for all of our driver members. They have the option to continue this service for $15 for an entire year.We also have a very large social media community and our Facebook page is administered by professional drivers for professional drivers. We currently have over 11,000 members on this page.
Talk about finding safe parking. This is a problem for most truckers but surely more so for solo women drivers. What is your advice on finding safe parking for women drivers?
We partner with two companies who offer safe parking alternatives. Truck Park and Truck Parking Reservations. We also work with the truck stops who survey our members and offer listening sessions to better understand their safe parking needs.
What is on the horizon for WIT and women drivers?
For me personally, I am looking forward to passing the reigns to my successor, Debbie Sparks, who I hired as Vice President last year. She is learning how to lead and will some day be the CEO of the association. For female drivers, you will see more companies targeting women and more women coming into the industry at all levels, from driver to CEO to director. This is our goal. Every large trucking company today started with a man and a truck, our goal is to see more companies started by a woman and a truck!