KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Daphne Jefferson, former deputy administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, won the Influential Woman In Trucking award at the Women In Trucking Association’s annual conference Nov. 7.
The Influential Woman in Trucking award recognizes women in the trucking industry who make or influence key decisions, have a proven record of responsibility and serve as a role model to other women. The award was developed in 2010 as a way to honor female leaders in trucking and to attract and advance women within the industry.
Jefferson, who retired from her post at FMCSA Nov. 3, said the award was a surprise. She was nominated alongside Tana Greene, chief executive officer of Blue Bloodhound, and Traci Crane, safety manager at CFI.
“It was definitely a surprise. These women are doing really great things, so it was really quite an honor and a surprise,” Jefferson said, visibly tearing up. “Transportation is in my blood. I’m so proud of this honor because it’s coming from women.”
These women are doing really great things, so [the award] was really quite an honor and a surprise.
Jefferson became FMCSA deputy in February 2015 after serving as counselor to the chief of staff at the U.S. Department of Transportation in the Office of the Secretary. She also served as director of business integration in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Office of the Chief Financial Officer.
According to an industry source, FMCSA is expected to soon name Cathy Gautreaux, who has been the Louisiana Motor Transport Association's executive director for the past 28 years, as Jefferson's replacement. The deputy administrator's post does not require Senate confirmation. Gautreaux did not return a message seeking comment.
Jefferson, whose mother worked in the tire control sector of a trucking company, said she plans to spend her time as a recent retiree directing her priorities toward her children and grandchildren.
Prior to receiving the award, Jefferson spoke on a panel with Greene, Crane and Ramona Hood, vice president of FedEx Transportation Management. Hood was last year’s recipient of the Influential Woman In Trucking award.
The women stated that taking risks and making difficult decisions played a large role in their success. For example, Greene left her abusive husband at 17 and opened her own business at 29. Jefferson walked away from a 20-year-long career at the Federal Aviation Administration and moved to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
“I had built a career and decided that I wanted to do more and I didn’t see it there. You can either be frustrated or you can go around the obstacle,” Jefferson said. “Taking that first big risk opens up the possibility for more. It becomes less scary. If you’re not just a little bit scared, you’re probably not pushing hard enough.”
The trucking industry faces a lack of female employees behind the wheel. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, less than 7% of drivers in the trucking industry are women. The panelists said that, if women spoke up for one another, more females might enter the field. Hood stressed the importance of mentors and sponsors who can speak for women’s interests at meetings that women may not be privy to.
“A mentor is someone who has been where you want to go,” Hood said. “There’s also the role of sponsors. That’s someone who’s in an authority place, meetings you’re not going to be in.”
Greene said one of her male friends compared women to a jar of crabs. When one climbs to the top, the others latch on and drag her back down. She said women standing up for one another can rectify this perception.
“As women, we have to be very cognizant of helping other women. Too many times, women pull other women down,” Greene said. “Being conscious of it is key.”