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December 14, 2017 10:00 AM, EST
Female Driver Outreach May Need Rethinking
Female Driver TT File Photo

Efforts to attract more female drivers to trucking are facing headwinds, despite some organizations pushing hard to make the industry more open to women.

These struggles are leading some to suggest the industry needs to rethink how it recruits and trains drivers.

It makes sense for fleets to reach out to women: the average male driver is in his mid-50s, the industry’s driver turnover rate for the third quarter of this year was 95% at large truckload fleets and the industry could face a shortage of 174,000 drivers by 2024, according to American Trucking Associations. Plus, women now make up just 6% of drivers, according to the nonprofit Women In Trucking.

With such small representation among women, outreach needs improvement, said Keera Brooks, CEO of Sawgrass Logistics, a fleet management company that co-sponsored with WIT a Best Practices survey on female drivers this summer.

The survey, sent to WIT’s database — which includes fleets, owner-operators, recruiters, driving schools and others — found that fewer than half of fleets were actively supporting adding more female drivers to their workforce by 2020.

“If only 45% of WIT members want to make the commitment, we still have a lot of work to do to get this effort integrated in day-to-day operations,” Brooks said.

The survey found that 83% of women found driving jobs through family, friends or on their own. It also found that just 12% of carriers polled specifically target women in their ads seeking drivers. This suggests that fleets need to more actively reach out to women in ads, at events and through social media pages where female prospects congregate, said WIT President Ellen Voie.

But tinkering with advertising is only part of the answer, according to the survey. It found that carriers and female drivers have different views of the industry’s most vital issues. The women ranked safety, along with family/home time, as the most critical aspect of increasing female drivers. But employers failed to cite safety as a priority for women.

“No company says ‘We have the safest equipment’ or ‘We are the safest company’ and that’s what women look for,” Voie said.

Learning about safety in trucking is one reason WIT recently contracted with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to conduct a three-year study on threats and assaults against women and minorities in the industry.

WIT is also busy with a partnership with Expediter Services to establish 150 new women-owned small businesses in the transportation sector in 12 months. Memphis-based Expeditor provides financing, operational and business support to owner-operators and fleet drivers.

Regional less-than-truckload fleet A. Duie Pyle Inc. has had some success in moving women into its management ranks, though executives at the West Chester, Pa.-based carrier acknowledge it falls short in developing female drivers.

“We began six years ago to seek women for our middle and senior manager ranks. We now have five women in these roles, up from two. That’s out of 11 positions,” Chief Operating Officer Randy Swart said. A. Duie Pyle ranks No. 78 on the Transport Topics Top 100 for-hire carriers in North America.

Some argue fleets could recruit more women if training methods changed and if carriers were frank about the challenges of the job.

Once classroom training is over a fleet may team two rookie drivers together in a cab for weeks away from home, forcing them to get along and teach each other, said Desiree Wood, an owner-operator and president of the Real Women in Trucking organization, which advocates for female drivers.

Once trained, new drivers find that getting started can be tough with inconsistent freight and poor compensation, she said. “Fleets need to be upfront on what to expect the first year. Only the strong and lucky survive,” Wood said.

The WIT/Sawgrass survey touched on these training issues.

For instance, Brooks noted that 77% of female drivers said there were no online materials available in their training programs, an oversight that overlooks how much of a boon online learning can be for women who may not want to be the only woman in a classroom led by a male teacher, Brooks said.

Further, 85% of female students said they were not offered a mentor during their training.

The survey results indicate the trucking industry needs to consider a more nuanced approach when recruiting female drivers, Voie said.

“Women want to be treated the same as men and be paid the same money,” Voie said. “But some things are different. They consider company cultural values, and the safety culture of the firm and its equipment.”