Have you ever looked over on the road or at a truck stop and were surprised to notice a female driving a semitruck? Ellen Voie wants to change that reaction. The facts are, women make up approximately 47% percent of the U.S. workforce, and yet, within the trucking industry, they are vastly underrepresented, only making up about 6-7 percent of drivers and around 23 percent of management. Ellen Voie, Founder of the Women in Trucking Association, joined us for a recent episode of Recruit and Retain: Trucking Edition to discuss the past, present, and future for females in the trucking industry. As females are relatively untapped as a source of drivers, many carriers are looking to recruit more females in all areas of trucking to support the industry for future growth in a time of record driver shortages.
Voie founded the Women in Trucking Association in 2007, and it seemed to immediately strike a nerve in the industry, gaining 500 members in its first year. Since then, the association has grown to over 4,000 strong, with men making up around 19 percent of the membership base because, as Voie puts it, the organization is not for women, it’s about women. The mission of the Women in Trucking Association is threefold:
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1) Increase the number of women employed in the trucking industry
2) Address obstacles to employing women in the trucking industry
3) Celebrate successes related to the previous two goals
As Voie and her organization began speaking to female drivers, several trends began to emerge. While men and women are equal in terms of ability and intellect, they are not the same. Voie mentioned a humorous story on the podcast where a female driver was asked how her employer could better cater to her needs as a female, and she mentioned that it would be nice if they ordered uniform shirts in women’s sizes. One-size fits all messaging just will not work when addressing mixed audiences. Messages that would play well to a group of men may not resonate with a group of women, and vice versa. To that end, here are some of the best practices Voie shared on the podcast for recruiting and retaining women in the trucking industry.
Know the motivation behind the choice
Men and women tend to enter the trucking industry for different reasons. According to her organization’s research, 83% of the female truck drivers surveyed were encouraged to become drivers by a friend or family member who were often in the industry themselves. Because of this, these female drivers knew more about what to expect if and when they became drivers. Women will often have more pointed questions for recruiters due to the background knowledge they might have gained from friends and family, so recruiters should be prepared for that.
Focus on safety
The message that appeals most to female drivers and driver candidates is all about safety. Women tend to be more risk-averse than men in general. Add to that the fact that the average female driver is 50 years old when she first enters the industry, and it’s easy to understand why safety ranks as a top priority. When targeting your messaging to this demographic, its important to talk about vehicle maintenance and maintenance schedules. Some carriers are even having drivers carry wearable personal safety devices which they can use to alert someone if they are in an unsafe situation.
Avoid sexual harassment
Ok, now to address the elephant in the room. When an industry that is male-dominated begins to welcome more female employees, it is inevitable that the question of sexual harassment will arise. The important thing is to lay the groundwork by training all employees about what is and is not sexual harassment. Voie mentioned that many carriers are adopting same-gender training for new drivers to avoid having male and female employees share sleeping quarters. Small changes like this are great examples of how to build a culture that does not include sexual harassment.
Prepare the drivers of tomorrow today
Females as truck drivers and truck technicians is not part of the traditional female canon of occupations, but as we have seen from other industries, such as the drive for girls to pursue STEM careers, this can be changed by building the right foundation. One example Voie gave of how the Women in Trucking Association is trying to break gender norms in the industry is the inclusion of a transportation badge for Girl Scouts. Previously, only the Boy Scouts had the option to earn this type of badge, but now the girls have that same opportunity. By teaching girls about the transportation industry at a young age, they may be more inclined to choose a career in the industry.
According to Voie, the success of the Women in Trucking Association will be evident when seeing a woman behind the wheel of a large truck reaches a level of normality –that is, no one looks twice. The numbers are there, and the technological advances in the vehicles and other aspects of the industry are such that the job is not as physically demanding as it once was, which might have discouraged some women from joining it. The basics are there– the industry just needs to continue building upon bringing more women onboard.