Transport & Logistics mode

Driver shortage: women to the rescue

October 08 2020

In the United States, the share of women among truck drivers increased from 3% to 11% between 2009 and 2020. Europe is far behind, with a proportion of around 2%, but also sees feminization as a way to address the shortage of drivers.

In 2018, the shortage of truck drivers in the United States stood at around 60,000, an increase of nearly 20% over 2017's shortfall, as was noted in a 2019 report by the American Trucking Associations (ATA). This shortage is one of the biggest challenges facing the sector.

To address this, the ATA warns that road carriers will need to hire around 1.1 million new drivers over the next decade, that is an average of nearly 110,000 per year. Replacement of retirees will account for more than half of all new driver hires (54%). The second factor will simply be the growth in demand for road transportation (25%). To meet its needs at a time when shortages are already rife, the sector is increasingly turning to the recruitment of female drivers...

A remarkable breakthrough

Between 2009 and 2020, the pourcentage of women in the U.S. truck-driver population has already grown from 3% to 11%, according to the Women In Trucking Association. This remarkable breakthrough is based on two pillars:

  • on the one hand the promotion of women and their achievements in the business
  • on the other hand the reduction of obstacles to the development of their presence in this sector.

In 2016, the Women In Trucking Association partnered with the National Transportation Institute (NTI) to create the WIT Index. The purpose of this index is to better quantify the number of women drivers and management team members in the trucking industry. Of the companies that supplied data, more than a quarter of carriers confirmed a 28.7% increase in the number of women drivers.

“In addition to seeing more women entering the field, we are also seeing more couples. Many of them are older, with grown children, and have retired from careers outside of the industry. Working as a driver team allows them to not only spend time together, but enjoy traveling to parts of the country they may not have visited before. Having a partner along for the ride can also provide women drivers with an added sense of security on the road, especially when stopping overnight" says Lindsey Grammel, vice president of global brand development for TrüNorth Global.

Minimizing the barriers faced by women

Security seems to be one of the main criteria to be improved in order to promote the entry of women into truck driver jobs. For example, WIT asked manufacturers to install an alarm system in the bunk that goes off if someone tries to break in. The Peterbilt company offers a system that a driver can activate at the touch of an emergency button.

The feminization of the profession also raises questions about ergonomics. Truck cabs, for example, are usually designed to fit an average-sized man. Because the average size of a woman is smaller, it can be difficult for them to reach the controls or adjust the seats to achieve a comfortable position while allowing their feet on touch the pedals. “We’re not trying to build a truck for women—we’re just trying to make it more adaptable, especially since there’s so many husband-wife teams,” says WIT President and Ellen Voie. "Now the truck cab manufacturers are really paying attention” and incorporating changes that make driving safer and more appealing to women."

Equal pay for men and women is also an important factor that will promote women's vocations. According to Ellen Voie, "a carrier fixes the salaries based on mileage, hours or percentage of the load. It is not related to age, ethnicity or gender.”

Celebrating Women's Success

Part of the Women In Trucking Association's mission is also to honor women who have chosen the profession of truck driver.

Kellylynn McLaughlin, who been a truck driver and training engineer for the last 4 years, has become an ambassador for the Women In Trucking Association. Its mission is to encourage women to consider road transportation like any other profession. “I love my tractor office, Seeing the seasons change across the country (sometimes in one day) is amazing; getting a behind-the-scenes tour of our country’s infrastructure is worldview-changing.”she says.

As a Driver Ambassador, Kellylynn McLaughlin helps showcase innovations and safety advancements in road transport that enable people from all backgrounds and lifestyles to become professional truck drivers. Each year, the WIT association organizes events at major trade fairs in the United States and Canada. This year, due to the Covid-19 epidemic, many have been virtualized or pushed back to 2021. However, the awards for the Most Influential Woman in Trucking will still be awarded in 2020. The ceremony is part of the WIT Accelerate! conference, which will be virtual and broadcast on November 12 and 13.

Similar patterns in Europe

In Europe, the feminization of road transportation is still extremely marginal, since the sector has no more than 2% of drivers who are women, according to an IRU report published in 2019. But as in the United States, this solution is being closely looked at as a way to remedy driver shortage. A problem that continues to worsen, as shown by the calculations of the IRU that predicted in March 2020 that a shortage of 23% in 2019 would continue to rise to 36% this year. The paralysis of the economy during the health crisis may have slowed the phenomenon described in these forecasts, but the problem remains nonetheless structural.

In this March 2020 report the IRU notably highlighted the difficult situation of Romania and Poland, Jan Buczek, president of the Polish Association of International Road Transporters (ZMPD), underlined the need to improve working conditions to attract more young people and more women.

Poland leads the way

Communication is also an essential element, and in this area Poland has scored some points. Its most famous truck driver is a woman. Iwona Blecharczyk, alias "Trucking Girl", has gained fame as a YouTuber, watched by millions of people. She is now one of the most famous Polish women in the world and Mattel, the well-known toy brand, has made a Barbie in her effigy as part of its "Barbie Sheros" collection, a program which "pays tribute to women who support important causes, excel in their field or are pioneers in environments that were once reserved for men ”. A book about the life of Iwona Blecharczyk hits Polish bookshops in October 2020.

She is already active on many fronts. She can be found at the center of labor negotiations between employers' organizations (TLP) and NSZZ drivers' union "Solidarność", to present the problems experienced by truck drivers on a daily basis, also as a muse to promote sobriety behind the wheel or even in Brussels to make the voice of all truck drivers heard, and also on some commercial promotions in trade shows.

What is for sure is that she is inspiring others. Kate Truckdiverka, another Polish driver, has already joined her in the limelight. They both support, along with two male colleagues, HERO TRUCKER 2020, a campaign to raise awareness among truck drivers about training to become first aiders.

The feminization of road transportation is progressing slowly, but we can reasonably hope that the improvements in working conditions identified as necessary for its success will benefit all drivers and strengthen the general attractiveness of the profession.

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More than 20 years of experience in the international supply chain, William is the Upply road transportation expert. Entrepreneur by nature, he has successively worked in operational and functional management among various industries, such as chemistry, automotive and building materials; alternately shipper and service provider.