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The first female driver to earn her Commercial Driver’s License (CDL), according to TruckersReport.com, was Lillie McGee Drennan in 1929. As time went on, women, although few and far between, proved their worth in the trucking industry, showing many who initially doubted a woman’s ability that they could perform the duties of their male counterparts without fail.
Just 6 percent of drivers in the trucking industry are women and the industry goal is to double that percentage, according to the Women in Trucking (WIT) Association. National statistics show that 8 percent of women have completed federally approved driving programs, but still haven’t made the move to start driving. That’s another figure the WIT Association would like to see change.
The transportation industry has struggled with filling its ranks since losing tens of thousands of jobs during the recession of 2008-2009. The recession caused a dramatic drop in demand for freight services, which ultimately resulted in big losses for thousands of owner-operators. Once the economy turned around, many BCOs had found employment elsewhere, never to return to the trucking industry. The industry is responding by welcoming women with open arms to the open road.
Today, Landstar’s female BCOs are seeing adjustments that are boosting the number of women in the industry, including truck cab design, changes at truck stops across the United States, and the overall acceptance of women driving big rigs.
“The truck stops are more tailored toward women. Stopping stations offer more luxuries for women in a man’s world,” says Landstar Million Mile Safe Driver Rose Ruch.
Ruch started as a team driver with her husband, William, in 1999, and was inducted as a Million Mile Safe Driver during Landstar’s 2015 BCO All-Star Celebration. A successful female owner-operator, Ruch says she’s not only found opportunity as a female driver, but she enjoys the road and the freedom that leasing to Landstar gives her.
Ruch’s sentiments are echoed by many of Landstar’s female owner-operators. BCO Michelle Bump leased on to Landstar with her husband, Austin, in 1998. Bump feels that she is the definition of a woman who has it all – raising four children while driving professionally. She says she’s never felt that she didn’t have time for her family or that she’s ever had to put “being mom” on hold to haul a load.
“I work when I want, I have financial freedom, I have time for my family – it’s a great career for women,” says Bump. “It’s a great adventure and a great opportunity.”
Bump has also noticed the trucking industry supporting women more than ever before.
“The truck stops are nicer, cleaner and they are safer,” says Bump. “I see more women at the stops and more in the driver’s seat – something you didn’t see just a few years ago.”
Still, critics say the trucking culture needs to evolve even more if women are to be attracted to and stay with a career in trucking – calling on companies to be more aware of who their female drivers are, support them and encourage them to continue in the field.
“The truck doesn’t care who is driving it,” says Landstar BCO Linda Caffee, a WIT board member.
Caffee, at team driver with her husband Bob, believes attracting women to the industry is an obvious answer to capacity shortage concerns and says she’s never felt discouraged about being a female owner-operator, despite a few bumps in the road.
“I used to drive propped up on a pillow,” says Caffee, adding that design changes to improve safety and cab comfort for female drivers are outstanding. “It’s easier for women to drive professionally now. Bob and I switch within a minute. I can adjust everything to where everything is perfect for me to drive. I actually feel a lot safer driving in my big truck than I do my personal vehicle.”
And knowing that they are safer makes “women feel more confident,” she says.
As efforts are made industry-wide to attract more female owner-operators, Landstar is working with the Women in Trucking Association to help redefine the road for women - offering programs to educate the younger female generation about the industry.