The U.S. truck driver shortage is on everyone’s radar. Some hope self-driving semis are the answer. However, completely autonomous trucks aren’t quite a reality yet and the industry needs drivers now. Recruiting more women truck drivers is a much simpler solution than high-tech vehicles that drive themselves. Being a female truck driver isn’t an easy job, and it can be difficult to get proper training. Still, it’s a profession that pays well and could turn into a rewarding career for women with the right kind of outlook and character.
In this post, we’ll take a look at:
- The truck driver shortage
- The scarcity of women in trucking
- Pay for truck drivers
- The positive and negative aspects of being a female trucker
- Comparing the pros against the cons
- How women truckers deal with the negatives
- How to go about getting a CDL
- Looking for driving jobs
More Truckers Needed in General
The need for truckers isn’t a new dilemma. In 2016, there were 36,000 more driving jobs than there were drivers. In 2018, the shortage was reported to be about 63,000. What’s more, an ATA report projects that the problem will worsen. If the freight business continues to grow at the current rate and the trend of older drivers retiring and fewer new drivers coming into the workforce holds, the shortage could reach 175,000 by the year 2024. These numbers address the problem in general, but it’s an issue that being a female truck driver could help solve.
A Shortage of Women in Trucking
The industry’s real problem may not be a shortage of drivers. It could be that fleets aren’t taking advantage of the entire workforce. Around 40 percent of workers in the U.S. are female, yet it’s estimated that only about 6 percent of truckers are women. In the past, cultural and social issues stood in the way. Having and raising children was traditionally a woman’s responsibility. That’s why, historically, men were the only ones applying and getting hired for truck driving jobs.
These days, men play a larger role in caring for and raising families. What’s more, women are having fewer babies, or putting off starting a family. Considering trucking is currently one of the highest paying jobs that don’t require a degree, now is a great time for being a female truck driver.
A lot of truckers still get paid by the mile, and that rate is typically cents per mile, not dollars. It runs between .28 and .40 cents/mile but if a driver makes good time, that could still work out to fairly good hourly pay. It’s unforeseen delays that whittle the paycheck down. The more time wasted stuck in traffic or waiting to pick up a load, the less you’ll make. Overall, however, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the median salary for truckers at $43,680, but some industry numbers say that average is around $53,000.
However, per mile isn’t the only way truck drivers are paid. Some are paid hourly and some owner-operators charge a percentage of the revenue from the load. What’s more, to attract drivers, some fleets offer per diem pay to cover expenses drivers incur on the road, like meals. Other types of pay that can pad a driver’s paycheck include:
- Accessorial pay—compensation for services other than driving such as after-hours or non-dock deliveries, applying shrink wrap to pallets, loading and/or unloading freight, and more.
- Detention pay—compensation for time lost if the shipper unnecessarily delays the pick-up.
- Stop pay—pay for multiple stops between picking up the load and dropping it off. This pay only kicks in if the type of load dictates a lot of stops must be made, and it doesn’t usually include the pick-up or destination locations.
Also, many fleets provide signing, safety, efficiency, and fuel bonuses. In addition to all of that, trucking companies have stepped up their benefits packages and are offering more flexibility with routes and schedules, too. The ability to choose when and how long you’re on the road or pick routes that allow you to be home every night make being a female truck driver more attractive.
Pros and Cons of Being a Female Truck Driver
So, what’s it like being a female truck driver? Like any job, it has its pros and cons. On the pro side, trucking is one of the few businesses that truly offers equal pay for equal work. If you’re willing to drive the miles and do the job, gender doesn’t matter. Additionally, real-life women in trucking say they like working the open road instead of spending their time indoors behind a desk. For a self-motivated woman who likes driving and who is looking for a job that offers flexibility along with good pay and great benefits, driving a truck is a great career choice.
As for the cons, there definitely is a downside to being a female truck driver and, for some, it could outweigh the positive points. Women come up against intimidation, sexism, and harassment—and that can start at the training level if you don’t find a reputable program. A lot of truck stops don’t quite rate two stars, let alone five. The food tends to be unhealthy plus, most of them don’t have shower facilities, so you might have to adjust your hygiene habits. Depending on where you stop, you could run into drug dealers, prostitutes, and other sketchy characters, so safety can be an issue, too. It’s common for truckers to sleep in their trucks at rest stops or in parking lots. Most women keep a weapon at the ready, like a crowbar or baseball bat, and often lock the doors as well as anchor them shut with the seatbelts.
Weighing the Pros Against the Cons
All those issues might make you wonder why anyone, especially a woman, would want to drive a truck for a living. For many, the pros outweigh the cons, and not all women experience the worst of the downside. Some female drivers say they experienced no problems during training and found jobs working for fleets that respect them as drivers without taking gender into account. In their interactions with fellow drivers, specifically men, they report other truckers to be pleasant and helpful.
Those accounts prove it’s possible to avoid the darkest of the dark side of trucking. Being a female truck driver, you need to make smart choices, including:
- where you get your training
- the company you drive for
- where you stop for fuel, food, and rest
- who you let into your truck
Dealing with the Negatives Being a Female Truck Driver
Avoiding the downsides of being a trucker involves making smart choices. That starts with finding good trucking schools and jobs with respectable fleets, which we’ll talk about in a moment. For the other smart choices you’ll need to make, maybe start by carrying your own food. Most sleeper cabs have microwaves and at least have a mini-fridge. Some newer models come with full-sized ones that include freezers. Making your own meals gives you control over the deadly trucker diet.
Try to map a route with nicer fuel and rest stops along the way. That helps with the safety issue of being a female truck driver. It also provides the possibility of a shower and the likelihood of a safe place to park and sleep. Sometimes you may not have much of a choice. In those cases, park as close to the front of the line—and in lighted areas—as you can get. Situate yourself so you don’t have to walk through shadows or between trailers to get to the restroom or the main building. Carry mace and have your finger on the sprayer as you walk. And always lock your truck—when you’re in it and when you leave the cab.
Also, if you experience sexism or harassment, whether it’s verbal or violent, report it immediately. That applies to students in training as well as licensed drivers in the workplace. As a woman trucker, it’s useful to join a women’s organization like Real Women in Trucking or the Women in Trucking Association. They can offer advice, support, and valuable resources.
How to Get Started with School
Getting started being a female truck driver and avoiding the pitfalls go hand-in-hand. It does cost money to get your CDL, but you shouldn’t go into massive debt to do it. The price of CDL training should be between $3,000 and $7,000. Avoid schools that charge more than that, as well as ones that suggest high-interest loans or mortgaging your house to pay tuition. Some trucking companies offer training and a guaranteed job after you get your license that sets you up to pay back the schooling costs. Some of those offers are legitimate, but some aren’t. Do your homework to find reputable ones. You’ll likely have to agree to work for the company for a certain amount of time after getting your license, and you’ll want to make sure the payments they’ll take out of your check will leave enough for you to live on.
Alternatively, not many people realize that grants and scholarships are available to pay for trucking school. What’s more, veterans have access to education benefits they can use to pay for CDL training. All of these options will get you a CDL without having to pay for it yourself.
Another thing to consider when looking for a school is to find one that provides more than a 3 or 4-week crash-course (no pun intended). The training should include both study time in a classroom setting as well as hands-on training in a truck. Local community colleges typically have good programs with professional instructors. Wherever you end up going, research the school/program to find out what kind of reputation it has.
Finding a Job
When it’s time to look for a job being a female truck driver, the same rules apply. Investigate the companies that are hiring. Find out if they’ve had problems with sexual harassment and how they handled it. Make sure you understand your job description, how tight or flexible the delivery schedules are, and how much you’ll actually be paid. Talk about hypothetical scenarios to see how they’ll affect your employment. Those could be things like delays due to bad weather and traffic or family issues that require time off. As with any employment interview, bring up the questions or concerns you have before you take the job.
It’s a Good Time for Being a Female Truck Driver
Although there are still biases, the culture in trucking has changed and is still evolving. Women have been driving as part of husband and wife teams for years, and more female drivers are hitting the road on their own. Faced with the driver shortage crisis, the industry is more open to women truckers and is trying to make the job more appealing. With better, equal pay, schedule flexibility, and job security for skilled, reliable drivers, now is a great time for being a female truck driver.
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