Essentially every item in your home has been shipped on a truck at some point along its supply chain journey. The trucking industry is a vital lifeline to America's economy, but supply chain shortages – from lumber to microchips – continue to cause delays for citizens' and businesses' essential shipped goods. Adding to the burden on the trucking industry is the shortage of over 80,000 truck drivers, which is only expected to increase to 100,000 drivers by 2023.
The economy's labor demand is exceeding available supplies across the nation (and around the world), and it doesn't help that the trucking workforce is aging out as more drivers retire. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated these strains on the supply chain — from manufacturing plants to the trucking industry and other modes of transportation and further logistics needed to deliver goods.
Fleets are squarely focused on the recruitment and retention of truck drivers. However, trucking is still a primarily male-dominated industry, with female drivers only accounting for less than 10 percent of the trucking workforce. This is largely due to the safety concerns women have about the trucking workforce. 60% of female truckers have reported feeling unsafe last year – and 20% were even threatened with a weapon.
To get ahead of the driver shortage crisis, fleets of all sizes need to proactively recruit female employees while minimizing the obstacles and significant safety concerns that drivers – especially women – face every day on the job. A company that prioritizes women's safety and diverse company culture will naturally attract women looking to enter a trucking career.
Address Common Safety Concerns
Safe conditions and supportive company culture must be the standard for improved driver recruitment and retention. But for many female drivers, the simple act of using the bathroom can quickly be a stressful endeavor due to the current conditions.
A truck stop isn't as simple as it might seem. It's not just a rest stop, but the place where they eat, shower, sleep and relax before they hit the road again. Additionally, Hours of Service rules state that drivers must take a break every 8 hours of consecutive driving to avoid burnout and overworking. Female drivers have reported concern about the following safety issues at truck stops:
1. Shared Bathrooms: Unfortunately, accessibility to a bathroom on the road is already limited — and where they do exist, truck stop bathrooms are rarely gender-specific. In fact, it's common for women to wait until late hours of the night for their male colleagues to finish using the showers and bathrooms so they can use the space alone. For women to feel safer at truck stops, they must have a separate space from men to take care of themselves in private without the fear of harassment.
2. Night Safety: As women wait to use bathroom facilities until the late hours of the night, this only adds another level of safety concern and worry as women have do not wish to walk alone at night in unfamiliar areas. Female must drivers consider tips that men do not have to think about, such as parking under a light, locking their doors, and being acutely aware of their surroundings. They also carry protective tools like pepper spray and create support systems within the industry.
3. Tools/Equipment Considerations: Trucking is a male-dominated industry, and that means the standard equipment used every day often reflects that. But women have been pushing manufacturers to adjust difficult-to-manage equipment to fit individuals of all strengths, including automatic transmissions, better seats, and easier brake systems. Some trucking organizations are even identifying unique ergonomic specifications that will accommodate Women while also benefiting many male drivers, including adjusted height and placement of cab grab handles, adjustable seatbelt should straps, improvement placement of dash cluster gauges, etc. Manufacturers should ensure a standard of making equipment more user-friendly for drivers of varying sizes and strengths.
The safety responsibility often falls on each trucking company to ensure each female employee always feels safe on the job. Without the employer's support, women will continue to feel vulnerable to potential harassment. For women to feel safer around the clock, there must be conversations about the circumstances female drivers must face in their vocational settings and how best to mitigate these concerns.
Empower and Train Employees of All Skillsets
With safety measures for women – and all truck drivers in place, employers should look to recruit diverse talent with both female and male employees that can bring unique perspectives, skills, and strengths. Consider what your organization's training looks like. Is it inclusive and accessible for all? Are there programs that specifically value women's skills and expertise within the trucking industry?
The U.S. Army, for example, has recognized the gender gap in their recruits, as well as the specific concerns and challenges of female officers. In response, they have done a lot with the implementation of gender-neutral physical fitness standards.
Women in TruckingTrucking is a nonprofit organization that encourages female employment, addresses obstacles, and celebrates the success of women in the field – and they are one of the few organizations actively working with trucking organizations to provide mentoring and safety training resources for trucking organizations.
As Women in Trucking aims to create gender equality in the trucking workforce, the industry as a whole should also create a standard for organizations to actively provide resources, gender-specific training, and skill development programs so that women can do their duties confidently, knowing that their employer has their back.
Build a Culture That Recognizes the Person, Not A Number
As organizations work to shore up recruiting and target female employees to address the driver shortage, they must consider how to best support women in the field on a more personal level. With less than 7% of truck drivers being women, sometimes the personal side of their job needs is left behind. We need to remember that many female drivers have personal responsibilities outside of their work life, such as supporting their families and children.
A collective trucking culture that understands these needs will ultimately attract more women to help get ahead of the driver shortage crisis. Recruitment is not just important at a national level. The shift towards greater gender equality happens when recruitment efforts focus on regional and local levels with a personalized approach to recruitment and retention of each employee.