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Breaking Down Barriers: What the FMCSA is Doing to Get More Women in Trucking
Foley
7 mins read

The Promoting Women in Trucking Workforce Act is a bipartisan bill that was incorporated into the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, enacted this past November. The Act will establish a Women of Trucking Advisory Board with the purpose of encouraging more women to enter the trucking industry. As women are remarkably underrepresented in the transportation industry as a whole, but particularly in the role of truck driver, the Women of Trucking Advisory Board may prove to be the catalyst to shake up the numbers a bit.

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The Numbers

According to the Department of Labor Statistics, there were approximately 262,392 women truck drivers in 2021. That might sound like an impressive number unless you consider that the number is only a small percentage of all truckers—only 6.6 percent. In the industry itself, women occupy only a quarter of all transportation and warehousing jobs, and only eight percent of freight firm owners are women.

Those low numbers are even more significant in light of the fact that women comprise 47% of the total workforce.

Women joined the workforce in unprecedented numbers during WWII, when the men were off fighting. In some ways, the country is at war again with a pandemic that has resulted in a significant labor shortage, affecting all industries, including transportation. In a report from 2021, the American Trucking Associations estimates that the truck driver shortage will reach 80,000. If this trend continues at the same rate, the shortage could reach 160,000 by 2030. Though that is not great news for the industry as a whole, it does open the door for more opportunities for women to fill those gaps.

Before the pandemic, the signs were encouraging: there was a 30% jump in female truck drivers entering the field between 2018-2019. But only time will tell whether those numbers were a fluke or will continue to rise in a post-pandemic era.

The Women of Trucking Advisory Board Duties

In the Promoting Women in Trucking Workforce Act, the specific language setting forth The Women of Trucking Advisory Board states as follows:

It is the sense of Congress that the trucking industry should explore every opportunity to encourage and support the pursuit and retention of careers in trucking by women, including through programs that support recruitment, driver training, and mentorship.

 The Women of Trucking Advisory Board will operate under the Federal Motor Carrier Administration with the express purpose of encouraging more women to pursue trucking as a career. Specifically, the board will promote education, training, mentorship and outreach to women, as well as recruit, retain or advance women in the trucking industry.

The board is also charged with investigating the reason for the low numbers of women in trucking, along with identifying and helping to eliminate obstacles. For example, the board will explore diversity issues, unique safety risks, or whether there are differences between women who live in rural, urban and suburban environments with respect to entering the profession.

The advisory board, which will be appointed within 270 days of the enactment of the Act, will consist of at least eight members, representing a variety of trucking companies, associations and organizations, including at least one female professional truck driver.

After a period of two years, the board will make a report to the Administrator with its recommendations and strategies to facilitate more women in the industry, and then within one year, the FMCSA will submit the report to Congress.

The Women in Trucking Association, a nonprofit which was created to promote gender diversity in the trucking industry, has wholeheartedly endorsed the creation of the board, as has the American Trucking Associations.

Historic Barriers to Women in the Trucking Industry

Because of the amount of time away from home, the trucking lifestyle often did not appeal to women, particularly those raising young children or fulfilling the role of caregiver for others in their lives.

There also are legitimate safety concerns, with many women feeling unsafe being alone on the roads in unfamiliar towns or at male-dominated rest stops. And in the early days of women entering the industry, there were sexism issues, and that concern still persists today.

Another barrier identified to women entering trucking may have to do with the trucks themselves. Trucks are built for larger-framed people, and women tend to be shorter and smaller-boned than men, making the big rigs potentially more difficult to handle.

In recognition of these traditional barriers, the industry is working hard to mitigate them. For example, in-cab GPS tracking systems contribute to a safer environment. Also, while the profession may not be ideal for a new mother, it could be the perfect fit for an empty-nester. And while changing the culture of a male-heavy industry to welcome women may not be an overnight fix, it is doable, with sensitivity training sessions and other solutions. Finally, new technologies make the rigs easier to handle for people of any size.

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Why Women in the Trucking Industry Matters

Diversity in the workplace is good for everyone. Women have made strides over the years by entering traditionally male-dominated professions such as construction, law and medicine, but the transportation industry lags behind. Women working side by side with men can help break down communication barriers and promote understanding and good will.

With the world reeling from the pandemic, supply chain and logistical issues are on the rise, and, like in other industries, driver retention is challenging. These gaps in the industry are paving the way for more women to get a foot in the door. With the Women of Trucking Advisory Board investigating these issues and helping to rectify the gender gap, it is likely that many more opportunities will open up for women truck drivers in the years to come.

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