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Data Show Women Are All Around Better Truck Drivers, So Why Do So Few Do It?

January 6, 2019
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Data Show Women Are All Around Better Truck Drivers, So Why Do So Few Do It?

DUNMORE — Rain from the night before slicked the Road Scholar Transport truck yard where Donna Elmore’s cowboy boots clacked against the asphalt.

The 57-year-old carefully clicked through her pre-journey safety checks, checking tire pressure and linkages between her 2019 Freightliner Cascadia sleeper cab and the refrigerated trailer, which was already humming.

After taking her 10 hours off, she was headed back to Columbus, Ohio, from where she had just arrived the night before.

The Michigan native represents a thin slice of the truck-driving workforce, but one that data show is most qualified to do the job.

Out of 115 drivers who work for Road Scholar, 10 percent are women, said company President James Barrett. That’s more than the national average, which is around 6 percent.

As unemployment continues to sink in Northeast Pennsylvania, and hold at historic lows across the nation, transportation companies are rolling out big incentives and improving working conditions in a tight battle for qualified workers.

“If we could put 100 drivers on tomorrow, we probably would,” said Alex Stark, spokesman for Kane is Able in Scranton.

Kane already employs a fleet force of 134 full-time, part-time and owner/operator drivers, but the company grew its transportation business by 25 percent to 30 percent last year. Like just about every transportation company, Kane is hiring.

Kane has two women drivers who work out of the company’s Allentown terminal, Carolyn Mitchell and Bonnie Homan. Both deliver to the chaotic New York City metro market. The company counts on both of them in a pinch, and they never miss their delivery times, Stark said.

As a whole, women tend to be safer, more dependable drivers than men, but the long hours away from home for workers who traditionally raise children and care for elderly parents often precludes them from the job, according to people in the industry.

That’s not to say many men don’t make safe, loyal drivers, but women best men in 18 of 34 safety measures, according to a July report from the American Transportation Research Institute. Of the other 16 measures, the driver’s sex had no impact on how they ranked.

For example:

• Men were 20 percent more likely to be involved in a crash.

• Men were 45 percent more likely to have a false or no log book violations.

• Men were 60 percent more likely to stay on the road longer than the time allowed by law, or related hours-of-service violations.

The transportation educators, company owners and association leaders who represent the industry don’t lay out a specific plan to draw more women.

They want everyone.

They describe strategies to capture all qualified drivers with a commercial drivers license, so recruitment strategies include promising more time at home, alluring sign-on bonuses and new, more comfortable trucks to drive — perks that sound good to both men and women.

“We know that we cannot attract a new driver and put him or her in a beat-up truck,” Barrett said.

He recently bought 15 new tractors, including the one Elmore climbed aboard Thursday morning bound for Ohio.

“I’ve been in this field quite a while,” she said.

Before she went on the road, she worked for eight years in logistics management, including in a dispatch center.

“You’ve got your work cut out,” she said of her old job. “It’s nothing but a pressure cooker from the time you come in to the office until the time you go home.”

So when she finished raising her kids, she went on the road.

Now she can spend six to eight weeks traveling from state to state before hauling a load back to where she lives outside of Grand Rapids. She takes a couple days off, then catches another load to haul back to Dunmore.

“I don’t get home as often because the kids are all grown and, my goodness, I’ve got almost-grown grandkids,” she said.

The typical woman driver is around 50 years old, said Ellen Voie. She’s president of the Women in Trucking Association, a national group based in Wisconsin.

More than 80 percent of women enter the trucking industry because a family member or friend planted the seed, she said. Most of them are past childbearing age, and often learn how to support a significant other who’s already doing it.

“They’re either married to the person or dating the person or somehow connected to someone who says, ‘Come out on the road,’” Voie said.

Women in Trucking is targeting women, even the youngest of them, to get them thinking about careers behind the wheel.

The organization introduced a transportation patch for Girl Scouts in the Midwest. To earn it, young Girl Scouts have to familiarize themselves with supply chain careers.

Women in Trucking worked with a toymaker to produce a 13-inch-tall doll named Clare, which is sold at truck stops and on Amazon.

Voie describes incredulously, and almost bitterly, a patriarchy that still holds tight to truck driving and often objectifies women.

She remembers a recruiting ad that reads: ’We’re looking for a few good mustaches,” and other ads that depict women in skimpy clothes.

“I’ll go up to them and ask, ‘Are you recruiting women?’” she said. “And they’ll say, ‘Oh, I guess I didn’t think about it.’”

With unemployment as low as it is, women and men have their pick of jobs, and Susan Spry, vice president of Applied Technologies and Workforce Development at Luzerne County Community College, says that might explain why there’s been no real shift among women in driving jobs.

“While I haven’t noticed our enrollment change in terms of more women … but I wonder if we will,” she said, adding that women make up less than 10 percent of the college’s commercial driver training program.

“We have many inquiries from women, so I’m not saying it’s not on their radar, but in terms of actual enrollment, we probably haven’t seen the needle shift in the last five years,” she said. “But my sense is we will.”

She sees barrel-bottom unemployment ending sooner or later, loosening up the labor market. In the meantime, she expects trucking companies will sharpen recruitment strategies.

And when they do, they’ll likely find a pool of women drivers like Elmore, who finished raising their children and still have a few good decades left to work.

Elmore doesn’t sugarcoat the work. It’s long hours that swell into days. She wishes she could spend more time at home and talks about going back to administration side.

On the other hand, she has a foundational appreciation for her work and understands its importance.

“None of us, you, me or the next person, we would not have nothing on our store shelves anywhere if it wasn’t for the industry of truck drivers,” she said. “Everything gets delivered by a truck.”

Contact the writer: joconnell@timesshamrock.com; 570-348-9131; @jon_oc on Twitter

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