Being a woman driver in the male-dominated trucking industry comes with a unique set of challenges. Driving provides women truckers with many of the same advantages as it does to men—independence, flexibility, and the opportunity to travel across the country.
But the obstacles don’t affect men and women truckers equally. Women truck drivers have to think about the job, safety, and hygiene differently. While the industry is starting to change to become more friendly toward women, there’s still much work to be done. Until then, here are 7 tips for women truck drivers.
1. Work-life balance
While work-life balance should be important for all truckers, it’s sometimes not as important to men. Carriers may become used to offering insufficient home time and opportunities for balance simply because men aren’t as vocal about these concerns as women. Women truck drivers may find themselves on the short end of the stick simply because their male counterparts aren’t asking for more!
We spoke to Heather, a truck driver with 2 years of experience. She said, “I did OTR just long enough to get a little experience to find a local job. I have 3 boys so I wanted to be local as soon as possible. Was a VERY LONG 7 months, and I learned everything in the winter months in the snow and ice.”
Communication with your fleet manager or leader is essential to ensuring that you get the work-life balance you deserve. In fact, women drivers shouldn’t be waiting that long to start discussions around home time. Communicating with recruiters that this is a priority for you will set you on the right path to achieving the kind of balanced lifestyle you’re looking for.
2. Safety in your truck
The trucking industry can be tough on women for reasons of safety simply because they are on the road. There’s no predicting what kinds of characters you can run into across the country and in truck stops. Solo drivers may feel particularly uncomfortable if shady characters become aware that they are driving alone.
We spoke to Michele, a truck driver with a few months of experience so far in the industry. She suggests that solo drivers keep their bunk curtains closed at all times. “Let people think there [is] someone sleeping in the back even while you’re driving,” she advises.
Michele also notes that placing a team driving sticker on your truck will also create the impression that you are not traveling alone, and she highly recommends this trick to other women drivers.
3. Safety at a truck stop
Truck stops are notorious for being minefields for women truck drivers. Although many truck stops are taking measures to improve conditions and become more woman-friendly, they can’t control the behavior of the characters who lurk around.
We encourage women to know precautions to take to stay safe at truck stops.
Heather said, “When walking through the truck stop at night, have something handy in case you need to protect yourself.”
Although violence at truck stops is rare, there are always safety precautions people can take.
4. Behind the wheel
Some of the women truck drivers we spoke to had specific advice about staying behind the wheel. Road conditions can become dangerous during nighttime or the winter season.
Michele recommends that women truck drivers pre-plan and keep checking their routes, especially in the winter. She states, “Just because it was open 2 hours ago, doesn’t mean it’s open later.”
Heather listens to forensic files and chews gum to help keep her awake during night driving. She encourages women drivers to pull over if needed and states, “If road conditions become too treacherous, just stop! Freight can wait!”
Women truck drivers will have specific concerns about hygiene that male drivers won’t. And unfortunately, sometimes male drivers, fleet managers, or truck stop employees may be unaware or unsympathetic to these issues.
Heather said that one of the biggest lessons she learned from her OTR driving days is to always have baby wipes handy. She also recommends to “keep an empty big gulp cup because they are the easiest to pee into.”
Hopefully it doesn’t come to that, but with OTR driving, the stops can be few and far between, so it’s better to be prepared in the case of emergencies!
6. Reach out to other women drivers
While it may seem easy to understand the concerns of women drivers, or imagine what the job will be like, there’s no way to know until someone has done it. We recommend completing some research about what to expect, but there’s no substitute for speaking with other women truck drivers who’ve been there themselves.
Reaching out to other women truck drivers will give you an inside look at what issues they’ve been facing and how they’ve handled them. As you speak to more women drivers, you’ll build a network of colleagues who have each others’ back and can work together. You may also want to connect with organizations like Women in Trucking, which focus on addressing these obstacles.
7. Find the right carrier
While women drivers can take certain measures themselves, they can’t do it all alone. It takes a community that values women’s issues and concerns in the trucking industry.
Before signing with your next carrier, do some research and find out which carriers value their women drivers.
Some carriers will do more to promote career opportunities, improve conditions, and deliver resources needed to address women’s issues in trucking. A company’s culture can have a large impact on a woman truck driver’s sense of belonging, identity, and purpose. Finding a carrier that aligns with your own values will help you feel comfortable and secure in a male-dominated industry.