HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — It’s hard to say what distinguishes Tammy Dunfee most as a women truck driver: the fact that she began driving an 18-wheelers truck when she was 50, the fact that she chose the field even though she has a master’s degree or the fact that she’s… well… a she.
About nine out of 10 long-haul truck drivers are men, according to various industry estimates. And the industry is short about 80,000 drivers, according to other estimates.
“Women could fill those seats easily,” said Ellen Voie, president, and CEO of a group called Women in Trucking, which this month launched a mid-Atlantic states chapter. “So now the trucking industry is saying, ‘Wow, bring on more women. we need them.’”
Helping the cause, according to Voie: research in recent years found that female truck drivers are safer, on average than their male counterparts.
Challenges For Female Truck Drivers
Entry barriers for women in Truck driving are both cultural and practical
First, the culture
“There’s a whole group of drivers that are not open to young people being in the business, foreigners being in the business, women being in the business,” said Dunfee, who lives in Bethlehem, Pa. “It’s just, you know, a stereotype. So I’m proving them wrong.”
Dunfee’s own first experiences, at a previous job, were rough. She says drivers told her to “sit in the break room, where I belonged” and put grease on her truck handles.
“It took me months of grinding to get them to realize I was just as worthy, if not more worthy, than some of the other people there,” Dunfee said. “I kept fighting and doing my job, and eventually they came around and they told me they were sorry.”
She says her current bosses and co-workers at Ruan Transportation have embraced her not grudgingly. But enthusiastically, thanks partly to her business and educational background. She recalled the first customer she served.
“I was able to look at what worked and what didn’t work. And, you know, but it all together for them in writing and say, ‘Hey, this is what I see,’ you know? And they took it, took it to the customer that we work for, and made things a hundred percent better.”
There’s one stereotype — the one about safety (“knock on wood,” she says) — she’s happy to embrace.
“I’ve even been made fun of because I will get out and look five times, you know,” Dunfee said. “But it’s my license. I take this very, very seriously. It’s a lot of responsibility. So I’m careful. And some of that may be because I’m a woman, I’m a mom.”
Other, The traditional barriers for women truck drivers
Practical-— which have partly but not entirely gone away.
“A lot of places only had men’s showers and restrooms in their in their terminals, because they just weren’t prepared to bring on more women,” Voie said. “Trucks were designed for men,” with pedals not everyone could reach — impacting more women, who are shorter on average, than men. “Even the awards that they used to give out, like big belt buckles.”
She said a lot of that has changed, although lingering issues remain. One of them, according to Dunfee: is a preference among many women to learn from women trainers, because of the close quarters in which long-haul truckers often live and sleep.
Voie said in one way, trucking — despite still being an overwhelmingly male industry — is more egalitarian than others: “Women make the same amount of money as men because it doesn’t matter your age or gender, your ethnicity. It only matters: You’re paid by the mile, by the load, by the hour or whatever, and there is no gender disparity” financially, she said.
Dunfee said truck driving has been rewarding financially – and not only financially.
“I fell in love with it,” she said. “You see the world differently behind the wheel of a semi…. Driving through my hometown to go back and drop my truck off, you know, I see things that I don’t see in a car. It’s a whole different perspective.”
Which, she says, causes her to want to share one more perspective — unrelated to her gender — for the rest of us if our busy lives ever cause us to think about cutting off a big rig on the highway.
“You’re looking at the car in front of you,” she said. “I’m looking 15 cars in front of you because, you know, I have to see what’s going on up there because I need a football field to stop my truck.”
Do not forget to check out our Healthy Truckers Forum
Healthy Trucking of America(HTA) has created this forum group to encourage a dialog amongst truckers, their spouses, and health coaches.
Published by: Seth Kaplan