Women in the transportation industry is on the rise: WIT Index

 (Photo: Shutterstock)

(Photo: Shutterstock)

As feminist ideologies and gender equality in the workplace laws gain widespread relevance, industries across the U.S. are looking inwards to understand the representation of women and the issues that plague them - sexual harassment, differential treatment, and discrimination, equal pay, flexibility in work arrangements, amongst many others.

The trucking industry has long been considered a “man’s world” as the job is associated with tedious long-haul driving involving physical exertion and a great deal of stress. But the industry is getting a face-lift now as it welcomes a lot more female drivers behind the wheel and also on the desk in fleet forwarding and management offices.

Women in Trucking (WIT) is an organization that was created to encourage women into taking up employment in the trucking industry, and minimize the friction that exists for women from easing into the segment. WIT in association with the National Transportation Institute (NTI) developed the WIT Index that monitors the percentage of female drivers and leaders within the industry to understand gender inequality better.

The NTI conducts surveys with hundreds of trucking companies and compiles data about driver wages, benefits, and retirement plans. NTI analyzes it to understand the ecosystem and also shares the data with carriers for benchmarking and forecasting.

In recent findings based on the WIT Index, the percentage of female drivers have increased marginally from 7.13% in 2016 to 7.89% by the end of 2017. The representation of women in management related desk jobs increased from 23% in 2016 to 23.75% percent by December 2017. But what surprised WIT has been the increase in fleet companies that are now reporting numbers, which has seen a 19% growth this year. This is a healthy trend, as it would mean a lot more fleets are serious about understanding the gender divide, which could pave the way for them creating initiatives to improve gender ratio.

One of the primary factors that companies struggle with has to do with the lack of awareness amongst women about the roles that they can play in the industry. Dedicated effort needs to be poured in for educating women via job fairs and school career days about their importance in creating a balance in the trucking ecosystem. Women who are already working in the industry have to be assisted with developing a career trajectory and asked to dream big, which could end up opening new possibilities.

The industry is desperately in need of more hands on the wheel, as it struggles to retain truckers in the midst of a driver shortage crisis. The average age of a truck driver in the industry is 55. Extrapolating the crisis, it is evident that the industry would be staring down at nearly 180,000 vacancies by 2026, which can be somewhat assuaged by getting women to sign up. Women are known to take fewer risks on the road and also drive more carefully compared to men, thereby reducing the number of accidents caused due to negligence.

For increasing the women count, the industry needs to look into safety issues that might hinder their advent. WIT has joined hands with the FMCSA to study crimes that female truck drivers face and would conduct surveys to perceive the frequency of crimes that involve women while on the road and the circumstances they happen in. The resulting data could be analyzed, and initiatives could be taken to improve the situation.

Intuitively, getting women to be in positions of power across the higher echelons of fleet companies would foment a better response, as women would know best about what they need to work on to improve conditions. Data from WIT mirrors this idea - ArcBest, a company led by Judy McReynolds, has the maximum female representation for the year, with 28% executives and 33% of the board of directors being women.

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Vishnu Rajamanickam, staff writer

Vishnu is an engineer by education, with a couple of years experience in the construction industry. But he has long since moved on to work in different domains as an entrepreneur, copywriter and most importantly, as a journalist. He has also consulted for various travel, technology, and fashion brands as a content strategist and has considerable experience with covering tech startups, having interviewed dozens of CxOs over the course of his career as a technology journalist.