History of Women in the Trucking Industry

Women are Making Their Mark in Trucking

Updated with the most recent information March 2020

In honor of International Women’s Day on March 8th, Advanced Career Institute would like to acknowledge the hard work and pioneering spirit of some of the trucking industry’s most notable women. These bold and determined ladies paved the way for those to come, transforming the entire industry in the process. Women still only make up around 5% of the trucking workforce, but that number is steadily climbing as more women rise to the challenge and earn their Commercial Driver’s License (CDL).

Trailblazing Women

Luella Bates (1897-1985) was the pioneer who first showed the world what women could do behind the wheel. During WWII, she stepped into a traditionally male job to fill the vacancies left by the war. Luella was such an excellent truck driver that she stayed on after the war ended, outperforming her male counterparts.

Next came Lillie Drennan (1897-1974), with her 10-gallon hat and loaded revolver, she was quite an intimidating figure. She became the first licensed female truck driver, and the first woman to own her own fleet. Lillie was also a staunch advocate for gender and racial equality. She personally hired and trained her diverse and exceptionally safe workforce.

Adriesue “Bitsy” Gomez (1943-2015) followed in their footsteps. Bitsy formed the Coalition of Women Truck Drivers to combat the pervasive sexism in trucking culture. Through victories in the courts and successful public relations campaigns, Bitsy helped break-down the barriers that were keeping women out of trucking.

How Has Trucking Changed for Women

  • Recruiting more women – Trucking companies are making big changes to attract female drivers. Carriers are offering more practice time in truck driving simulators, female driver liaisons, internal support groups, and classes on sexual harassment awareness and self-defense.
  • Support Networks – Organizations such as Women In Trucking and REAL Women in Trucking, Inc provide support, job listings, and the opportunity to connect with other female truck drivers.
  • Female-friendly trucks – Ryder System Inc. has redesigned their cabs to be more ergonomic or women, with adjusted seat height and more accessible placement of handles and gauges.

Some Challenges for Women in Trucking

  • Safety challenges: Pay extra attention to where you’re stopping and walking at night, whether at truck stops or in remote areas. Don’t roll down your window for anyone other than police or someone you know. Focus on safe driving and your employers will value you for keeping yourself, along with their equipment and loads, safe.
  • Interpersonal issues: Women may face criticism from co-workers or loading dock personnel. Don’t be daunted by bad attitudes. Let respect received equal respect given. Ignore disrespect and laser-focus on the work, and your job at hand–and don’t let others blow your cool.
  • Staying connected to family and friends: Staying in touch is easier with today’s tech. Use Skype or Facetime to have video chats at stops. Send regular text updates (which help with safety concerns, too). Schedule time at home for work/life balance.

Why Women Should Obtain a CDL

Thanks to women like Luella, Lillie, and Bitsy, the trucking industry now welcomes female drivers. Young women just entering the workforce, or those who find themselves job-searching after a lifestyle change (such as divorce, empty nest, or job loss), may consider trucking as a possibility.

Forward-thinking companies recognize this trend and are doing more to recruit and retain female truckers. Truck manufacturers are redesigning cabs and other equipment to accommodate the typically smaller frames of women, leading to greater comfort and less risk of injury. Women in trucking also have a strong support network, meaning they no longer have to face obstacles and hardships alone.

Now is the perfect time for women to take charge and get behind the wheel. It takes a lot of grit and toughness to succeed as a commercial truck driver, but thanks to the bold female drivers of the past, we know women can do it just as well as men can. Are you ready to earn your CDL? Advanced Career Institute is ready to help make that happen!