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Asphalt Cowgirls: Part 1

As a young girl, I was taught that women can do anything! I’m thankful to my parents for imparting this wisdom to me and setting me on a path where I could choose my own destiny. The feminist movement of the 1970’s definitely changed the way gender roles are defined and seeded a new mentality where women are free to pursue a life and career that is befitting to them as an individual. Moreover, the multifaceted modern woman began to take shape.

As a girl growing up in the 1980’s, I was taught that I was more than a one dimensional being. I could be anything and everything all at once. To be a mother and caregiver was not the only option, and if I did choose to fulfill that role as an adult, there was no reason why I couldn’t also be career oriented. There were no restrictions on what I could aspire to be. I could be a pilot, a police officer, or a truck driver. I could join the armed forces, learn a trade, or become a doctor. It didn’t matter that I was a girl. I didn’t have to pursue a job that is stereotypically for women.

It’s hard to imagine a time when women were subject to a life determined by men in an androcentric society. It wasn’t always possible for women to choose their own path and as a result, many male dominated professions have seen a trailblazing woman or two; women who decided they could not and would not accept the status quo. This is true of the trucking industry.

In 1929, Lillie Drennan was the first woman to receive a CDL and was also the first woman to own and operate a trucking company in the United States. She received her fair share of opposition from the Railroad Commission who regulated the trucking industry in Texas at the time. They were reluctant to issue her a license and tried to justify this because she wore hearing aids, asserting that it was a safety issue. Knowing that she was breaking new ground as a woman in the industry, Lillie fought against the system, demanding that they issue the license based on her impeccable driving record rather than denying her the license based on what she perceived as “sex bias”. During her appeal, she famously stated “if any man can beat my record I’ll just get out of here” (Texas State Historical Association). Needless to say, they could not and granted her the license.

The Toronto Star recently reported some troubling figures which suggest that a driver shortage is imminent as an aging workforce nears retirement. “The industry is facing a looming labour shortage that could reach 48,000 drivers by 2024…The average age of a truck driver is over 47 — up from 45 in 2013 — and almost 30 per cent of the driving force is 55 or over, which makes it one of the oldest workforces in Canada.”

I was quite surprised to find out that women only represent 4-6% of commercial drivers in North America. It’s no secret that men make up the majority; however, I assumed that many more women were working as drivers. Not so. I have to wonder why. The Toronto Star article speculates that the trucking lifestyle does not appeal to the younger generation overall, but cited that the industry has grown to become much more welcoming of women and that those entering the profession in this day and age are not subjugated to the same scrutiny and unfair treatment as their earlier counterparts.

I am happy to report that JBT Transport has a higher percentage of female drivers than the national average, as 12% of our fleet is made up of women. However, as I research this topic, I seem to find more questions than answers. Why aren’t more women taking up this vocation? What are trucking companies with a higher percentage of women doing differently to attract female drivers? What could the industry be doing better to help foster more qualified women into the workforce?

Stay tuned as we continue this discussion in part 2 of Asphalt Cowgirls.



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