Only 12.5% of all truck transportation workers are women. Less than eight percent are drivers. Despite this small percentage, there is a growing amount of organizations, advocates, events, and resources for women in the industry. For National Women’s History Month, we’re honored to share and celebrate some of their stories.
Desiree Wood has been driving trucks for more than 10 years. She loves her role as an owner-operator, especially being able to drive cross-country and meet new people. “I wish I found the industry earlier,” she says. But Desiree’s journey in the industry hasn’t been an easy one, and unfortunately, she saw first-hand the many obstacles of being a woman in a male-dominated field. Within her first year on the road, Desiree describes experiencing violence, harassment, and intimidation from men working in the industry.
Although she never planned on being an advocate, she started connecting with other women drivers who had similar experiences. In response, she founded REAL Women in Trucking in 2010. It became an official nonprofit in 2014. The organization supports both veterans and newcomers to trucking through outreach, education, mentoring, and networking. It celebrates women drivers through accolades like the “Queen of the Road” awards and an annual cruise. Desiree also produces other educational content on the REAL Women In Trucking blog, like a timeline of female trucking pioneers. Moreover, the group raises awareness of issues in what Desiree refers to as a “broken system”: the abuse many women experience during CDL training, a high turnover rate of new drivers, and a lack of safe parking to name a few.
Through almost 10 years of efforts, Desiree and REAL Women in Trucking are making a difference. For new drivers, the site has multiple resources for starting the CDL process, from carrier “warning signs” to how to choose the right training program. “If you can afford it, go to a CDL program at a community college," Desiree says. "If you have to do a company-sponsored one, make sure it doesn’t have a team driving component.” For Desiree and other women, the mandatory team-driving component of their training was rife with physical and emotional threats.
Beyond resources for individual drivers, the work of REAL Women in Trucking is influencing large-scale change. In 2018, they provided testimony that helped unseal court documents from a sexual harassment case involving close to 300 women truck drivers. This was a milestone in exposing misconduct in team-driver training, as Desiree and others received little assistance and were often silenced when reporting past incidents. Desiree also worked with the Truck Parking Coalition to enact Jason’s Law in response to the murder of truck driver Jason Rivenburg. This 2012 initiative requires the construction and maintenance of safe, accessible rest areas. Efforts to bolster its effects continue today.
Even with these victories, Desiree attests that there is still a lot of work to be done. “I’d love to get in front of some newly elected officials to further explain the problems of training organizations,” she says. “I’d like to see a change in funding structure, increased background checks, and a lessened turnover rate.” She also believes the industry is due for a disruption. “Truckers needed to be rebranded like firefighters instead of vilified,” she says. “We’re service people who serve every single day.”
The views and opinions expressed in this post are solely those of the individual being featured. Experiences may vary.