Jeanna Hysell on her journey from truck driver to safety consultant

May 23 / US
Jeanna Hysell on her journey from truck driver to safety consultant

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.

Jeanna Hysell moved her first freight load when she was just a teenager, and she’s been in love with trucking ever since. Since 1979, she’s explored many roles in the industry, from owner-operator to small fleet owner. Now, Jeanna travels the country as a senior safety consultant for J.J. Keller and Associates.

Although she’s passionate about helping companies achieve DOT compliance and avoid violations, Jeanna says she’ll “always be a driver at heart.” It’s this commitment to all aspects of the industry that has made her so successful. Jeanna is also the co-founder of the Women in Trucking Foundation scholarship program and is a Women in Trucking Image Team member, representing the organization as a subject-matter expert.

How did you get into the industry?

“I started in the business when I was 17 years old. The first load I took was a flat-bed of crushed cars across state lines (talk about illegal!). But it solidified my love of trucks. I later was in the military for a while and when I got out, I became an owner-operator. I drove cross-country for 15 years and then had a fleet of trucks.

I eventually had to get out of driving due to some injuries, but I still wanted to stay in the industry. I got my safety degree, did an internship for a private fleet, and then took a director’s job at a large company. After getting laid off, I started my own consulting firm before getting picked up by J.J. Keller [and Associates, LLC.] where I am today.”

What does a typical week look like for you?

“I’m always traveling somewhere, so I live out of airports and hotels most of the time. I help carriers with DOT audits, driver training, and best practices. I also have one-on-ones with drivers. I might see two to three clients in a week or do two to three audits in a week.”

Describe your experience as a woman in a male-dominated field.

“[As a driver], I would report to facilities and get out of my truck as a petite blonde woman with makeup on and my nails painted. I had a feminine side. [At facilities] people would be plastered against the windows watching me back [my truck] in. I’d get out and [they] wouldn’t believe who had done that when they saw me.

I still struggle with men. If I’m doing driver training, for example, they say I won’t be able to teach them anything they don’t already know. But in the end, they realize I really know my stuff. I feel like I have to constantly prove myself even with all my experience and credentials. I constantly have to be at the top of my game and not let people get to me.”

Tell us about a woman who inspires you.

“I had an aunt who was a truck driver. She co-drove with my uncle. [When I was young], I always thought about how cool it would be to be a lady trucker and out on the open road feeling the wheels beneath me.

When I was a driver, I took my 12-year old niece on the road with me. I had to make a right turn and back up the truck, and she said, ‘My aunt Jeanna is so powerful.’ I felt the same way [about my aunt] when I was her age.”

What advice do you have for women who want to get into the industry?

“Don’t take everything with a grain of salt. Do what you love, love what you do, and do it to the best of your ability. You have to develop thick skin quickly and be good. You have to back in in one shot, make the corner in one shot, be better than everyone else. That way, no one can laugh at you or say you can’t do it because you’re a woman. You can also still be a female in a man’s world, and you don’t need to lose your femininity just to fit in.”

What do you love most about the work you do?

“Being able to help carriers get into compliance, educate them with what they didn’t know, and help them turn their culture around. I do miss driving, but being on the road all the time kind of fills that niche. I’m the type of person who needs constant challenge and stimuli. I don’t like downtime. Even when I’m on vacation, I never stay home.”

The views and opinions expressed in this post are solely those of the individual being featured. Experiences may vary.

 

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