Of course, if that’s what she wants to do. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy.
Desiree Wood is the first female truck driver I’ve ever met (we connected at the Office Depot Women’s Symposium) and she gave me a view into the unknown world of trucking.
How Does a Woman End up Behind the Wheel?
Desiree has been driving for almost a decade. Surprisingly, her path to trucking began with a nervous breakdown. Her kids had moved out and she found she couldn’t function anymore. She explained “I was in a really bad spot; in fact, I became homeless.” Then she reached out to a friend and confessed that she was at the end of her rope. Her friends came together and brought her to Florida. Around this same time, she had been noticing trucks and thought it was something she’d want to do.
Why Do Only 1 in 6 Women Make it Through Training?
In her opinion Desiree feels the best candidates entering the industry are nurses, school bus drivers and women from the service. She explains, “These women are already problem solvers. Yet only one in six women who attempt to go through the training make it through.”
This is how Desiree explained it: One of the issues is that some of the companies (carriers) assign new drivers to team-driving after the training period. These team driving student fleets are unsafe for both genders because the trainer is generally sleeping while the student, who has not reached the skill level to drive unsupervised, is in fact driving unsupervised. These fleets then go on to have student teams of mixed gender. Since there are few females, most women are paired with a man. The drivers only get a paycheck if they are living, working, and sleeping on the truck with this other person. It creates an explosive situation that can lead to harassment, violence, threats, and belittling. And this situation is a problem for both genders; women can be abused by men, women can be abusive to other women and men have been the victims of violence as well. There have also been sexual assaults and retaliation for reporting assaults. And many don’t come forward. Desiree concludes, “The culture is one that if you complain you must be weak. It creates a victim blaming climate.”
Every Load is an Exciting Adventure Story
This sounds incredibly tough, why would someone stick with it? It became clear that there’s something magical about driving for Desiree, here’s what she said when I asked her favorite things about the job:
“When I was a kid we traveled a lot, my mother was always taking me on road trips. I like going to new places; going over bridges, rivers, seeing the sunset and the sunrise And I feel my job is something that really serves the public. When I pick up something in a small town that they manufacture, grow, or assemble there, it gives me a sense of pride to get what they have made to other people. I actually did something. As a grandma, I can sometimes see my grandchildren when I am out driving. I had my grandson with me and I got to show him the truck and explain what I was doing. He told me he was going to tell his friends at school that is grandma brought the water glasses to Walmart. He was proud, and it made me proud.”
“If I deliver some coffee pots, through a hail storm and a tornado at the end I celebrate…Yay, I did it. Every load is an exciting adventure story.”
A Personal Mission: To Make Trucking Better for Women
Desiree is co-founder of an organization called Real Women in Trucking. Her mission is to make trucking better for women. For example, she wants to guide women away from team driving starter companies which have unsafe conditions. She also wants to get the message to business owners who use trucking carriers to hire the companies with safe and appropriate training and working conditions, and to not hire the problematic ones.
Desiree explains, “There are a lot of women entering trucking, they are getting bad information and I want provide to women what wasn’t there for me.”
Desiree’s goal? “Trucking was a matter of survival for me. I loved it as soon as I tried it. But the industry was doing whatever it could for me to fail. I ultimately want to change the industry. That’s going to take a long time, so in the meantime I will educate one woman at a time.”
If you know of anyone interested in trucking, refer them to Desiree and Real Women in Trucking so that each female trucker’s exciting adventure story can be a better and safer one.
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