Truck driving has long been a man’s world. Meet the women who make a difference


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Pamela Williams, a driving instructor at DSC Training Academy, stands in front of one of the academy’s trucks on June 29. Williams has been driving for seven years and enjoys seeing the country from the road.

Stephan Bisaha / Gulf States Press Room

Driving trucks has always been a male profession, but if Pamela Williams is successful, that will change soon.

“Guys, you better be careful, because here it’s a women’s industry from now on,” said Williams, truck driver and instructor at DSC Training Academy in Jackson, Mississippi.

Williams is among a record number of women hitting the road, as high demand for everything from iPads to cars has led to a skyrocketing demand for drivers to haul goods.

At the same time, many men who traditionally held truck driver jobs have yet to return, resulting in a severe shortage of drivers in the industry.

This has opened up opportunities for women, who have been disproportionately affected by layoffs during the pandemic, especially in restaurants and service sector jobs.

Stephan Bisaha

Wages in the truck driving industry have risen nearly 5% in the past year to an average of over $ 27.50 an hour, according to Ministry of Labor data.

This is more than what many women earned in service, making trucking a more attractive career path. The higher salary and the chance to see the country from the cab of a truck is what drew Williams to the industry.

She has now been driving for seven years and she also teaches others how to drive trucks.

“I can go out here and drive a week and make a thousand dollars – a thousand quickly doing something that I love to do,” Williams says. “Its good.”

Sleeping in cots and dealing with blood clots

Still, trucking can be tough work.

Driving trucks often means sleeping in a cot behind the front seat. All those hours spent driving can lead to blood clots. Additionally, driving around a 70-foot-long vehicle is one of the dangerous jobs in the country, according to data on injuries, illnesses and deaths from the Ministry of Labor.

For women, there are additional challenges.

While the sexism of male truckers has improved over the past decade, it has not gone away.

The trucking industry is still dominated by men, who accounted for over 83% of driver jobs in June, according to the ZipRecruiter job site, although there are currently around 245,000 more women behind the wheel, the highest on record.

Prior to enrolling in courses at DSC Training Academy, Amalya Livingston did everything from functional call centers, to freelance mechanic work on cars, to taking photos for dealerships.

She quit those jobs for trucking to avoid always having a manager looking over her shoulder.

Livingston says some men still give her smirks or sidelong glances at her as she exits the cabin at fuel stops.

But that doesn’t bother Livingston, who was inspired to join the trucking industry by her mother, who was a driver herself.

“It comes with the territory,” says Livingston. “The women who make history,” she adds, “We are not complacent.”

Perhaps the biggest barrier for women is the time spent away from the people they care for. Research has shown that women are more likely to be the caregivers of the family, and many mothers continue to struggle with childcare options.

Amalya Livingston, right, poses in front of a truck at DSC Training Academy on June 29, with another student.  Livingston says she faces sexism on the road, but that doesn't deter her from driving.

Amalya Livingston, right, poses in front of a truck at DSC Training Academy on June 29, with another student. Livingston says she faces sexism on the road, but that doesn’t deter her from driving.

Stephan Bisaha / Gulf States Press Room

Why do women drive trucks

But more and more women are making it work.

Tiffany Hathorn initially rejected the idea of ​​trucking. She had other jobs and even tried to start her own business. She also had two younger sons to take care of, which made it difficult to drive.

But Hathorn says she continued to hit a financial cap and felt she never made enough money for her family. It was Hathorn’s mother who finally convinced her to join her by volunteering to care for the two sons.

Today, Hathorn is a truck driver and is on her way to making $ 70,000 for the year. She orders groceries from her phone when she’s on the road and video chats with her two sons and loved ones when she can.

So when Hathorn is asked by women and men if trucking is right for them, she tells them the good and the bad. But she always tells them to do it, especially because of the financial freedom it has given her.

“I don’t fight like I used to,” she said. “I have more of a peace of mind now.”

Tiffany Hathorn poses for a photo on June 29.  She got her trucking license a year ago and estimates that she will earn $ 70,000 this year.  Hathorn says she recommends anyone who applies - male or female - to become a truck driver.

Tiffany Hathorn poses for a photo on June 29. She got her trucking license a year ago and estimates that she will earn $ 70,000 this year. Hathorn says she recommends anyone applying – male or female – to become a truck driver.

Stephan Bisaha / Gulf States Press Room

Williams, the instructor at DSC Training who has been driving for seven years, sees the initial hesitation all the time.

When his students first get into a truck – men and women – many are intimidated.

Everything is bigger: the mirrors, the steering wheel and even the gearbox, since most students have never driven a shifter.

But once they turn the key, change gears, and feel the subtle change in the roar of the engine, the atmosphere changes.

“They feel the power, and then everything changes,” says Williams. “They’re like ‘Oh, oh I’m gonna be a truck driver!’

This story was produced by the Gulf States Newsroom, a collaboration between Mississippi Public Broadcasting, WBHM in Birmingham, Alabama, WWNO in New Orleans and NPR.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To learn more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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