Trucking Isn’t So Different!

I was recently reading a trade journal when I found an article titled “The Seven Percent.”* It was about the lack of women in the industry and how the numbers aren’t moving up fast enough.  The article described the lack of women in the profession which the article deemed crucial. Although women accounted for nearly thirteen percent of students entering the industry, only seven percent of them ended up working in this field.

The statistics showed that there is currently a significant operator shortage and more than 320,000 new operators will be needed within the next ten years. To add to the deficit, the average operator is about 46 years old and more than forty percent are over the age of 50.

Sound familiar? At first glance, you could assume that this data is about the trucking industry but you’re wrong; it’s about airplane pilots. There are some glaring differences between pilots and professional drivers but it appears that they are needed, wanted and valued in both industries.

Let’s look at the similarities. Women represent fewer than eight percent of professional drivers. For pilots, that number is an overall seven percent but can be broken down into commercial (airline and business jet) pilots who make up only 4.3 percent and private pilots or general aviation pilots who do not earn a living flying an airplane and who make up 6.1 percent. Female pilots in the US Air Force are six percent of the population. The figure that drives the total percentage up is that nearly thirteen percent of student pilots are women. In the trucking industry, we don’t count “student CDL holders” in our percentages, but student airplane pilots can take years to turn that status into a sport or private pilot certificate, so they are considered in the totals.

There is a massive turnover for professional drivers who have completed their CDL training and have been hired by a carrier. One study found that seventy-seven percent of new drivers leave the industry in the first three months after starting in the driving industry. These drivers are not considered students anymore, as they have finished their schooling and have been hired by a trucking company.

In the air, eighty percent of student pilots drop out of training. That’s pretty close to the trucking drop out (turnover) rate, but the pilots had not attained that final certification.

For professional drivers, time away from home and lifestyle changes are often the reasons cited for leaving. Lifestyle includes the driver’s relationship with his or her carrier and the expectations each side has of the other person that isn’t being met.

For pilots, it’s often a lack of money or time to complete training, but for some, it’s the inability to overcome the things you need to learn in the event of an emergency such as learning stalls and avoiding spins.

For both pilots and professional drivers, medical problems stop many from proceeding. Both require physicals from FAA or DOT approved medical examiners that are looking at the overall health of transportation operators using the highways or airways.

In the article, I referenced earlier, “The Seven Percent,” there were numerous interviews with women who described harassment and assault from their male colleagues as deterrents. In trucking, there are also many tales of women being harassed from their male peers. It’s unfortunate that in 2019 we’re still dealing with (a few) Neanderthal men working in transportation.

The first female professional driver, according to Wikipedia, was Luella Bates, who obtained a driver’s license and drove a truck in 1920. However, the first woman to receive a commercial driver’s license was Lillie McGee in 1929.  The airlines were right behind this trend as the first woman to earn her pilot’s license was Mary Nicholson who passed her certificate in 1929. Helen Richey was the first woman in the United States to fly for a commercial airline in 1934. She was later pushed out of the union!

I’m always intrigued by the similarities between women in various modes of transportation. Female pilots and female professional drivers have a great deal in common as both remain under the ten percent mark of our two industries.

At Women In Trucking Association, we’re working hard to change this and will be watching for higher numbers in the years ahead as we advance our mission to increase the percentage of women employed in our industry. For more information or to join, visit

*AOPA Pilot Magazine, April 2019

Ellen Voie

President/CEO/Founder of
Women In Trucking, Inc.

Women In Trucking Association, Inc. is a nonprofit association established to encourage the employment of women in the trucking industry, promote their accomplishments and minimize obstacles faced by women working in the trucking industry. Membership is not limited to women, as 17 percent of its members are men who support the mission. Women In Trucking is supported by its members and the generosity of Gold Level Partners: Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems, Daimler Trucks North America, BMO Transportation Finance, Great Dane, J.B. Hunt Transport, Ryder System, Inc., U.S. Xpress, and Walmart. Follow WIT on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn. For more information, visit

About Ellen Voie, President/CEO

Ellen Voie founded the Women In Trucking Association in March of 2007, and currently serves as the nonprofit organization’s President/CEO.