Most of the jobs in transportation have been dominated by men. From pilot to train engineer to truck driver, these are typically careers that attract more men than women. While there are many reasons for the discrepancy, one of them concerns strength and body size.For example, in the trucking industry, early drivers were expected to load and unload their freight. Whether it’s cattle or milk, boxes or pallets, the driver’s job including “fingerprinting” the product. Additionally, the trucks themselves were designed for men who are typically taller and have longer arms and legs.
There was no power steering, power brakes, air ride seats or hydraulic hoods on early trucks. This made the job very physically demanding and not attractive to women.
Today, trucks no longer need a big, burly, mechanically minded MAN at the wheel. In fact, much of the new technology makes driving a tractor trailer ALMOST as simple as operating a car. Notwithstanding the need to operate an articulated vehicle, the physical requirements to drive a semi-truck are negligible. While professional drivers are still predominantly male (90 percent), they are an aging group who often leave when the job becomes physically challenging. The addition of technology can change that and will also attract more millennials who find the gadgets and high tech tools more attractive.Picture the inside of a truck cab today. You’ll find an air ride seat, adjustable pedals, an automated transmission (yes, no more shifting), and so much more. Some trucks no longer have mirrors as they have been replaced with cameras that provide a much better view of the road and the vehicles around them. There are products that raise and lower the landing gear on the trailer so the driver doesn’t need to crank the dollies. There are cameras that give the driver a view of the fifth wheel pin to ensure a good connection between the tractor and the trailer. Autonomous vehicles have introduced technology that senses other vehicles, such as LIDAR. There are collision avoidance products, anti-rollover systems and lane departure warnings. While trucks can’t stop on a dime, they can anticipate a vehicle or a person that suddenly appears in the driver’s lane. All of these items reduce the physical component of the job while making it safer for both the driver and those who share the road. The introduction of technology to make the job less physically demanding means we can attract and retain a broader range of demographics. This includes more women. Why is it important to bring more women into transportation careers? To put It bluntly, it’s all about safety. Women are more risk averse because we activate the amygdalae (the brain’s fear center) more easily than men. We are also driven by estrogen, which encourages bonding and connection and discourages conflict and risk taking. Wouldn’t you prefer someone maneuvering 80,000 pounds down the road to be risk averse? The American Transportation Research Institute conducted a crash causation study and found that women truck drivers were, “safer than male counterparts in every statistically significant safety behavior and men were 20 percent more likely to be involved in a crash than women.” Women are also more concerned about both personal safety and safety on a professional level. Safety includes the maintenance of the vehicle (to prevent break downs on the side of the road). Safety is also dependent on the carrier’s culture in regard to operating in inclement weather and allowing the driver to stop when she or he feels unsafe. Finally, safety includes the environment where the driver is loading or unloading, particularly if it’s in an unlit, unsecured part of a city. Reducing the physical component of a job encourages women to enter a careers that provides a middle class income without a great deal of training. More women on the road mean safer highways. The use of technology in transportation careers will help us create a more gender diverse driver population, which is good news for all of us who share the road.