The number of women drivers dropped 10.6% in 2015 compared to the year before - from 198,000 to 177,000. Distaff drivers now comprise 5.1% of all drivers, the lowest number since 2011, according to a recent government labor report.
Maybe nothing. Maybe something. Nobody really knows.
One thing is sure. The report has women driver groups and some carriers scratching their heads in disbelief. Anecdotally, they see the number of women drivers growing and not dropping. "I'd say that at least 10 percent of our drivers are women," said a Midwest carrier official, who asked that his name and company not be used. "And the number is growing." (The number of male drivers grew around 2% last year to 3.292 million compared to 2014.)
"There's significantly more than six or seven percent women drivers wherever you go and in every company I've worked for," says Desiree Wood, founder and president of Real Women in Trucking, a group formed by working female truck drivers. "Some carriers have a lot more." She adds: "I see so many more women on the road then when I started driving."
Wood describes the method that the Bureau of Labor Statistics uses to calculate the number of women drivers as 'murky' and says her group is working to obtain data on women drivers and their demographics such as age, marital status and number of years on the job.
Ellen Voie, president of Women in Trucking, says of the BLS statistics, "I really question their data, because I believe it's the opposite. I believe that we're seeing many more women coming into this industry. In fact the ATA (American Trucking Assns.) showed that we've brought in 28,000 more women in 2014. (The ATA also uses the lower 2015 figures in their ATA American Trucking Trends 2016 publication, citing the government statistics. ATA officials did not respond to emails or phone calls about the report.) So I find it really hard to believe that we would have dropped that much in 2015. Carriers are increasing their percentages. In fact, some carriers say that they're up to 11 percent female drivers."
Voie says that her group is also trying to get a better handle on the number of women drivers by adding two questions to the National Transportation Institute's driver wage survey that goes out to about 400 carriers every quarter. She says, "The two questions are: What percentage of your driver fleet is female and what percentage of your management team is female? So we're going to come out with those numbers very shortly; we're just compiling it now. I think the industry will be surprised that there are more female drivers than they realize."
How could BLS figures be so far from the anecdotal evidence?
According to a BLS spokesperson, the figures are gleaned from census-type surveys that ask households to describe where people work. Self-reporting often causes errors, but there may be another problem. "For some occupations that may have similar jobs and a small number of persons in them, they may be combined into one category," she says. BLS lumps together three groups in their Occupation Titles and Code List #9130. These groups are heavy and tractor trailer truck drivers; light truck or delivery services drivers; and driver/sales workers. The last group consists of drivers who collect money on their routes such as soft drink deliverers, laundry service drivers and restaurant delivery drivers. "That's like the Frito-Lays and Pepsi drivers," says Voie. "They're not long haul drivers. Neither are the light truck or delivery drivers."
Voie concludes: "I truly believe that the female over-the-road driver population is increasing and we're going to prove it."