Chiseling away at stereotypes: female drivers
Transportation Security & Risk Management Today
This is part one of a two-part series that summarizes a conversation with Stephanie Klang, a seasoned driver who offers insight into the world of trucking from a woman’s perspective. To read part 2, take a free trial of the Transport Safety Risk Management & Security Newsletter. click here
Stephanie Klang, an over-the-road truck driver from Joplin, MO, takes pleasure in talking about her many years on the road. As a representative of the Women In Trucking (WIT) Association, she has taken her “can-do” message to a variety of venues, including a recent two-day ride this past December with Administrator Scott Darling of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. In fact, her very first assignment with WIT was to be one of five drivers assigned to take National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Deborah Hersman from Washington, DC, to the truck show in Louisville, KY. From that day forward, Klang was hooked on being an ambassador for females in the trucking industry.
As an adventurous 20-year-old traveling with her then husband, Klang became bored as a passenger and wanted to try driving. She began her commercial driving career on January 1, 1980, at the age of 21. She and her former husband were team drivers.
Klang said there were road blocks to entering the field in those early days. She personally lacked confidence, and there were no female examples to follow. She felt companies back then were not receptive to hiring fully qualified women drivers. She said this is so different from today. “For the first seven years we worked for four companies, and at each one I was considered ‘the little helper,’” Klang explained.
“CFI was the first company to hire me on my own merit, with my own driving test. The recognition created loyalty,” she said. “No one at CFI has ever belittled me. That is one of the reasons I am so loyal to them,” Klang said. At CFI, she states, “I was a full-fledged driver. There was no question from day one since 1987.”
The only harassment she has had since joining CFI was from other drivers from other motor carriers at shipping and receiving. “They mean nothing to me. I just blow them off,” she said making light of it. She made it clear that “It’s not the customers. They have been great. It’s the other drivers at the docks.”
A lot of has happened to Klang in her career, including a divorce, remarriage, and lots of miles. But she has remained with CFI, and has been driving alone without a partner since 1996. She has been racking up the miles. In fact, she is the highest mileage female driver at CFI.
Today, Klang travels with her male cat, Fred, and keeps in contact with her husband via her smartphone. Most of her experience as a trucker has been in long-haul with dry van, but has hauled refrigerated vehicles on occasion. She is familiar with a variety of transmission types, including 9-speed, 10-speed, 13-speed, and 15-speed. “My favorite is the new automatics,” Klang exclaims. “No twin sticks from the really old days.”
Recruiting female drivers
When asked what misconceptions might keep women from entering the field of commercial driving, she replied, “If you listen to news every day, it’s the fear of being out away from home. And thinking that it is more physically demanding than what it is.” She admits there are some physical demands, such as sliding the tandems, load securement, and chaining up. She explains this is where mentoring comes in. “We all have little tricks where we work smarter not harder. You don’t have to be big and burly to do the job and do it well.”
In Klang’s opinion, today’s trucking industry is welcoming of women, and she is so surprised when the general public still has no clue that this is a career option, or that it pays so well. “Part of the problem is that it is not offered as a career path in high schools, and by age 21, choices have been made that make it difficult to start a new career, such as family, children, and marriage.”
Another obstacle in recruiting women drivers is traditional help wanted ads. “You advertise for women drivers in trucking magazines. You’re regurgitating the same drivers over and over again,” Klang believes. According to Klang, the trucking industry needs major exposure on, for example, a daytime television program to illustrate that women can do the job, and do it well. People are still surprised that she is an over-the-road driver operating a big truck. “What they don’t realize is that the rig has power steering, and it is easy to operate,” she says.
What makes a good driver?
When asked what traits are needed to succeed as a driver, male or female, Klang states individuals need to have an incredible attention to detail, including the ability to read and follow road signs. Anyone wanting to be a professional driver also needs:
Map-reading skills, and
As far as reading skills, drivers have to capture load details sent to the truck’s electronic communications. The driver needs to read and make notes off this message. And, finally, time management is a perquisite, especially in light of the recent electronic logging devices rule. Drivers must figure out how to deliver on time and legally.
Go for it!
At 58, Klang recalls, “When I was a little girl, nothing was expected of girls. I like to tell women you can do it. I have done it this many years. It is not as hard as you may think it is. If you get to 21 or 23 without starting a family, you could do long-haul trucking before you settle down.”
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