I saw a lot of people during the American Trucking Associations' annual management conference this fall.
But three of them stand out: Anne Ferro, administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration; Barbara Windsor, the new chairman of ATA, and Lisa Kelly, one of the stars of The History Channel's "Ice Road Truckers" series.
These three women have the ability to touch the lives of thousands of people inside and outside the industry. And at a time when we are looking down the throat of an impending driver shortage worse than any we've ever seen, it's a time where we need women as role models in this industry more than ever.
I had met Anne Ferro before, during the hours of service listening session at the Mid-America Trucking Show in March. She was at ATA for the official kick-off of Operation Safe Driver. She continues to impress me with her down-to-earth enthusiasm, her sincerity, her propensity to go off the script - all very un-bureaucratic.
Barbara Windsor is the first female chairman of ATA. Her grandfather might have founded Hahn Transportation, but there have been women at the helm for quite a while. Her mother, Rebecca Hahn Windsor, was the first female chairman of the Maryland Motor Truck Association. Barbara was the second.
While some people, she told me, have taken issue with the title, she brushes the "man" off in favor of the many more pressing issues facing the industry. And just ask her sometime what happened when, after coming back to the family business after spending 20 years in the airline industry, a well-meaning terminal manager tried to explain the difference between a gasoline tanker and a bulk hauler to her.
Lisa Kelly was signing autographs in the booth across the aisle from our own, otherwise I might have forgotten my promise to my 8-year-old daughter to get her autograph. Although in person I found her to be rather quiet, this young woman is described on The History Channel website as "a rambunctious tomboy truck driver." On the trucking reality show "Ice Road Truckers," the Alaska native drives an 18-wheeler on the notorious Dalton Highway from Fairbanks up to the oil fields of Prudhoe Bay. She tackles chaining up with aplomb when some of her burly co-stars shirk the duty. And in a recent spin-off, where the IRT drivers try their skills on the deadly roads of the Himalayas, Lisa sticks to her guns even after one of the show's other celebrity drivers calls it quits early on.
Lisa caught some flak for a very un-tomboyish photo shoot. But is it necessarily a bad thing for potential truck driver recruits to see that you can be a truck driver and still be feminine?
Women still make up a very low percentage of the truck driving workforce. The number has not significantly increased in the 20 years I've been covering the industry. The Women in Trucking association is working to find ways to help increase that number, such as working with truckstops to address women truckers' concerns about security. A trend among large companies to offer drivers more regional and dedicated runs that offer more time at home should also appeal to young women with families. I'd like to see more women on ATA's America's Road Team, which is currently all male.
We need more role models like Anne and Barbara and Lisa. What is your company doing to provide them?From the November issue of
Heavy Duty Trucking magazine.