In 1987, Cindy Kaps was working as a bartender in Omaha, Nebraska, when she saw an ad in the paper for a truck driving school. The then-29-year-old had gotten married, then divorced, didn’t have any children, and was looking for a new profession. So, she decided to enroll.
“I wanted something I had a career at and I wanted to do something other than work at a bar for the rest of my life,” Kaps said.
During her six-week course at Custom Diesel Drivers Training, Kaps met her husband, Ed, who suggested they pair up as a driving team. They started their business and purchased their first truck in 1999.
The couple, married 25 years, transports personal protective equipment to New York via their company Rocking Double K. Before the pandemic, the pair primarily worked trade shows.
More than 3.75 million people work as truck drivers in the U.S., yet only 7.3% of truck drivers are women, according to data compiled in 2019 by the American Community Survey. They also make up less than 10% of trucking firm owners, per a 2012 survey of business owners.
Women in trucking now have more resources available to find support, network, and build community. The nonprofit Women In Trucking formed in 2007 to promote gender diversity in the industry. Today, the organization has more than 4,000 members, offers a mentorship program and advocates for same-gender training.
At the beginning of her trucking career in 2006, Deb LaBree reached out to Facebook groups and found support from other couples in the industry.
“There’s not a resource where you can just go online and say, ‘Hey, I want to own a trucking company,’ and you get all the step-by-step information,” she said. “As organizations like WIT help bring awareness and let people know this is a viable career for them, the numbers are growing.”
LaBree is now a mentor to new owner operators. “Mentoring is very rewarding, especially when they get it,” she said. “When we first came out, we didn’t have that; a lot of what we learned is just trial and error. If I can give back just a little bit, that’s what I’m going to do.”
A 2017 U.S. Census report revealed that on average, truck drivers are older than other workers, with a median age of 46 compared to 41 for workers overall. The numbers suggest that many women join the trucking industry as a mid-life career shift.
Before joining the industry, LaBree was a cosmetologist and owned her own business. Her husband, Del, worked as a heavy equipment operator.
“My husband and I were looking for changes in our lives and careers,” LaBree said. “When you have your own business at one point and you’re used to a certain amount of control and freedom, it’s hard to think about starting in an entry-level position.”
The married couple now are independent owner-operators of Castle Transport, based in Joplin, Missouri. The pair also operate as a team and transport pharmaceuticals across the country.
“Husband and wife teams are very big in this industry,” LaBree said. “The structure of a husband and wife team is very different.”
LaBree said some of the benefits of working as a team include shared home time (which eliminates time picking up a teammate or running solo loads), equal and shared finances, better communication, and having a built-in partner, on and off the road.
“We’re well-experienced in our relationship and our marriage,” LaBree said. “Because you’ve already learned how to deal with things in marriage, you have a better handle on how to deal with those things in the truck. It’s what makes us successful and what makes us sought out.”
In her experiences of getting to know other married teams, LaBree said most of the women handle the finances, customer service, agents, and brokers and the men work with the maintenance, upkeep, and safety of the trucks. Both halves trade off driving shifts.
Kaps said she and her husband share loading and unloading freight duties, but she handles the paperwork and checks in with customers; her husband services the truck as needed.
The number of women in trucking is increasing, but they still sometimes face outdated stereotypes.
After more than 30 years in trucking, Kaps said she still gets the occasional odd look when she pulls into loading docks. “There’s more female drivers out there now than when I started (but) to this day, I still get: ‘Tell your driver to do this or that,’” she said. “We can do this job just as well.”
LaBree said she also encounters surprise from peers on the road. “Oftentimes this is what I hear: ‘Oh wow, you’re a trucker? You don’t even look like one.’ What are we supposed to look like?
“There’s a misconception that we don’t do the driving, we don’t do the hard parts, only the men do it,” LaBree. “In a team operation, you have got to be equal. The truck cannot be stopped.”
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