Sexism remains a problem for women in the workforce, but there’s a surprising exception in one of the most vital employment sectors: the supply chain industry. For women seeking a safe, well-paying job that offers benefits and advancement opportunities, driving a truck has quietly evolved into one of their best options.

A changing world

While it’s true that men still comprise about 94 percent of all professional truck drivers, the ranks of female drivers are growing — and not nearly as quickly as employers would like.

One reason trucking companies are actively recruiting women is simple math: the average age of a truck driver today is 49, which means an industry that carries about 70 percent of all domestic tonnage is predicting a shortfall of about 100,000 drivers.

A great place to work

Gordon Food Services, headquartered in Grand Rapids, Michigan, has embraced this new paradigm. Chanel Contreras, an assistant transportation manager, says working there has been “the best thing that has happened in my career.”

“I am treated just like any other driver,” she adds. “I'm not just a driver. I unload, touching every case using a two-wheeler (hand-truck) running up and down the trailer ramp.”

Cache Holmes, a regional route delivery driver, agrees, pointing out that Gordon Food Service was aggressive in their recruitment of female drivers. “They did an orientation at my driving school. Once I got with the company I realized their focus is to keep people in the company and allow them to grow.”

And Holmes says that contrary to popular misconception, she’s never felt unsafe while on the job. “One myth surrounding life as a professional truck driver I’ve heard is that truckers are mean. There are plenty that aren't. We are just humans trying to do our job.”

“I am treated just like any other driver.”

The challenges

That doesn’t mean there aren’t remnants of old-school sexism. “In general, customers don't expect a female to hop out of the truck,” Holmes says. “I always get questioned about it: ‛Your little self drive that big old thing?’ or ‛Are you alone? Because I know you’re not driving that.’”

Contreras has had similar moments. “I’m a big ol’ 5 feet,” she says with a grin. “I was told driving was a ‛man’s job’ and I wouldn't be able to do it. But at Gordon Food Service I am treated just like any other driver.”

Another challenge is the assumption that driving a truck is an unhealthy, unhappy profession — another myth, according to Holmes and Contreras.

“It’s not unhealthy,” Contreras asserts. “I unload the trailer. It involves heavy lifting and cardio, kind of like I get paid to go to the gym. And I’m home daily with my very understanding husband.”

The benefits

Both point out the career opportunities Gordon Food Service offers its female drivers. “I am in leadership,” Contreras says proudly, “so training is one of my main focuses.”

Holmes has also risen to a position of seniority. “The greatest benefit of this job is not feeling like you’re at ‛work’ — it's almost like you’re an owner-operator, with independence on the road.”

No matter how advanced the world becomes, the “last mile problem” means companies like Gordon Food Service need drivers, and the friendly, rewarding environment the company offers is key to luring the best from both genders into the industry.

“Yes, it’s physically demanding,” Contreras says, “but it can also be an exciting challenge. I feel if I am out there and can do it, almost anybody can do it.”