The world of trucking is a world of men. Or is it…? We spoke to two female truckers about their work, their experiences... and their hopes for the future.
Sandrine Son is a French truck driver from Clermont-Ferrand in France – Michelin for my Business.
Many professions have historically always been male, and driving trucks is certainly one of them. But in recent years, an increasing number of women have been taking the wheel. What’s causing this evolution? Is it the result of changes in society? Is it because women truckers are getting more media exposure, or perhaps because of their presence on social media…? And despite these changes, are gender biases still making things more difficult for them? Let’s ask those who are best suited to know the answers…
The open road beckons
“I was introduced to the world of trucking by my boyfriend when I was 19 and have been hooked ever since.” Meet Oti Cabadas, a.k.a. Coco Trucker*, a spanish truck driver based in Palencia. She spends her weeks criss-crossing across Spain and sometimes Portugal, transporting beer most of the time. “What I prefer is the feeling of freedom. It’s relative freedom of course, because you always have a schedule to stick to. But you get to choose when and where you stop and to set your own itineraries. I’m very independent, so I love that.”
“Me too. I love my job because I feel so free on the road. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like I’m working at all”, agrees Sandrine Son**, a french trucker from Clermont-Ferrand, also hears that call of the open road. “I grew up in the world of mechanics: my father was a technical inspector for a bus company, so I always had that idea that one day I would work on the road. And because I love that feeling of freedom when I’m driving, I chose to work mostly nights, making deliveries for supermarkets in my refrigerated truck. At night, you’re alone on the road, there’s no congestion, no problem parking. I can just do my thing with no one bothering me.”
Not that many women around
That intoxicating feeling of freedom set aside, are there specific obstacles for women driving a truck in 2021? Not really, according to Sandrine: “Things have changed in recent years, most of all in the way we’re perceived by our male colleagues. They sometimes stare at me a little, they’re surprised, but they don’t look down on me. All in all, I get more encouragements than condescension. There’s still some male chauvinism, sure, but it doesn’t stop me. I actually often hear male truckers saying there should be more women in the profession, for more diversity.”
“There are definitely more and more female truckers out there,” says Oti, “but it’s hard to see them on the road, because they’re still such a small percentage. When you stop for lunch, you’ll usually find yourself in a room full of men. I sometimes feel like a little ant eating on her own, the only woman around.”
Female truckers on social media
Nevertheless, with more and more women taking the leap, what is encouraging them to take on this job? For Sandrine, it might just be the power of example: “A female trucker used to be a rarity, but today, whether on TV, in magazines or on social media, they are more and more visible, and that contributes to normalizing the presence of women in this industry. It shows that everyone can do it.”
TV programs such as “Trucker Babes”, a German show adapted in several countries, or Colombian TV series “Los Briseño” (‘The Road to Love’ is the English title) about a young woman who goes against her family’s prejudices to become a trucker, are exposing the public to female truckers like never before. And social media is playing a role as well.
Oti knows a little about that: “I’ve been sharing my experiences as a trucker on Facebook and Instagram for several years. I have quite a few followers now, but I started out by simply posting an interview I gave in a trade magazine. Then I shared things about my daily life on the road, and it caught on. I also created a support group on WhatsApp with female colleagues that have become friends. When I started out, I didn’t know any other women, because we don’t necessarily get a chance to run into each other on the road. Thanks to social media, there are more ways to get in touch. Lots of women write to tell me they’ve always been attracted to trucking but are hesitant. I think the reason there are still so few women is because they don’t realise that they can do it. Many women don’t dare to take the leap.”
One word of advice: go for it!
“Sure, physical strength sometimes puts us at a disadvantage compared to men” says Sandrine. “But on the other hand, we’re less abrupt in the way we drive and handle merchandise, we’re more careful. We also often have a better rapport with customers, it’s just a different style.”
“Also, it’s a matter of confidence more than physical abilities,” adds
Oti. “I’m 1m60 tall; if I can do it, anyone can! Doing this job is all about having the vocation. If I have any advice for aspiring female truckers, I would just say: ‘follow your passion’. If driving trucks isn’t your true vocation, the job is going to be that much harder. You spend long hours on the road and you’re not home much. But if you love trucks and if this truly is your calling, I say go for it! You can do it just as well as anyone else.”
*Interview by Oti Cabadas a.k.a. Coco Trucker, on 11 Mai 2021.
**Interview by Sandrine Son, on 27 april 2021.
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Before TV shows such as “Trucker Babes” in Germany and “Los Briseño” in Colombia, women truckers have been featured in a small number of books and movies as well. For example, in the 1974 Z movie “Trucker’s Woman” by Will Zens – originally titled “Truckin’ Man”, its title was changed by the distributor to boost ticket sales. Most of the time, female truckers in films are represented as fearless, no-nonsense characters such as Furiosa in “Mad Max: Fury Road” (2015), Jill in Terry Gilliam’s cult movie “Brazil” in 1985, or the two female heroes of the 1979 B movie “Flatbed Annie & Sweetiepie: Lady Truckers”.
Most of the time, female truckers in films are represented as fearless, no-nonsense characters.
In literature, a first-person recount of life as a woman trucker was published in 2009 by Rebby Barnard under the title “Confessions of a Female Truck Driver”, where she talks about learning about herself and the world. The topic of sexism is at the heart of “Silly Woman, Big Rigs are for Men” by Mary Ellen Dempsey, published in 2011. It narrates the adventures of a single mother who takes on truck driving in the 1960s to support her family. French novel “Le camion de la fille” by Louise Méheut (2020) touches upon the same subject, but in a more contemporary context, as it follows the journey of a female trucker who decides to tackle discrimination in the transportation world in court.