How women are taking the wheel and making inroads into the traditionally male-dominated trucking and logistics industries

Photography by Olivia Ross / Cindy Lee, president and CEO at LYNC Logistics, right, with her daughter Taylor Vinson, vice president of Idealease of Chattanooga and Lee-Smith, Inc.
Photography by Olivia Ross / Cindy Lee, president and CEO at LYNC Logistics, right, with her daughter Taylor Vinson, vice president of Idealease of Chattanooga and Lee-Smith, Inc.

Cindy Lee was fed up with empty promises and unreliable service from freight brokers. Too many times, they promised one thing but delivered another.

So in 2014, at age 57, she decided she could do better on her own. She approached her boss at the time (who also happened to be her husband Less, owner of Lee-Smith Trucking) and shared her idea: She was going to start a female-run logistics company.

"I explained that he would not be a partner. This was going to be a female-only company," she says. "Then I called my three grown daughters and reminded them of all the times I had given them money, paid for that expensive education and all those wonderful clothes they had. Then I asked them to cough up some money for my company.

"Guilt works amazingly well," she laughs.

Today, that business is known as LYNC Logistics (originally LYNC America) -- a thriving multimillion-dollar company based in Chattanooga. One of Lee's main guiding principles was to build a company that was respectful of employees' personal lives.

The global shutdown during the COVID-19 pandemic made it clear that women, in most cases, carry the burden of being the primary caregiver in the family, she says. And many were pushed out of the workforce because of that.

So at LYNC, Lee made the decision to support women (and families) with policies like extended parental leave, which allows both mothers and fathers to work from home for up to eight weeks. But even before the pandemic, and still to this day, children are welcome in the office.

"I do believe getting the key to getting women back to the workforce is childcare, and that we have to understand how hard it is to get childcare," says Lee. "We are a brokerage for people who want to have a family life. ... It's a culture of support for everyone."

To her, women are natural logistical thinkers -- managing family dynamics, resolving conflicts, planning meals and coordinating schedules for various family members.

"Women are problem solvers," she says. "I think we're hard-wired to look at how to solve problems and make things work easier. If you've ever been in a household with three children ... you are spending all day, every day solving logistical problems. What better skills do you need in a workforce?"

Part of the problem with gender biases, she adds, is that women face steeper financial barriers. Females aren't included in conversations and don't receive the same education males do about finance and building wealth.

She recalls one of her own financial obstacles while starting LYNC: "... I called a bank that my husband and I used, that his company used, and asked for a line of credit in my name. I told them I would give a personal guarantee," she says. "The bank said unless I was willing to pull the amount I was asking for out of my investment account and move it their bank, I could not have a line of credit. If it had been my husband, he would have been given the line of credit with no questions."

And sometimes, she adds, having her voice heard in a room full of men can require some extra effort.

"Men tend to talk with other men," she says. "And they ignore me as a female. But I always make sure that I get my voice heard. I'm not ugly about it, but I do make sure that they realize I have a point of view and that I am contributing to the conversation."

***

Jennifer Hedrick was recently named as the new president and chief operating officer of the Women in Trucking Association (WIT), a national group whose main goal is to increase gender diversity within the transportation profession. Founded in 2007, the group is now about 8,000 members strong.

The majority are women, but male membership is enthusiastically welcomed. Right now, male membership is at about 14%.

Much of the work WIT does, Hedrick says, involves debunking false beliefs about the trucking profession. Truck driving has long been viewed as a male-oriented field. And there's a common belief that drivers have to spend days, weeks or even months away from home. But the industry is evolving.

"There are opportunities for people to drive on flexible schedules that suit their needs -- leaving in (the) morning and coming back in (the) evening is a common schedule," she says. "This allows drivers to fulfill parenting responsibilities, take care of adult parents or other loved ones, and offers flexibility in other ways."

Hedrick also says education and awareness are key. As more companies work to improve diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), WIT is able to help evaluate member goals, develop outreach programs, and recommend job description terminology to better attract talent.

WIT also works with groups, such as the Girl Scouts, to introduce trucking as a viable industry with competitive salaries and opportunities. And they work to provide tools and resources, like scholarships, to help women succeed.

"Truck driving has grown with women over the years," Hedrick says. "Technicians and diesel mechanics, where there is a significant shortage, we are encouraging more women to enter those careers."

***

Wyzeena Heeny has been a truck driver with Covenant Logistics for more than 20 years. She was first referred to the company by her uncle, who drove commercial vehicles for more than 50 years himself.

Describing a "normal" day or week on the road isn't easy for her. Instead she just keeps it simple, saying she loves being a professional driver.

Heeny says her biggest challenge, when she first began as a driver, was learning how to back the enormous semi-tractor trailers. Luckily, she recalls, she was blessed with instructors who gave her extra attention, making sure she got it right. Trucking isn't easy, she explains, and it took her nearly two years to fully master operating the vehicle.

Since that time, Heeny has continued to make advancements in her field. After joining Covenant, she then became a road team captain for the Tennessee Trucking Association, and then most recently a member of WIT's Image Team, an outreach and educational group.

Women are to thank for a lot of behind-the-scenes work in the trucking industry, she says. Many hold positions and titles like CEO, directors, chaplains, mechanic, recruiters, payroll accountants -- the list goes on.

"This is how we attract more females to the industry," Heeny says.

Women in Key Transportation Industry Roles

2022 Women in Trucking Index at a Glance

* C-Suite Executives: 33.8%

* Company Leaders: 39.6%

* Serving on Boards of Directors: 31%

* HR/Talent Management: 74.9%

* Technician Roles: 3.7%

* Profession Driver Roles:13.7%

* Dispatcher Roles: 44.7%

* Safety Roles: 40.5%

The 2022 WIT Index Survey had 180 respondents, the majority (59.5%) of whom have for-hire fleets or private fleets. Of those with fleet assets, 44.5% reported on behalf of motor carriers of various types (full truckload, less-than truckload, refrigerated, flatbed, expedited and liquid). Another 15% reported on behalf of intermediary companies, such as logistics companies or freight brokers. In addition, 12% represented manufacturers, retailers or distributors that have private fleets. Others included professional services (7%), technology (4.5%), and other (17%) types of companies that do not operate for-hire fleets or private fleets. Many represented companies with more than 5,000 employees (14%) or companies with 1,000 to 4,999 employees (14.5%), while about 31% have 50-499 employees and 33% have fewer than 50 employees.

Source: womenintrucking.org

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  photo  Photography by Jennifer McNally / Cindy Lee rides a golf cart through "the kingdom" -- the shared space between her husband's business, Lee-Smith Trucking, and her own, LYNC Logistics.
 
 


  photo  Photography courtesy of Women in Trucking Association / Jennifer Hedrick was recently named as the new head of the Women in Trucking Association, a national group dedicated to empowering women in the transportation industry.
 
 
  photo  Wyzeena Heeny has been a driver with Covenant Logistics for more than 20 years. / Photo courtesy of Covenant Logistics
 
 


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