“I had a guy tell me to my face that he would not hire me because I was a woman. I told him he was going to regret saying that.”
What’s happening: From driving big rigs to working in operations roles, the ranks of women in trucking continue to grow. The 2022 Women in Trucking Index reports that more than 13% of professional drivers across the industry are women — up from about 10% in 2019 — and nearly 45% of dispatchers are female.
Why it matters: Inclusive cultures drive better results. For five years in a row, U.S. Xpress has been among the “Top Companies for Women to Work For in Transportation” in Redefining the Road magazine, the official magazine of the Women in Trucking Association.
The bottom line: We talked with a few of the women who drive U.S. Xpress forward, from our operations teams to a woman who has been at the wheel for more than three decades, to get their perspectives on building great careers as women in trucking.
Phyllis Overla started working for U.S. Xpress 25 years ago as a night fleet manager, back when she was the only female dispatcher on the job. These days, she’s a senior operations specialist who handles planning for more than 140 trucks, which means sorting out everything from basic preventive maintenance schedules to getting drivers home on time to load planning.
“I love my job – it’s like a big puzzle,” Phyllis said. “Every morning you start with all new pieces and put them all together.”
In the early days of her career, Phyllis had some work to do to prove herself, but being a consistent and effective advocate for drivers has served her well through the years, she said.
“Once the drivers realize that what she says, you can take it to the bank, it’s a different ballgame,” Phyllis said. “It’s transportation – everything won’t go smooth, but you can’t be intimidated. You just have to make sure you’re doing what you say you’ll do.”
From driving big rigs to working in operations roles, the ranks of women in trucking have grown steadily. The 2022 Women in Trucking Index reports that more than 13% of professional drivers across the industry are women, and nearly 45% of dispatchers are female.
Among the professional drivers at U.S. Xpress and Variant, about 665, or nearly 12%, are women. About 286 operations team members are women, or 47% of U.S. Xpress operations professionals.
For five years in a row, U.S. Xpress has been among the “Top Companies for Women to Work For in Transportation” in Redefining the Road magazine, the official magazine of the Women in Trucking Association.
Ashley Ellison, a senior director of operations for the grocery business at U.S. Xpress, has seen the industry change for the better since 2005, when she first jumped into transportation.
“What I’ve seen in my 17 years is really big growth in female leadership,” Ashley said. “Back when I started it was male-dominated, but we just gave out five awards in our Dedicated division, and four of five were female transportation managers.”
Ashley began her career at U.S. Xpress tracking FEMA freight in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. From there, she moved into a role as a freight coordinator, then into brokerage as a customer service manager, and then became a liaison between the brokerage and asset-based sides of the business.
After several other roles, Ashley took on her job as senior director in early 2022. Her best advice for women in transportation is to lean into what you want, she said.
“Having the confidence, reaching out to others for support, and not being afraid to go for that promotion or to go for that next chapter in your career,” she said. “When you’re coming into a male-dominated industry, you can’t let anyone’s conscious or unconscious bias affect your sense of worth. Believe in your worth.”
For Cindy Pappas, a career as a professional driver was something she always wanted. Her grandfather was a professional driver who taught Cindy to drive on his old truck, Maggie, and two of her uncles drove, as well — one of them as a team driver who criss-crossed the country with his wife.
“That was how I knew that was the direction I wanted to go, to run teams with a spouse,” said Cindy, who has been driving with her husband, Mark Pappas, for the last 20 years of her 35-year career.
“I have learned a lot from her,” said Mark, who had worked for decades in a machine shop when Cindy suggested they hit the road together.
Cindy drove trucks for the U.S. Army for eight years before she went looking for a civilian job as a truck driver in 1994. At one of the first places she applied, the man in charge made one thing clear.
“I had a guy tell me to my face that he would not hire me because I was a woman,” said Cindy, who has been driving trucks for U.S. Xpress for 22 years. “I told him he was going to regret saying that.”
In her time with U.S. Xpress, Cindy has logged more than 2 million safe miles, building a career she loves along the way.
“The advice I would give to women is go for it,” she said. “Since I started so many years ago, we were few and far between and now it’s awesome to see so many women getting involved in the trucking industry.”
When Nallely Mendez joined U.S. Xpress three years ago in a customer service role, she never expected to lead an operations community tasked with supporting professional drivers all over the country.
“I have learned so much about the industry and myself and what I’m capable of,” said Nallely, who leads a team that supports bilingual drivers. “It has been all about gaining their trust, showing them that I know what I’m doing, and that if I don’t know an answer, I’m going to figure it out.”
After a career in customer service, Nallely initially had trouble imagining herself in an operations role, but she has grown her expertise and has become a coach and leader for others on her team.
“Learn what you’re doing and learn it well, and definitely network and reach out to other leaders and get mentorship from them,” she said. “If you want to try something new, go ahead and do it. If you don’t, you’ll never know if it’s for you or not.”