Women in Expediting: Donna Sleasman
Spotlight News continues its series “Women in Expediting”. As reported in an earlier edition, we are talking to women to learn why they chose Expediting as a career, and how they cope with an industry that has been traditionally dominated by males.
As you’ll see, women enter into Expediting for different reasons. They also perform different tasks that suit their talents and tastes. Not all are drivers or owners. Some women prefer to take advantage of other opportunities that support and grow the company business, including recruiting, bookkeeping and freight management, to name a few. It is becoming even more clear that as women move into Expediting, their talents are needed and welcomed in the industry.
To help explain the main factor driving the Women in Expediting phenomenon, a recent Bloomberg news report points out that more and more women are entering trucking due to a nationwide driver shortage with a projected shortfall to be 400,000 drivers by 2017. In addition, the American Trucking Association states that 5.8 percent of the 3.4 million U.S. truck drivers last year were female, compared to 4.6 percent in 2010.
Taken as a whole, women are gaining in the trucking industry, but there’s more to their story than sheer numbers. Statistically, they are proving to be more cautious and attentive behind the wheel than their male counterparts, a trait for which major carriers are beginning to notice. Other changes within the industry can be directly attributed to the influence of women, including better ergonomics in the cab, more accommodating sleepers and accessibility to showers at truck stops. We can expect to see more changes coming as carriers and trucking companies start to court women as an untapped resource.
We now introduce Donna Sleasman, a successful driver and fleet owner who has built a family business while blazing a trail for other women in expediting.
SLN: Donna, how did you get started in trucking and how did it evolve into a career in Expediting?
While working at a gas station in 1982, I saw that trucking was a way for a woman without a college education to make $40,000 a year, and that’s how I got into it. Once I made up my mind to get into the business, I bought a truck and became an owner operator as a long haul trucker, which was an oddity in 1982.
My entry into Expediting came about after my husband retired as a firefighter in 1999. We visited a truck show in Boston and spoke to a carrier who introduced us to Expediting. It sounded like a great fit because my husband who didn’t have a CDL would only have to qualify with a Class B license, which he did. In 2000, we signed on with FedEx, and as they say, the rest is history.
SLN: Once you were into Expeditng, how did you get involved with Expediter Services?
I heard about ES from someone who was already involved with them. Their OIC (Occupational Accident insurance) really appealed to me, plus their support meant that someone would be there for me in case of a breakdown. All of their other services are good too, but these two were the determining factors for me.
SLN: As a woman driver and business owner, how do you approach the business?
Without a doubt, Expediting is a “co-hab” venture. It’s important to have someone who is compatible as a driving partner as this works best. In some ways, I feel that I have a bit of an advantage because I’ve been in the business long enough I can analyze situations and capitalize on them. For example, I’ve had some drivers tell me that they will never drive to New York City. I learned a long time ago that if I go within a 200 mile radius of Bordentown, I can make money. I figure out areas to make money and concentrate on those areas. It takes time to develop this knowledge, but I think it’s what sets my business apart; finding these niches.
SLN: Tell us about your fleet of Expediting trucks?
I’m a driver and a fleet owner. I have four DR units and a BR unit, as well as a tractor trailer that runs with a company out of Utah. I went about building my fleet a little differently than most people in the business. I never aspired to be a fleet owner, but I’m the kind of person who likes to help people. I’m always reaching out to people and offering advice (sometimes I think more than I should). One team I have, I met in White Glove class. I was talking to them and offering advice and telling them if they have questions to call me. Their owner didn’t turn out so well and I offered to buy them a truck if they would drive for me and they agreed. Another team had a similar situation. I’ve never purchased a truck that I didn’t already have a team ready to drive. I think it’s also important to be accessible and take phone calls and answer questions. I’ve had some teams call me on almost every load while they were learning and I don’t mind that. I’m always happy to share tips and “secrets” to help them be successful.
SLN: Do people treat you differently as a women in Trucking/Expediting?
When I started out, trucking was a male dominated industry. The large percentage of women who were actually in the business were wives who didn’t actually drive. In today’s trucking environment, I’m amazed at the number of men who actually respect my opinion. There are plenty of guys who will call me up and ask me questions about how do I do certain things. As a matter of fact, when I’m in a situation where we’re sitting around, I usually wind up sitting with the guys discussing the trucking business. I may not have the kids or grandchildren of my own to talk about, but I can sure tell someone how to re-rig your transmission, change a thermostat, radiator or just about anything else that involves a truck.
SLN: Do you find that attitudes regarding women in trucking have changed over the years?
Yes, quite a lot. I think as it relates to me, people (including men), respect my opinion because I know quite a lot about many aspects of the business. If I give advice about something, I always strive to be accurate based on my knowledge and experience. If I happen to give advice that’s not accurate or correct, I go out of my way to find that person and correct it. I believe attitudes toward women is not so much about one’s sex as it is about your attitude in regards to the business and others, as well as your knowledge, experience and integrity.
SLN: What advice do you have for women now in Expediting or who are looking to make it a career?
Just go out and do the job and don’t think you can’t do something just because you’re a woman, it doesn’t matter. But I will say this, as a woman, you can’t just stand by as a “helpless” female and expect the guys to do your work for you. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen women at a loading dock watch as someone else unloads her freight. I’m proud of the fact that I have never once asked someone else to help unload my truck for me. I have even unloaded entire tractor trailer by myself. If someone wants to help that’s fine. But I am always there right beside them. I think its importan
t for others to know that you can carry your own weight in this industry. And that’s where respect comes from.
SLN: How do people react when they find out you are a woman who happens to drive a truck?
I still have people who are amazed that I’ve been doing this for as long as I have. Over the years, there’s been a couple of times that it seemed like a job, but the rest of the time, I just love being an expediter. It truly isn’t an issue as long as you are professional and know your stuff.
SLN: What are your thoughts about income disparity between men and women?
I don’t believe in trucking that really exists. One thing I find most annoying is that someone can come straight out of trucking school and get paid the same amount as someone who has been in trucking for years, but I guess the ease of entry and the equality of income is the reason a lot of women enter into expediting. Companies are not willing to pay for experience, which is a shame. Their attitude has been that truck drivers are a dime a dozen, and that statement may be true to a certain extent. But I have always said a good, experienced truck driver is worth their weight in gold because people who have been in the business for years have the knowledge and experience to maximize profits for the carrier by knowing how to efficiently run their truck as a business, which benefits everyone. Also, Expediter Services support helps in this regard.
SLN: Tell us a little bit about how you’ve structured your business?
My business is a family affair. It just so happens that my family business is made up of females. My niece handles payroll, and this is made easy by how ES’s settlements are structured. My sister also helps with managing the business. I also have a niece who graduates from college in June and she wants to travel around with me this summer. I told her all she has to do is get her Class B license and we’ll hit the road.
SLN: As a woman, what has your experience been like working with Expediter Services?
I enjoy working with Expediter Services and I’ve always had a good experience with their people and services. I have never felt like being a female in this business has ever had a negative effect on me or my business. They have always been there and are always ready to serve. Also, when I talk to people who are Expediters, I am happy to refer them to ES because they are a great way for them to save money and have the support they need on the level they desire.
Thanks Donna, we have certainly enjoyed all of your insights about Women in Expediting.
Stay tuned for another edition of Women in Expediting in a future issue of Spotlight News!
Visit our Women in Expediting page to learn about how you can get started today with your new career.
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