Katherine Laursen has pursued numerous career paths, including driving tanker ships, working as a security supervisor for a nuclear power plant and serving in the military.
Laursen, who goes by Kat, was tired of disrespect she faced in one job, as a contract armed officer for the Department of Homeland Security, so she pivoted toward a new career: truck driving.
She’s now driven trucks since 2014. “A lot of people didn't think that I would last in this job,” she said. “And here I am … five and a half years later. I couldn't imagine not doing this.”
She’s one of a number of women flocking to the truck driving industry, which offers careers with flexible schedules, a chance to travel and an independent lifestyle. The number of women truckers increased by 68% from 2010 to 2018, which is helping curb a shortage of drivers.
With more than 234,000 women holding truck driving jobs last year, women make up a sliver (6.6%) of the male-dominated workforce, according to the American Trucking Associations.
It’s a trend that Superior-based Halvor Lines also has seen. Less than a decade ago in 2012, the company had 14 female drivers. Now, it has 39 female drivers, including Laursen.
Almost 10% of Halvor’s drivers are women, according to Chelsea Loining, human resource manager for Halvor.
Laursen was drawn to the job for the independent lifestyle she’s able to live while working. “I feel like I found my home,” she said.
“My favorite part is kind of the sense of freedom you get with it. Because it's not traditional, where I have to get up every day at 9 o'clock and go sit behind a desk and get off every day at 5. I don't have that,” she said. “There's definitely a sense of freedom, which I really enjoy.”
Historically, women wouldn’t drive truck unless they were partnering with their husbands and, now, the company is seeing more women driving solo, like Laursen, said Debbie Landry, director of driver services.
Landry said equal pay — no matter the gender — is likely drawing people to the career, as well as a shifting culture and an increase in women trainers. “I believe that they realize this is something that they can do,” Landry said.
Experience is the sole influencer of pay, Landry said. “If (a woman) came in today, as a driver with two years experience and a man came in the door with two years experience, you're going to get paid exactly the same,” she said.
And with more women trainers, their new female employees may feel more comfortable with a female trainer who accompanies them for several weeks during training, she said.
The increase in female drivers is helping Halvor — and other trucking companies — curb a shortage of drivers, said Landry. They’re seeing older drivers retire and others facing medical issues.
“Companies have realized that they have to diversify (because) where are we going to get these other people to fill the seats? And we have women that are willing and able to do this job,” she said.
Laursen lives out of her 2020 Volvo tractor-trailer. She calls it home, and the amenities match its title: a TV, DVR, microwave, bed and more. And, like any home, her home comes with a crock pot, which she lets cook while driving.
Paid by the mile, she aims to drive 3,000-3,500 miles weekly and no less than 10,000 monthly, she said. She drives every day, and makes “decent money.” She doesn’t worry about rent, so Laursen said she has extra money at the end of the day that she can spend however she chooses.
In a traditionally male-dominated career, she said it’s great to see the increase in women drivers, likely because more feel comfortable taking on the job.
“Seeing more women taking that initiative (to) get behind this big truck (and) control 80,000 pounds,” she said, shows that “anybody that wants to drive: You can learn to drive and you can do it. It's not hard.”
Although more women are in the field, Laursen said she still faces sexism in the male-dominated industry.
“I see it when I'm driving down the road, like people stop and look — and then they'll look again. (They go), ‘no way, oh my God, that's a girl, she's driving that truck,’” she said.
When dropping off shipments, people are surprised to learn she is driving by herself. “Some places they are kind of shocked when they see a female driver come in, because it's not normal,” she said. “With women getting into this industry, (we’re) definitely changing that.”
She’s also faced problems while stopped to fuel her truck. People condescendingly ask if she needs help fueling or wiping her windshield, with some even cat-calling her.
When Laursen is driving and sees little kids looking up at her from nearby cars, she always makes sure to wave — especially if it’s a girl. “I just wave to them … so they know you could do this one day if you want,” she said.