Although men have long made up the majority of commercial haulers in the U.S., one woman-led company hopes to address the trucking industry’s persistent gender imbalance.
Joyce Brenny, founder, president and CEO of Brenny Transportation, a transportation and logistics company based in St. Cloud, Minnesota, has spent most of her life around trucks. She learned to drive tractors on her family’s farm at a young age, and after graduating from high school, she turned down a college scholarship to drive for a lumber company. In the early 1980s, Brenny took a job in sales for a transportation company and worked her way up to general manager. “Trucking is the only career I’ve ever had,” she says.
Despite her success, Brenny remembers seeing unequal treatment of employees based on gender. “Women just were not being offered positions,” she says. “There was a derogatory feeling about trying to promote women in our office or even give them raises. It was frustrating.”
When Brenny tried to negotiate a raise for a co-worker, Bonnie Supan, and the company’s leadership refused, she took it as a sign to move on. “I felt like I could do it better.”
When Brenny opened Brenny Transportation in 1996, she hired Supan, who is now a vice president. The company Brenny and Supan left has since gone out of business.
Today, Brenny Transportation has more than 100 employees and generates around $24 million in revenue annually. It has grown more than 10% every year for the last 23 years, according to Brenny.
The industry’s gender imbalance has improved over the last two decades, but the driver workforce is still overwhelmingly male. According to the Women in Trucking Association, which Brenny Transportation joined in 2009, women make up only 6% of the driver population. At Brenny Transportation, women make up about 10% of drivers, while half of the company’s office staff are female.
The No. 1 concern preventing women from entering the industry, Brenny says, is safety. “When a woman’s out there by herself, it can be scary.”
To provide a safer work environment, Brenny Transportation invests in additional security devices and newer rigs that break down less often. When a driver has to stay at a location overnight, the company takes an active role in finding safe places to park.
These practices have the potential to improve the job quality for all drivers, “but I think I might look a little bit more at security for our female drivers because—having been one—I know what they’re facing,” Brenny says.
Trucking is a difficult job, but making it better for everyone is a passion for Brenny, who serves on the board of directors for the Minnesota Trucking Association and on the American Trucking Associations’ safety policy committee. She says she uses her position to advocate for changes that lead to higher pay and increased safety.
“I want to be a voice for the truck drivers,” she says. “They’re busy driving.”
This story originally appeared in the November/December print edition of Middle Market Growth magazine. Read the full issue in the archive.
Benjamin Glick is ACG Global’s marketing and communications associate.