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Kellylynn McLaughlin is the face and voice of women in trucking. 

McLaughlin, a driver and trainer for Schneider National, was named the Women In Trucking Association’s first ambassador about two months ago. She’ll be pulling a branded trailer to truck shows, schools and truck stops around the country evangelizing trucking as a profession for females.

But it was as one of six 2019 Influential Woman in Trucking finalists that McLaughlin took the stage at WIT’s Accelerate! Conference & Expo in Dallas last week.

Kellylynn McLaughlin is Women In Trucking’s first ambassador. (Photo: Kim Link-Wills/FreightWaves)

It was as the director of logistics for her kids’ marching band that McLaughlin, a self-described problem solver, discovered she loved everything about driving a truck.

“Everything about driving a truck is math. If you like solving problems, truck driving is a great industry for you,” she said, adding that trucking also provides her “a behind-the-scenes tour of how our country runs — the infrastructure, the nuts and bolts.”

But it wasn’t long before McLaughlin found the trucking industry “wasn’t so pretty.”

“I was shocked at how I was treated as a driver. Because I’m a problem solver, I decided to try and figure out how to solve the problem,” said McLaughlin, who still considers herself a relative newbie to the industry after five years as a driver. “It led me on this journey.”

A few weeks ago she was asked to talk about truck parking availability at a tri-nation conference featuring leaders from the United States, Canada and Mexico. McLaughlin used the platform to talk about truck drivers’ “basic necessities.”

“Everybody deserves a safe place to sleep, access to hygiene facilities and access to food,” she said, adding later, “As long as I have a voice, I’m going to seek to impact change in this industry in a positive way for women and for men — for every driver.” 

McLaughlin took a road with many turns before she got behind the wheel of a truck. She got a degree in interior design and then served in the Peace Corps before marrying and having children. Today she also runs property management and home remodeling businesses.

“I would encourage woman getting into this industry to not be afraid to have frank conversations with leadership,” she said. “If you don’t see the job that you want, create it.”

McLaughlin asked Scheider for a flexible schedule that enables her to be out on the road for a week and then home for a week to tend to her other businesses. She said she pushed herself to be in the top 2% of Schneider’s driver metrics to be valuable enough that the company would agree to let her work part time.

“It’s been great for me. When I’m not driving, I am talking to people and I’m going to conferences and I’m sending emails and I’m advocating in the industry so I can continue to make that impact for other people,” she said. “Did I think that I would have a voice in this industry when I started? No. I feel like I’m still a rookie. I have so much to learn. But I found out I do have a voice and I want to share it.”

McLaughlin has a lot to say about shippers.

“My shipper of choice would have a staging area. Somewhere near would be a place where I could take a shower, I could get hot food at a reasonable price, I could go to the toilet. It has air conditioning and heating in the area that I’m supposed to be contained in. Some shippers, as you probably know, we have to go and sit in a cage because we’re not allowed to be in our tractor while it’s being loaded and unloaded for safety reasons. And often that cage is not heated or air conditioned and there’s no access to toilet facilities or a place to wash your hands or anything like that,” she said.

“My shipper of choice is going to treat me with respect. They’re going to treat me as a customer and they’re going to treat me like they would their family. If you’re not treating your customer like you’d want your family member to be treated, I think there’s something wrong with your business model,” she continued. “You don’t have to provide me a bathroom? I’m speechless sometimes.” 

Women In Trucking has provided McLaughlin with an outlet.

“I wanted to have discussions with decision-makers about the industry that I was working in so it could be a better industry for everybody — women and men. I was looking for role models, professional development, people to answer my questions. This was one of the few places that I found that I could do that, that I could find other women to talk to and learn from them. I think this is a great opportunity for us to share our stories and work toward a better working environment for everybody, from the diesel mechanics all the way to the person at FMCSA,” McLaughlin said. 

So when McLaughlin read that Women In Trucking was going to appoint its first ambassador, she applied immediately. But she didn’t want to leave Schneider. 

“I called Schneider … and said, ‘Hey, I’ve got this idea. What if we make me your corporate donation to Women In Trucking and we make this job a collaboration?’ And they said they loved it,” McLaughlin said.

For one week a month, instead of pulling an orange Schneider trailer, McLaughlin will be pulling a Women In Trucking-branded one. “It’s going to be wrapped with all the faces of women. It’s going to be beautiful. Inside is going to be a semi tractor simulator, a history of women in trucking. It’s going to go to truck shows. It’s just fantastic,” she said.

“When I talk about that, that’s why I get teary eyed, because it’s such a great opportunity. I think we can effect change,” McLaughlin said.