Leah Evans had always dreamed of becoming a high school band director – until she started driving trucks.

Evans – now a driver for Saia LTL Freight in Charlotte, NC – got her CDL about 20 years ago with her now ex-husband. The two got into the industry as team drivers in 1996 for an OTR carrier. She had gone to school to study music, but ended up working as a customer service representative in air freight before she started driving.

Years later, she got a job as a temp with Clark Brothers Transfer and was hired fulltime in 2000. In 2004, Saia acquired Clark Brothers. Three years later, Evans and her ex split, and she eventually remarried in 2008. She’s been with Saia for more than 16 years, and is no longer interested in pursuing that dream of a high school band director.

“I stuck with it because I liked it; it’s what I learned how to do,” Evans said about truck driving. “I’m not willing to get out at this point. It kind of gets in your blood, the trucking industry does.”

“Being in the LTL industry, I’m home every night,” Evans added. “I’m in and out of the truck constantly, so I’m not sitting all the time. I get to meet with customers all the time – that’s the part of the job I absolutely love.”

When Evans, now in her early 40s, started out as a truck driver in 1996, she said a lot of drivers weren’t really receptive to the idea of young women entering the industry. Twenty years ago, she explained, a lot of the middle-aged male drivers were used to their wives being at home taking care of the kids. So, when Evans branched off into the industry on her own, she said it was difficult for them to accept her.

But things have changed. Now, Evans is a driver trainer with Saia, and she said it has been a great company to work for.

“They’ve had their downs, and I’ve stuck with them,” Evans told Fleet Owner. “But they’ve been on the up, and I’ve been able to do a lot more and get a lot more from Saia than I would have with Clark Brothers.”

Based on 2014 data from the U.S. Dept. of Labor, women make up 57% of the labor force. In the transportation sector, they represent a much smaller portion of the population.

Women comprise 5.8% of the 3.4 million driver/sales workers and truck drivers in the U.S. They are just 0.3% of the 323,000 bus, truck mechanics and diesel engine specialists in the workforce, and make up only 0.5% of the 211,000 heavy vehicle and mobile equipment technicians in the country.

According to Ellen Voie, president and CEO of the Women in Trucking (WIT) advocacy group, workforce diversity brings value to the bottom line.

“We’re beginning to see that in trucking; how the needs and values of women are changing things,” Voie told Fleet Owner. “Truck cabs are being designed to fit women drivers better … There’s also more focus on truck stop safety and harassment – the industry is starting to get it now. Harassment has always been an issue, but we’re working on it more. The key thing is to work on the industry’s image among the non-trucking public. We still have a long way to go with that.”

Though Evans doesn’t deal with harassment or hasn’t since she first began on her own, she and her husband, who also drives for Saia, face other challenges as working parents. But she feels the company is a good fit for them.

Evans explained that Saia is known for having some of the best health benefits and driver incentives around. When Evans trains incoming drivers, she asks what drew them to Saia, and right off the bat, trainees say “the benefits.”

Evans also said Saia holds job fairs and offers sign-on bonuses in some of its terminals. But one of the leading benefits Saia offers is after 10 years of service, employee health benefits are completely covered by the company.

“As a mother [of five] whose youngest child is six, that’s a lot of free health insurance,” Evans said, adding that her husband is a 12-year veteran with the company. “And that’s a good incentive to stay with the company.”