After the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit upheld a decision that a trucking company was liable in a sexual harassment lawsuit, the challenges faced by women drivers were thrust back into the spotlight.
The case reportedly involved a female CDL trainee who alleged her instructed repeatedly touched her, despite protests. And rather than management take steps to eliminate the behavior, the female driver was fired. The jury verdict that required the freight outfit to pay upwards of $150,000 in lost wages and damages highlights a sometimes troubling trend in which qualified women truck drivers are treated unfairly.
Although the number of female truck drivers has increased by approximately 68 percent during the last 10 years, there are only about 240,00 professional drivers on the road out of more than 3.5 million. In terms of gender differences, men comprise about 93 percent of the trucking industry. That’s largely why the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) ordered workplace conditions studies.
“FMCSA has accumulated evidence, both documentary and anecdotal, for a serious pattern of harassment- and assault-related crimes against female and minority male truckers,” the agency reportedly announced in February. “For example, Security Journal, in a 2006 article titled ‘Workplace Violence against Female Long-haul Truckers,’ reported that 42 percent of female long-haul truckers reported experiencing one or more types of workplace violence.”
Troubling working conditions and beyond the pale behavior certainly warrant concern from women considering a trucking career. But by that same token, other professions experienced instances of inappropriate workplace conduct before changes were implemented. Ellen Voie, president of Women in Trucking, highlights cultural issues that typically undermine female truckers and how to select fair-minded employers.
“Women look for a company that has a collaborative, team-oriented culture,” Voie reportedly said. “You really have to think about where to find these potential drivers. What message are you trying to send to them, and what graphics are included in your ads? Don’t just think that women are the same as men because they’re not. Women in Trucking has a recruiting guide that has a lot of information on how to target women.”
She points out that presenting women as sexy models does little to garner the trust of female CDL holders or foster a reasonable environment. The industry leader also notes that female drivers face adversity not ordinarily experienced by their male counterparts.
“Women and men face the same challenges as drivers, but for women, safety is a much higher priority,” Voie reportedly said. “And what I mean by safety is the maintenance of the equipment; How well is it maintained? Also, where are you sending your drivers? Is it a bad part of town?”
The initial survey conducted by the FMCSA anticipates quantifying information from up to 880 truckers, and approximately 800 cite at least one sexual harassment incident. The organization announced it “may consider developing training or outreach materials to help truckers protect themselves from crime or harassment. Such training or outreach materials could help foster motor carriers’ employee retention efforts and help make the truck driving profession more attractive to a greater range of people.”
The number of women truck drivers continues to increase, and the industry has already entered a transitional phase. While the male-dominated landscape will likely experience growing pains, gender diversity will only improve the ranks of America’s hard-working truckers.