We Need a New Rule for Training Female Drivers

Your 24 year old daughter calls you with the exciting news that she has completed her training and is ready to start her new career. She worked hard to earn her diploma and is anticipating her first business trip.

Although she is eager to start her new job, she expresses her concern that her employer has asked her to share a room with a male co-worker. You’re shocked that any business would expect men and women to share sleeping quarters, but she reassures you that the company has very strict policies on harassment and fraternization.

Then, she tells you that her co-worker is actually her superior and he will be evaluating her performance and reporting back to the company.

You find the entire situation discomforting and you worry about your daughter’s safety.

Describe this scenario to any parent and you’ll be greeted with disbelief. Yet, in the trucking industry, this conversation is ‘normal’.

If your daughter was a fire-fighter, a pilot or a train engineer, she would be provided with a private sleeping area. However, since she has recently completed training to become a commercial driver, this is the expectation we have for her.

As a parent, I would be wary of any industry that expects a new CDL graduate to share close quarters with someone who will control her future employment.

The Women In Trucking Association’s mission is to bring more women into transportation careers. Yet, the training situation is unacceptable and we truly can’t ignore privacy issues concerning the sharing of a sleeper berth. We’re expected to ignore gender differences, but is this truly the only solution for training?

Researchers Jennifer Hirsch, Ph.D. and Claude Mellins, Ph.D. looked at the proximity of the bunk in a college dorm and the spatial implications of the sleeping area as part of the area for social interaction. These authors refer to it as a ‘sexually charged’ area. While this study also focuses on the incidence of alcohol involved in the college setting, the location of a bed in an area meant, for conversations or other social activities, it appears to increase the likelihood of sexual harassment or sexual assault for college students. We will be looking at how this might be inferred in the trucking industry.

A solution for trucking companies might be to pair female trainees with female trainers, but unless you can provide the training for women as quickly as it is for men, you’ll be under scrutiny by the EEOC for ‘denying employment’ for your female trainees.

To complicate matters, the Women In Trucking Scholarship Foundation offers funding for women looking for training in technical, safety and leadership and we have found that many of the female driver applications are from women who are escaping negative personal situations. These women are often trying to find a way to support their families by earning a CDL, but have experienced terrible personal tragedies such as domestic abuse, teen pregnancies, and more.

How can we put these women into an environment which is already a male-dominated one and then expect them to be able to deal with a trainer in close proximity for weeks at a time? A large carrier attempted to address this by adopting a same-gender training policy but they were sued by the EEOC for discriminatory practices. The attorney claimed it was ‘disrespectful’ to men to assume they will harass women if they work in close quarters. Really?

The Women In Trucking Association is pursuing legislation to ALLOW same-gender training if a carrier chooses. Notice, we did not say, require, but to allow. If a carrier chooses to provide a female trainer for a female trainee, they should not suffer financial consequences for this policy.

Congressman Michael Gallagher (R-WI) is working with us to better understand these challenges and to then create a legal option to protect these women by allowing trucking companies to promise a same-gender training OPTION. We are also working with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration on a survey to determine the extent of harassment and assaults on women (and minority) drivers.

You can find out more at http://www.womenintrucking.org.

Would you feel comfortable getting a call from your daughter like the one at the beginning of this article?

Ellen Voie

President/CEO/Founder of
Women In Trucking, Inc.

Women In Trucking Association, Inc. is a nonprofit association established to encourage the employment of women in the trucking industry, promote their accomplishments and minimize obstacles faced by women working in the trucking industry. Membership is not limited to women, as 17 percent of its members are men who support the mission. Women In Trucking is supported by its members and the generosity of Gold Level Partners: Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems, Daimler Trucks North America, BMO Transportation Finance, Great Dane, J.B. Hunt Transport, Ryder System, Inc., U.S. Xpress, and Walmart. Follow WIT on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn. For more information, visit http://www.womenintrucking.org

About Ellen Voie, President/CEO

Ellen Voie founded the Women In Trucking Association in March of 2007, and currently serves as the nonprofit organization’s President/CEO.