By Sandy Long
There is a lot of talk these days about how to make women more comfortable about entering male dominated fields. Leveling the playing fields so that any job is available to any gender in today’s economy makes a lot of sense; but how does one make anyone comfortable in entering any profession?
When I entered trucking, way back when, the predominant idea about women in male dominated jobs was that we would not be able to do the job, that our hormones would control us and that we would not hold up under the conditions both mental and physical demanded at that time in trucking. Women who were hired back then and who persevered, did not get emotional once a month or anytime else unless angered, did the job without asking for quarter and kept any stress related issues to themselves and just dealt with them. Women who could not do the above, did not last long.
Sexual harassment was rampant back then too though not expressed in that term when I first climbed in my first truck. It was not uncommon for a lead seat to sleep with their female second seats…therefore many of us would not run with someone that we would not have a relationship with. Of course, the equipment back then was not conducive to private sleeping arrangements; single bunk cabovers, though some of us figured out how to sleep head to toe with our co-drivers. Some safety directors or personnel directors would expect sexual favors for a woman to move up to second seat or to go solo, we fought those types of behavior. One must remember though that back then, before AIDS and sexual harassment laws, society as a whole was still in the free love ideal, trucking was no different and we women back then understood human nature too. We knew some men were most likely going to try something with us of an intimate nature and we learned quickly how to handle those times with humor and at times aggression.
Today, in trucking, companies want to hire women for many reasons; safety, performance and care of the equipment are just a few of the reasons. Women have moved up the corporate ladder and brought understanding to the boardrooms that women are not the weak, emotional creatures we were once thought of as being. Equipment has changed to be more female (and smaller male) friendly as has the fingerprinting of loads off and on the trailers, we can easily hire lumpers now days. Have ideas changed in reality though?
Women are now entering trucking that are vastly different than those of us who entered back in the day…the 1960’s and ‘70’s. With the poor image of truckers as a whole promoted by insurance companies, lawyers and the media in general, women, who are very aware of sexual harassment laws, enter trucking and look for obstacles such as predatory behavior, sexual harassment and discrimination. At times, they perceive those things where they actually do not exist. Women have forgotten human nature it appears in that they do not understand the difference between a driver being interested in them personally and a safety director asking for sexual favors to keep their job.
Many women today want to be treated differently because they are women in male dominated fields. I have heard women saying they want everything from front row reserved parking at truck stops to separate truckstops all together for women only. Some do not think they should have to go to certain places because it is unsafe, though they think it ok that men should go there. Some are so fearful that they want to carry guns or mace even before they get out on the road from trucking school, they think all male drivers are predators.
Women of this type do perpetuate the myth of long ago that women cannot do the job as well as men and may be too emotional or find the stress too great to stay in the field. Companies are now afraid of the sexual harassment suits that are brought by women and some are scrambling to defend themselves against them. Even our male peers are afraid to say good morning to a lady driver because of fear of being called in on for just being polite. Trucking has not changed enough for only women to train women or for women to only deal with other women.
To make women more comfortable in entering the trucking, or any other male dominated field, education is the key. Education of both genders that is. Straight honest information beginning in the trucking schools and ending with companies and recruiters would be a good start. That education should point out the human factors that one will meet in working with the opposite gender, what exactly sexual harassment or discrimination means and how to deal with it to begin with; then further education of company personnel on how to treat everyone equally and with respect to finish off with. In addition, straight facts on how in actuality many women of both genders are victims of crime especially by other drivers instead of making women fearful of their brother drivers should be taught and talked about.
Women entering a male dominated field have to learn that they have to fit into the field, not the field change to fit them; there is a job to be done and whether one is a male or a female, that job is the same and is done the same way. Problems only enter in on the human level and those sometimes are just nature and the way the genders differ. Any woman who enters any male dominated profession or field has to accept some hard facts about the job too. No, it might not be comfortable until you prove yourself one of the guys and that you can do the job with the rest of them, you will have to have on leather gloves instead of kid gloves to handle some of what you will find. Then you will be comfortable and succeed…if you want to badly enough.