American culture is in a moment of transformation—revelations of widespread sexual discrimination, harassment, and assault in entertainment, politics, and media have sparked a national conversation about gender relations in the workplace.
FreightWaves has decided to make its own contribution to this dialogue by launching a Women of Transportation article series that will shed light on the experiences of women in various sectors of the transportation industry, from truck driving to logistics and warehouses. For the first installment of the series, we spoke to Ellen Voie of Women in Trucking (WIT) and Stephanie Klang, who has driven for CFI since 1987.
Voie explained that women are sought out by carriers to drive trucks. “A lot of women don’t realize they’re valued in the trucking industry. Women drivers take fewer risks, and accidents involving men tend to be at higher speeds.” Despite their superior performance in these respects, women only represent about 7% of all truck drivers in the United States. WIT was founded in 2007 to address that discrepancy and to encourage the employment of women in transportation and logistics.
Women in Trucking offers an anti-harassment employment guide to carriers that defines what sexual harassment is and encourages team drivers of mixed genders to get to know each other through an ‘expectations exchange’. The expectations exchange is a tool designed to help prevent misunderstandings and foster mutual respect between team members. “We know there’s an issue because there’s no other industry where you have employees of mixed gender in an enclosed space for long periods of time with a bed just inches away,” Voie told FreightWaves.
Voie said that good data on the kinds of dangers faced by women drivers does not really exist—no one has been tracking incidents of harassment, stalking, or assault, and anecdotal stories passed around the industry cannot form a good foundation for policymaking. To that end, WIT has partnered with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to embark on a three year study of crimes against female truck drivers. WIT will design and carry out a survey of a statistically significant number of women drivers to better understand the prevalence of crimes involving threats and assaults, breaking down the data by type of offense, location, characteristics of the perpetrator, and characteristics of the victim.
Stephanie Klang, who has 38 years of truck driving experience, spoke to FreightWaves by phone about her experiences in the industry while she was on the road from Idaho to Tennessee. Klang remembered suffering pay discrimination in the 1980s before she moved to her current employer—she team drove with her husband, and said that her company “treated me like his little helper, and didn’t pay me as much.” She also recalled the days when she couldn’t walk through a warehouse without hearing wolf whistles and getting cat-called.
But Klang hasn’t faced much discrimination or harassment in the past 20 years. She credits the progress the industry has made to the ease with which incidents can be reported—and the seriousness with which they’re treated—and concrete steps taken by carriers and truck stops to ensure employee safety. Klang cited improvements in security and lighting at truckstops, including parking spaces reserved for late night arrivals located in high visibility areas. Klang said that even though she runs solo in all 48 states and is on the road 280 days a year, she keeps the sleeper berth curtain closed, so that anyone who sees her assumes she’s part of a team.
One of the most important ways that carriers can keep their drivers safe, Klang told FreightWaves, was by equipping their trucks with comfortable, high-end interior packages and electric climate control. The more convenient and self-sufficient her cabin is, Klang said, “the less I have to go outside when it’s dark or if I’m in a location I’m unfamiliar with. The truck itself protects me.”
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