Virginia Clark has been a long-distance driver for nearly 40 years and has seen and experienced it all. And she believes now is the best time for women to enter the long-haul trucking industry.
Although Virginia Clark has always loved and been fascinated by this industry, trucking hasn’t always been squeamish with her. She began her career in the 1980s as a non-union driver with no official CDL training. One of very few long-haul drivers early in her career, Ms. Clark was the victim of physical and emotional abuse, and her pay was half that of her male counterparts (8 cents per mile versus 16 cents per mile).
But the industry has changed for the better – and continues to change – Ms. Clark stressed.
“When I was first hired, there weren’t a lot of women; we weren’t widely accepted in the industry,” Ms. Clark said at a joint virtual roundtable hosted by the U.S. Departments of Labor and Transportation on April 28, which brought together industry stakeholders to raise awareness about sexual assault and harassment in the over-the-road transportation sector.
Today, Clark drives for UPS and is a member of the Teamsters union’s Section 710. She is also a strong advocate for hiring more professional women drivers into the ranks of the trucking industry.
“I tell everyone they need to do this,” she stressed. “The pay is very high, the benefits are excellent, and as far as safety, it’s a lot safer today than it was 25 years ago.”
The April 28 panel discussion was part of the Biden administration’s call for a national day of action to raise awareness and advocate for the prevention of sexual assault and harassment in the highway transportation sector. The event was also part of the Administration’s Trucking Industry Action Plan, which aims to improve training and safety standards to recruit, train and retain drivers from underrepresented communities.
The Trucking Industry Action Plan includes a Women in Trucking Advisory Committee, established by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to work with drivers and trucking organizations to remove barriers that prevent women from entering and remaining in the profession.
“For far too long, the widespread – and often unchecked – incidents of sexual assault, violence and harassment in the trucking industry have damaged lives, destroyed careers and kept women from jobs in the industry,” said event moderator and Women’s Bureau Chief Wendy Chun-Hoon. “The Day of Action is an important step in bringing industry stakeholders together to denounce sexual violence and harassment, bring about significant change, and hopefully inspire similar action in other professions and industries that have historically been dominated by men.”
Her colleague Sharae Moore, founder of the nonprofit S.H.E. Trucking, has been driving for eight years. She was born and raised in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and has always wanted to see “what’s on the other side of Lookout Mountain.”
“Truck driving has given me that opportunity, and I love the trucking industry,” Ms. Moore said. “My dad is a truck driver and my mom was a bus driver. Once I started truck driving, I felt free. That’s what I enjoyed the most.”
On the road, however, Moore quickly realized that there was little or no representation of women in the industry. She started S.H.E. Trucking as a clothing brand, designing T-shirts for female truckers. Since then, the organization has grown to help more than 30,000 women and minorities in the trucking industry build and sustain professional careers.
“This roundtable is a first step, but we still have a lot of work to do,” Moore emphasized. “We urge trucking companies to listen and incorporate a zero-tolerance program and sexual harassment policies into their businesses to increase the number of women in the trucking industry and successfully recruit and retain more female drivers.”
How can trucking companies prevent harassment?
When it comes to preventing harassment and discrimination in the workplace, training and awareness are the best place to start, noted Andrea Baran, regional attorney for the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Baran highlighted three EEOC recommendations that are particularly well-suited to the road transportation industry.
“One of the most important things a company can do is make sure that employees hear frequently from the company’s most senior leaders that no form of harassment or discrimination will be tolerated,” she said. “A very effective way to do that is to circulate a video statement from the company’s CEO, chairman or a high-level employee that clearly sends the message that this issue is important to the company. That’s something that can be done multiple times and sent as a link to workers to watch wherever they are.”
Second, Baran said, effective training must be provided and available wherever workers are located.
Finally, he said, it is important for employers to go beyond simply prohibiting illegal behavior.
“When it comes to illegal behavior, you’ve already lost the war,” Baran explained. “It’s much more important for employers to promote respect and civility in the workplace. Make it clear that harassing or offensive behavior will not be tolerated.”
Shelby Schacher, driver recruitment specialist and recruiter at Grand Island Express (GIE), said the company has implemented and adheres to its zero-tolerance policy.
“It’s important that new and existing drivers understand our stance on sexual harassment and abuse; we talk about our stance on this issue on the first day of orientation,” Schacher said. “At that time, we lay out the specific details of our sexual harassment policy and educate them on how to alert the appropriate channels if an incident occurs.”
She also noted that it is the EIG’s duty to provide resources when an incident occurs. An important part of the
Society’s operating model is its training program
“We believe in not wanting an instructor or a student to feel uncomfortable,” Ms. Schacher said. “Our goal is to make instructors and students feel comfortable with the person they are paired with.”
“Sexual harassment and assault don’t happen in a vacuum,” said Robin Runge, board member of the D.C. Coalition Against Domestic Violence. “They often take place in places where we see racial harassment, harassment based on national origin and harassment based on disability. We recognize that individuals have multiple identities. The fact that we have solid policies and procedures in place to address them collectively rather than individually is really powerful.”
Listen to workers, advises Ms. Runge. She added that they really know best what it means to feel safe and comfortable in the workplace.