One of the most common questions I’m asked as a female heavy vehicle driver is: “What’s it like working in an all-male environment?”
Given this vocational alter can be dangerous territory for sensitive souls, I offer the following advice to all women considering embarking on trucking careers.
First up, a recognition that male truckies aren’t embassy diplomats is critical, so if that’s what you’re expecting – you’re in for a rude shock!
Political correctness is non-existent, so from day one it’s important to set boundaries, as your behaviour will determine the way the ‘boys’ behave around you in the rough and tumble of the truck yard.
In addition to the usual essential criteria, female truckies also require a whole other layer of soft skills to enable them to successfully navigate this testosterone fuelled environment.
These include resilience, deflection, emotional intelligence, tolerance, assertiveness and – when all else fails – a good sense of humour!
One commonality across male dominated sectors is the long-accepted practice of applying a thick layer of sexual innuendo to most situations – together with an expectation we ‘gals’ will cop it on the chin.
If you leave the door open – even the slightest – many of the boys will come crashing through it like a bull in a China shop.
This means we need to be mindful of how we frame our comments. I’ve learned through experience to talk about reversing – not backing up. Don’t announce over the UHF when the forkie asks you what freight you’re carrying – that you’ve got nothing on. The inevitable teenage boy sniggers over the radio get real tired, real quick!
For many women, not a day goes by that we don’t find ourselves caught up in conversations brimming with double entendres.
Occasionally, these remarks are made to test our mettle. The message is simple; if you want to be accepted – to be one of the boys – then be prepared to get down and get dirty.
Thankfully, though most of these throw-always are wrapped in humour and made without malice.
If you can give as good as you get – great – but if you’re not comfortable, have a friendly chat with the culprit rather than making a beeline for HR. Challenging these outdated practices is best done without rudeness or hostility.
Another interesting trait you’ll notice, is the male inclination to reference poor male behaviour as a female trait: “You’re carrying on like a sheila. Must be the wrong time of the month, is it? Harden up princess. You’re driving like a girl. You’re nuthin but a bunch of sheilas!”
These are just some of the throw-always bandied round the truck yard and over the UHF.
Personally, I pick the ‘boys’ up when I hear this sexist commentary. If a bloke’s throwing a tantrum or has damaged gear, let’s call it out for what it is – rather than relating it back to perceived female behaviour.
As the only female driver on my shift, I try to keep things light, laugh off the ‘boys’ antics and turn a blind eye to some of the behaviours I see.
Always lend a hand, don’t leave work undone or your truck for others to fuel up.
If you think the ‘boys’ are critiquing your work while they’re standing round watching you work – you’re right – they are. This scrutiny can be enormously off-putting if you let it get to you. The trick here, is to learn not to give a toss. Once you reach that astral plane – you can ignore them and get on with your work!
Always support your sisters. Reach out and help other female drivers. Dress, speak and conduct yourself professionally. Find female and male mentors and – as your skill set and experience increases, become a mentor yourself.
Most importantly, care more about being respected in the workplace – than being liked.
- Lyndal Denny is CEO, Women in Trucking Australia