“If it has tits and wheels, it’ll give you problems!” I recently stumbled across these physiologically improbable words of wisdom splashed across a large sign, zip-tied to the stone-guard of a prime-mover belonging to a major national carrier.
When I asked the gorilla behind the wheel if I could take a pic – it was clear he sensed a storm brewing as he went to great lengths to assure me a) that he likes women and b) that his boss had seen the sign and was fine with it.
Despite major, industry-wide workplace safety and technological advancements – sexist stereotyping and gender bias are still very much a “thing” in the road transport sector.
Like childhood games passed down through generations of children in school playgrounds, sexist commentary is alive and well and being passed down through generations of white and blue-collar male employees.
Given almost half today’s truckies were born in the 1950s and 1960s, these blokes bring their collective viewpoints into the 21st century from a time when gender roles were simple and clear-cut – a time when boys played with trucks and girls played with dolls. This was a time when girls wore pink and boys wore blue. A time when dads went to work and mums stayed home.
At Saturday afternoon matinees, these young boys watched helpless, subservient women being rescued by strong capable men who then took them off for a good, overpowering romp in the hay.
One woman, born of this era, is credited with perpetuating the myth that women are little more than sex objects who make great “seat covers.” She spent decades posing in a multitude of naked, athletically challenging positions, adorning truck mud flaps, bedding, windscreens, coffee cups, beanies, trailers and doors. She’s even been seen behind the wheel – not driving – but emblazoned across tightly stretched T-shirts covering a multitude of sizeable beer-guts.
While sexist commentary feeds the male ego and sees the “boys” standing round preening themselves over industry views that they’re far superior to females – stronger, braver and mightier – the time has come to draw a line in the diesel and dust.
The business case is clear. Boosting female driver numbers is key to easing driver shortages. Employers will reap the benefits of increased productivity and profitability.
So, what about female truck drivers – the women out there doing the job? What are their thoughts about what needs to be done at grass-roots level to encourage more women into the sector?
These women have spoken volumes about the barriers they faced and continue to face in their quests to be taken seriously in the workplace. They say they know very quickly by your words and actions if you’re part of the problem or part of the solution. Note to recruiters: please stop questioning women about their mechanical aptitude and their plans to have a family during job interviews!
They know by your words and actions if you’re parenting your daughters to become strong, independent women and if you’re a man who supports workplace gender equality. They’ll watch to see whether you tolerate – or call out sexist behaviour from your peers.
They know that actively confronting your colleagues is tough, but it’s critical if we’re to have equitable, healthy and more respectful workplaces.
Thankfully and finally, change is in the air. There’s now a genuine recognition that gender equality is an investment – not a cost – that women of all ages are the solution to critical driver shortages.
Thankfully, “Women Not Welcome” shingles are being taken down from recruitment department doors across the nation and major inroads are being made by many companies to establish female driver training programs.
Ladies… it’s finally our time to shine!
- Lyndal Denny is CEO, Women in Trucking Australia