Phone calls from two distressed female drivers this week saw a significant deviation from my planned column topic.
Both are victims of workplace bullying and sexual harassment and both are feeling isolated, distressed and unsupported in their workplaces.
Their back stories are disappointingly all too common – with one who refused unwelcome sexual advances quickly finding herself on the outer with an egotistical boss; and the other daring to challenge a significant pay gap with senior management, who found herself on the receiving end of a brutal, widespread smear campaign orchestrated by her immediate boss, who’d put her on the lower pay rate.
We know breaking the glass bull-bar can be tough for the industry.
Today, through WiTA, female drivers have ready access to experienced female role models, mentors, support and advocacy.
These women know they’re no longer alone – that they’re valued and part of a sisterhood of women networking online, or catching up at truck stops across the nation, paying it forward by listening to and supporting each other when needed.
Many are still fighting the outdated belief that they need to “grow a set” and learn to tolerate inappropriate behaviour if they want the be accepted in the industry.
This is but one of many barriers women face – barriers men don’t experience and therefore don’t fully grasp.
Men – for example – overwhelmingly don’t experience sexual harassment in the workplace. They’re also not subjected to gender bias, nor do they find themselves victim to personal vendettas resulting from spurned female sexual advances and injured egos.
The ‘boys’ aren’t overlooked for training opportunities in favour of female drivers, female colleagues for doing the same work, they don’t find themselves allocated menial work as retribution for daring to shun unwanted sexual advances and they’re not expected to toe some invisible misogynistic line.
In 21st century Australia, unacceptable behaviour such as this – behaviour that should’ve been left on a park bench somewhere in the 1950s – is still very much a part of the female story and journey.
The message from female drivers is clear: our shared future can only be written when both genders are afforded the same level of respect and we have one set of behaviours for both genders.
Progressive employers eager to benefit from the predicted influx of female drivers, will develop workplace cultures that promote openness, integrity, loyalty and respect.
They won’t let huge reserves of talent, skill and dedication slip through the cracks as can happen when unsupported female drivers give up and abandon their careers and dreams.
These employers will be critically aware that every choice, every footprint and every action makes a difference – that every employment opportunity for female drivers is precious.
They recognise gender equality is not just a tick and flick. They recognise the need to ensure female-friendly workplace cultures are enshrined, instead of simply blindly pushing women through the company recruitment pipeline.
The key to lasting positive change in terms of industry attitude toward women is to create an inclusive environment – a female friendly culture shaped by leaders at all levels.
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been told bullying and victimisation are an accepted part of road transport culture – a reality often accepted without question.
The end game in challenging injustice is to bring about change and, as such, WiTA will continue its work to disrupt all systems that allow this type of behaviour to flourish.
Token, expendable female drivers are now passé as more women demand equal employment opportunities and greater levels of respect across the sector.
Recruiters, sometimes those hard-to-find answers are right there. Sometimes the best thing is simply to sit down, stop talking, listen, and let our female drivers speak.
- Lyndal Denny is CEO of Women in Trucking Australia.