Woman holding tablet in front of truck

Combatting Sexual Harassment in Trucking

By Ellen Voie

The Women In Trucking Association strives to be a resource for the trucking industry.  This means we spend a great deal of time collecting data from our members.  Everything from recruiting and retention to harassment is analyzed and the results are either White Papers, webinars, or benchmarking information.

Late last year we conducted a survey on harassment and over 400 drivers responded.  The results were disturbing.  Nearly seventy percent of drivers claimed verbal harassment and nearly half said they had been verbally threatened at least once.  Shockingly, 57 percent reported receiving unwanted physical advances and six percent claimed they had been raped.

The results are unfortunate, and now our goal is to work to prevent these occurrences to make the trucking industry a safe place for women (and male) drivers. Adrienne Lawrence, former anchor, and legal analyst for ESPN wrote about her experience in her book, “Staying in the Game.”  The subtitle is, “the playbook for beating workplace sexual harassment.”  Her insights and her advice are valuable.

First, according to Lawrence, men are the dominant initiators of workplace sexual harassment accounting for ninety percent of the harassment toward women (and 70-80 percent of harassment toward men)!  Jobs where harassment is most likely to occur are in historically masculine jobs, such as trucking.  This is partly due to the gender imbalance, but also increases against those who don’t fit the gender norm for that occupation.

Forms of harassment in order of occurrence beginning with the most common are staring, suggestive comments, attempts to talk sex, offensive images, asking the victim out, trying to initiate a sexual relationship and finally, unwanted touching.

The author describes five types of harassers.  There is the “borderline inappropriate” guy who is subtle but shady and often operates just under the legal description of harassment and will deny any insensitive behavior.  The next guy acts as if he wants to be your mentor or friend and takes you under his wing until you realize he’s crossed a line with his “friendly” behavior and isn’t truly looking out for you.  The third type doesn’t even hide his actions, but the company tolerates him because he’s an important part of the team.

The final two types of harassers are the power player whose goal is to dominate you and he’s got the authority to make you uncomfortable, and finally, the guy who claims to support you but doesn’t do a thing to stand up to the harasser.

Many female drivers will tell you they’ve never experienced harassment while others claim to be the subject of harassment often.  How do you know if you’re being harassed or not?  Lawrence says to trust your judgement.  Ask yourself why you feel uncomfortable around certain people and whether you are making a conscious effort to avoid that person. Would you feel ashamed telling someone else about the behavior?  Trust your gut, the author advises!

Lawrence’s “playbook” starts with documenting the behavior.  Without timely and accurate evidence, the harasser will claim it never happened.  If possible, record the interaction with your phone, and use video if possible.  A second option is to get an eyewitness account from a bystander and record their recollection. If the harasser leaves a paper or electronic trail, such as notes, emails, text messages or social media posts, be sure to capture them and save them for future reference.   Lawrence suggests you send all of these “receipts” to an encrypted email or other account, so you don’t lose them.

Adrienne Lawrence sued ESPN for sexual harassment in 2018 for not addressing her complaints dating back to 2015.  She reached a settlement the following year.  As an attorney, she has a better understanding of the legal terms and describes the process to stop harassing behavior in the workplace.

For those of us in the trucking industry, we hope you never experience this type of negative interaction, but if you need a playbook on beating it, check out Lawrence’s book, “Staying in the Game.”

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