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Limiting driver trainers and trainees to pairing only with those of the same gender is illegal, but how exactly should the trucking industry move forward?

Same-gender training in the trucking industry

March 25, 2024
It is illegal for driver trainers and trainees to pair up only with those of the same gender, but how should the trucking industry move forward?

While the trucking industry celebrates Women’s History Month, driver advocates are pushing fleets to focus on same-gender training and its hiring and legal ramifications.

According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, same-gender training is a training model in which a truck driving trainer can only train those of the same gender; a male trainer can only train men, and a female trainer can only train women.

To avoid issues of sexual assault and harassment, some trucking companies prefer same-gender training. One lawyer who spoke to FleetOwner explained the potential unforeseen civil rights problems stemming from same-gender training policies. However, regular communication with trainers and trainees can help fleets avoid pitfalls as they bring on new drivers, according to a fleet executive who shared details on how her company works with male and female recruits.

Legal ramifications

Peter Romer-Friedman is a civil rights lawyer who has represented multiple women from the trucking industry in gender discrimination lawsuits against trucking companies. According to Romer-Friedman, these lawsuits occur when companies use the same-gender training model and don’t have enough women trainers. A lack of women trainers means women applicants are waitlisted and prevented from being hired and/or trained. 

“From our perspective and also from the government's perspective, who regulates civil rights issues—EEOC—it's unlawful to limit one's ability to get hired or to train based on their gender,” Romer-Friedman said. “And training programs that differentiate between men and women in hiring or training are therefore unlawful.”

The backbone of these lawsuits is the fact that same-gender training models are illegal under Title VII, which has been in place since 1964. However, the trucking industry has still used this illegal training model for years. 

“A lot of companies have either formerly had same-sex training policies or in practice applied that kind of a policy,” Romer-Friedman said. “And it's been going on for a long time. It's really only in the last 10-15 years that advocates and the government have tried to stop these programs from limiting the opportunity of women.” 

Romer-Friedman said he hopes the recent legal action over this current issue causes larger reform across the industry, with more trucking companies rethinking their training models.

See also: FMCSA plans new study on sexual assault and harassment. But is that enough?

How to move forward: differing opinions

Trucking experts have different opinions on how the industry should move forward on this nuanced issue. 

Real Women in Trucking, in a letter to EEOC concerning a class action suit over gender discrimination in the industry, outlined multiple strategies trucking companies can take to treat women equally during the hiring and training practice. These strategies include:

  • Providing comprehensive, industry-specific, and frequent training (at least annually) to prevent sex-based harassment, including sexual violence and other gender-based violence.
  • Ensuring this training includes “bystander intervention” education programs for drivers and trainers, as well as recruiters and others.
  • Providing clear, comprehensive, and safe reporting mechanisms for all employees, including drivers and trainees, and providing clear and comprehensive information to all employees about employer policies for investigating and responding to sex-based harassment.
  • Ensuring that allegations of harassment are promptly investigated and that appropriate consequences are consistently and promptly levied when an employee has been found to engage in harassing behavior, up to and including termination.
  • Providing separate sleeping accommodations for all employees, including trainers, trainees, and drivers when they are training together overnight, including hotels or motels.
  • Recruiting and hiring more women trainers.
  • Requiring male trainers to provide training to women drivers and terminating any male driver who refuses to provide training to women.
  • Installing and using vehicular tools such as panic buttons and/or in-cab cameras.
  • Establishing and/or providing 24-hour emergency hotlines for drivers and trainees.
  • Regularly conducting climate surveys by a neutral third party.
  • Regularly conducting evaluations of trainers by trainees. Evaluations should be reviewed when making decisions about promotion, compensation, discipline, etc.

“Trucking companies should adequately train every person who is going to train drivers to do so in a professional, non-discriminatory, non-harassing manner,” Romer-Friedman, who has worked with Real Women in Trucking on these lawsuits, said. “There should be frequent harassment and discrimination training, and there should be constant feedback and opportunities for drivers to report unprofessional or discriminatory or harassing conduct. And the companies should make clear that they will not tolerate any discrimination or harassment, whether it's in the cab of a truck or elsewhere.”

Grand Island Express is a refrigerated trucking company that prides itself on how it hires and trains both male and female drivers. Kyle Wiesen, a recruiter for Grand Island Express, told FleetOwner that the training approach that has worked for the company is one that is honest, individual-focused, and communicative. 

“It is really important that we ask trainers and students how training is going,” Wiesen said. “If there ever are any concerns, we want to address those right away. So we do touchpoints during their training process. We usually reach out once or twice a week. “

Wiesen said Grand Island’s recruiters don’t just recruit new drivers but communicate with these drivers throughout their training, which she claimed is different from other fleets. She said forming these relationships is important so that drivers feel comfortable reaching out about problems. Forming these relationships starts with honesty during recruitment.

“We want people that are going to be a good fit for us, and we want to be a good fit for them,” Wiesen said. “We have to make sure we're being upfront, honest, letting them know what it is we can offer so that they are going to be happy when they come on board.”

For Grand Island Express, it’s important that the company’s drivers—trainers and trainees—are comfortable, and for the company, this means asking their preferences for the gender of their trainers or trainees.

“In this industry, you can't say, ‘Oh, we only let female trainers take female students. We only let male trainers take male students.’ But what we find very important is asking both the trainer and the student: ‘What are you comfortable with?’” Wiesen said. “Ninety-nine percent of the female students want female trainers. Quite honestly, our trainers, female and male, have let us know ‘I am not comfortable taking somebody of the opposite sex,’ and we respect that. We are willing to work with that, and it works out very well for us.”

Wiesen claims that it’s more important to get to know your company’s trainers and trainees and pair those who will likely be a good personality match. She said that Grand Island Express doesn’t forbid trainers from pairing up opposite-gender trainees. Some of their trainers and trainees have been comfortable working with the opposite gender and have done so. 

“This is a big thing,” Wiesen said. “You are committing to living in a very small space with a stranger for upwards of four to six weeks. If we aren't respecting what makes them comfortable and uncomfortable, it's not going to go well. It's going to end badly for everyone. Unfortunately, I think that's why there's not as many women in the industry, because they're being put into these uncomfortable situations from the very beginning.”

About the Author

Jenna Hume | Digital Editor

Digital Editor Jenna Hume previously worked as a writer in the gaming industry. She has a bachelor of fine arts degree in creative writing from Truman State University and a master of fine arts degree in writing from Lindenwood University. She is currently based in Missouri. 

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