Was the reaction too harsh? Or an important part of what is supposed to set luxury transportation providers apart from TNC drivers?
The issue of equality seems to have surfaced in every industry over the past few years and the limousine industry is no exception. With a growing percentage of female chauffeurs in the business, the question of how equally male and female chauffeurs are hired, dispatched, compensated and promoted is being raised more frequently. Bridget Kittell’s 10-year career as a chauffeur provides a view of how one woman has fared in the industry.
Form the beginning of the chauffeuring career, it has been obvious to Bridget that female chauffeurs are treated differently than their male counterparts. Bridget has not treated this realization as a problem, but has simply taken it as one of the ground rules in the chauffeuring game.
The limousine business is, “a predominantly male world,” she says. Still, Bridget believes that some women have the qualities needed to play by the rules and win. Confidence, a caring attitude, and good looks are a few of these assets. Kittell has used all three of these qualities in her ten years of successful chauffeuring.
Now thirty years old, Bridget was raised in a suburban part of Southern California and started her career as a driver and errand girl for the owner of a trucking company. After a period of driving her employer’s Rolls Royce sedan and Cadillac formal on a variety of runs and errands, Bridget moved to Orange County and began to do similar work for an employer with a silver stretch limousine.
Did she get the job because she was a woman? Perhaps not, but babysitting and household errands were among Bridget’s responsibilities. “Nobody really took me seriously as a driver,” she says. “I didn’t have to wear a suit and I was more of a babysitter than a professional driver.” The job vanished when the employer sold his limousine.
“When that ended, I saw an ad in the paper for a driver and lied my way into the job because I wasn’t really a commercial chauffeur then. I go the job and it was for a company that owned several restaurants. It was my first real job as a chauffeur.”
One of the things Bridget discovered about being a private chauffeur was the considerable amount of time that the limousine was not needed by her employer. Although she worked full time for the company, most of her time was spent detailing the new stretch limousine and waiting for one of the corporate officers to schedule a trip. “I didn’t drive that much,” she says. “They were used to driving their own cars so I usually just sat in the warehouse with the car. Then they started sending me on errands and I didn’t have the patience for it.” Hooked on driving and hooked on limousines. Bridget left what she refers to as a “boring” job and went to work driving a Cadillac Seville stretch for another private employer.
In 1982, Bridget had been a private chauffeur for five years and, with each job, had moved closer to urban Los Angeles and the world of commercial chauffeuring. Leaving her last private employer, Bridget was hired as a chauffeur by an established Los Angeles livery service and found herself at the bottom of a formidable seniority ladder.
Bridget loved the transition from private driver to livery driver. She be came the only female chauffeur on the company’s staff. “With commercial driving, you get different clientele, you go different places, and you get tips. It’s a whole different ball-game from private driving. You also have to deal with male chauvinists. The manager of my first livery service was very much a male chauvinist. He put me in a formal limousine and very rarely assigned me to a stretch. I got a lot of support from the male drivers. I must say they were really wonderful. I realized with that manager, though, I wasn’t going to move up no matter how well I drove. He just wasn’t going to put a woman in a stretch.”
Bridget’s coin had a flip side. While encountering discrimination from the company manager, the company’s flirtatious owner liked having an attractive female chauffeur on his staff. “He just liked me,” she says. “He talked to the manager about me and there was some favoritism. I didn’t have to get up early and I could say “no” to a run if I wanted.
“At first I felt uncomfortable about these privileges but one of the drivers told me ‘Look, nothing’s fair in this world. You just have to go for the gusto. If he likes you...he likes you.’ I realized that nobody’s the same. Everybody gets different treatment. I accepted the favoritism and I also had to take the sexual innuendos and harassment. There are games going on in every business. I just felt that if I just did the best I could and kept my nose clean...I wouldn’t have to worry. I just gave it my all and it paid off because I was there two years and I made very good money.”
Taking the good with the bad, Bridget remained with this service until it changed owners two years later. She has since driven for several other services and currently drives part time for American Aristocrat Limousine of Huntington Beach, CA.
Over the past ten years, Kittell has found chauffeuring to be an exciting experience. “The job turned out to be what I really wanted,” she says. “I was in the world of theaters and restaurants. I was around movers and shakers. In this business you get a lot of that. I like the stimulation of their conversations.”
One job, early in her career, was for a client whose business dealings involved transporting $1.3 million dollars in the trunk of Bridget’s formal. Some of the client’s associates carried submachine guns. When Bridget’s boss considered pulling her from the week-long assignment, she persuaded him to let her finish the job. “It was fun,” she says.
Another unusual experience was Bridget’s first time driving for Arab clients. “The job was for the prince of an Arab country,” she remembers. “They had security people who came in the office before the trip and lined up all the drivers so they could see what we looked like. I was at the end of the row and, when they called my name, they realized I was a woman. They came to me and said very politely, ‘We are male chauvinists and we don’t want a woman driver.’ Then he gave me $250. After talking things over with them, I wound up driving their luggage.” On another occasion, Bridget drove a group of Arabs for six days and received $3000 in tips and wages.
In her first years as a commercial chauffeur, Bridget sometimes also found it difficult to deal with discrimination from male drivers. Waiting outside concerts, she often found herself feeling like an outsider among other drivers. “I’ve been at events where there were a number of limousines, and I usually had to go introduce myself to the other chauffeurs. They would turn up their noses or tell me how to drive and where to park I used to embarrass myself at times but now I can drive better than a lot of guys and I can park my limousine anywhere I may need to. I think part of the problem was that some of their cars were messy and my car was always so clean and meticulous. I think it would bother a lot of women to go through that. They don’t want to be working at night. They want to have a social life. It doesn’t bother me.
“One thing that does bother me is that people think a female chauffeur is an easy meet or that we play around. There’s a lot of disrespect for the job that a woman has to deal with. The movie My Chauffeur made our image even worse. I’ve shown up and people say, ‘Boy, you’re straight.’ I say, ‘It’s my job.’ They offer me dope and drinks but I take my job seriously, especially when I have lives in the back of the car.”
One of the most difficult breeds of client for Bridget as a woman chauffeur has been other women? “Women can be the bossiest, pushiest and snobbiest clients,” she says. ‘‘Some women just get really uneasy when there’s a female driver,” Bridget continues. “I’ve only had one client who was really rude to me and that was a woman. When I know there will be women in the car, I try to wear pants rather than a skirt because it looks dressier and doesn’t show my legs. I downplay the fact that I’m a woman, and ‘don’t even wear makeup or lipstick.”
Feeling that women prefer to have a male chauffeur, Bridget always tries to avoid driving for bachelorette parties. On the other hand, she feels that some women prefer having a female driver. “Women have told me they think female drivers are more attentive and we drive slower.”
Bridget feels that the presence of a woman passenger seems to affect the behavior of male clients. In her experience, men tend to become more impersonal toward a female driver when another woman is around. “There is a big difference when a woman is in the car,” she says. “I’ve driven the same men with and without female companions and they don’t talk to me as much when they’re with a woman. It’s more like I’m the driver and they’re the passenger. When they’re with their buddies, they joke and are more flirtatious. When I get a man and a woman, I try to go directly to the woman and get friendly with her. If I can put her at ease, a run is much more comfortable. Otherwise they can become nervous, in fact, some become really nasty.”
Why choose a career that puts her at odds with her own gender? Why choose a career in which she is required to wear a traditionally masculine tuxedo or suit coat? Why choose a career which requires lifting suitcases and opening car doors? Why face the uncertainty of driving strangers to unfamiliar places at all hours of the day or night? Why not choose a more common female career such as being a flight attendant? That doesn’t appeal to me at all,” says Bridget. “To me they’re just glorified waitresses. Being a chauffeur is much more stimulating.
“I feel that women can fit in anywhere,” she continues. In some respects, Bridget sees being a woman as an advantage in chauffeuring. “I can do everything a man can do. I can get tough with the best of them if I have to. On the other hand, I can also do feminine things for clients like make fruit baskets or babysit. Operators need to be careful with female drivers, though, just like they should be with male drivers. You can’t just send a man to a seedy area any more than you can a woman.’’
Bridget objects to the idea that female chauffeurs shouldn’t open doors for clients and carry luggage.
The only problem, she says, is that some men are still uncomfortable letting a woman do those things for them. “I try to open doors for clients but they’re usually out of the car by the time I can get there. With luggage, I’ll joke about it and say, ‘Now come on, that’s part of my job. It’s okay, we’re liberated.’ If they get real tense about it, I don’t persist. I just make an offer and leave it at that. Most people are pretty good about it. If they come off a plane and have a carry-on bag, they’ll allow me to carry it. I have clients, though, who don’t want a woman driver even in this day and age when women aren’t a novelty in the limousine business.”
Even if female chauffeurs may no longer be a novelty, Bridget feels that it takes a certain kind of woman to face the demands of the job. It requires, she says, a thick skin to absorb occasional blows to the ego, an ability to take care of one’s self, and a willingness to part with a conventional social life. “Women who are very feminine are the ones who don’t last in this business,” she says. “It takes a tomboyish attitude if you want to succeed, and it’s impossible to have a normal social or family life. You can look at chauffeuring two ways,” continues Bridget. “The fact that you can’t make plans or do things in the evening can seem like a sacrifice. It can feel like you’re getting robbed of your social life. On the other hand, you can turn it around and look at it as an opportunity to meet celebrities, and go to parties and events that most people are excluded from...plus get tipped. If you don’t look at it that way, you can get a very negative attitude.”
While it is common for chauffeurs to want to operate their own service, Bridget has no such aspiration. The reason, she says, is that she simply does not enjoy the sales and management aspects of being a livery operator. She has, in the past, assisted other people in the launching of livery services, and has received offers from individuals wanting to help her start her own company. “I like driving,” Bridget says. “That’s what makes this business exciting. It’s not that, as a woman, I couldn’t run a service. There are women out there who are doing fine.”
Bridget sees one serious limitation lying ahead in her chauffeuring career. “This is a real flash industry, especially for women,” she says. “A woman’s looks are more scrutinized. So is her age. A lot of companies are going for men in their older forties and fifties because they look refined and responsible. When I get into my late thirties or forties, I think they’ll boot me out. There’s no appeal to having an older woman driving you around.” With that in mind, Bridget is considering other opportunities to pursue when her chauffeuring career ends. One possibility is to serve as a consultant in some area of the transportation business. “I have something in mind to do when I reach that point,” she says. “I don’t know if it’s going to be as exciting though.”
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