Exeleon Magazine

Women In Trucking: Steering the Wheel of Gender Diversity

Women In Trucking Cover Story_Exeleon Magazine

The end of the Second World War was the first true instance when the notion surrounding patriarchy was scrapped from the minds of people living in the US and other western countries.

During the war, women stepped out of their house to work in jobs that were originally perceived to be ‘too manly’ and brought about a change in the minds of millions. It prompted organizations across different industries to run advertisements and campaigns, encouraging equal participation of women in the workplace.

Much has changed since then. Today, women are seen dominating the business world, gaining awards and recognition in global platforms, and inspiring millions with their thoughts and ideas. However, despite these massive progress, gender inequality and stigma is still a prevalent issue across various niche sectors, especially transportation.

Although various key strategies, initiatives, and schemes have been employed by the government and other private and non-profit organizations, the lack of intent remained as one of the key limiting factors behind attaining the desired result.

But in 2007, there emerged an organization which strived to make a change in the transportation industry and was ably led by an entrepreneur of intent – Ellen Voie.

The Inception

Back in 2007, Ellen was working as the Manager of Recruiting and Retention Programs at a large carrier. Therein, she shouldered the responsibility of creating corporate-level programs. The programs were aimed at encouraging non-traditional groups to consider careers in the trucking industry and also designed initiatives to eliminate (or reduce) irritants that led to driver dissatisfaction.

Moreover, Ellen was working on her private pilot’s license and belonged to an organization that supported female pilots. This seeded the idea of starting a similar association for women in the trucking industry and Women In Trucking (WIT) was subsequently incepted.

A Vision of Change

As with most companies, the starting phase for Women In Trucking was a challenging period. Back then, Char Pingel was the first and the only staff person in the company and managed all the day-to-day activities. Ellen, on the other hand, continued her position at the motor carrier. However, a decline in the industry saw Ellen lose the position and she instilled all her focus on growing the organization.

Despite starting out as a non-profit organization, amidst a period of recession, Ellen managed to attract more than 500 members in the very first year. People believed in her vision and were willing enough to support her mission to bring gender diversity into the trucking industry.

Today, Ellen has built a highly successful association and has spearheaded an imperative change in the transportation industry and beyond. For her efforts, Ellen has been honored with countless awards and recognized across various platforms. She was even honored by the White House as a Transportation Innovators Champion of Change. She is the recipient of the Skinner Humanitarian Award and back in 2014, was awarded the Frank W. Babbitt award from the Wisconsin Motor Carriers Association.

Talking about the gender discrimination that existed before the inception of Women In Trucking, Ellen points out “When Women In Trucking was formed in 2007, most trucking companies claimed to be “gender neutral’. They insisted that they only wanted to hire the right person, and that gender, age, and ethnicity wasn’t a factor. However, they were not being sensitive to how to recruit, retain, or even accommodate women, especially as drivers, but in the executive suite as well.”

She adds, “Now, we see companies actively seeking to change the gender balance and to create a more diverse environment, not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because it DOES positively affect their bottom line.”

As a pioneering leader, Ellen things and envisions how the world could be better for women entering nontraditional careers, such as trucking. She creates a vision for her staff and then gives them the latitude to translate the same into a reality.

A Result-driven Work Environment

Ellen claims “We each choose our own hours and take time off when needed. There are no time clocks or predetermined schedules, and sick days and vacations are taken as and when needed. We are a result driven work environment, and we are each responsible for our own performance.”

At Women In Trucking, each and every associate holds a defined area of responsibility and is accountable for that program or project. Being a virtual organization, the team members are located across eight different states, thereby heightening the need to be self-motivated at all times.

For Ellen and her team, a great workplace boasts an environment that encourages entrepreneurship, but also accepts risk. “An associate needs the freedom to take on a project and know that her supervisor will support her throughout the process without questioning each step of the way.”

Ellen Voie of Women In Trucking Quote

Creating a Positive Workplace

In Ellen’s words Women In Trucking is a “relatively small organization,” one which makes the members a close knit group. As WIT is a virtual company and geographically distributed, it is highly difficult to monitor the hours, or even days, a person is working. Instead, the company chooses to treat its associates as adults; and measures outcomes, not minutes.

In order to create a positive workplace situation, the company allows its team members to choose their own hours, take time off as and when needed and define their own roles. She explains, “If someone wants to take on more responsibility, we will find ways to add a higher level of accountability and if needed, remove some less complex duties in the process.”

The company tries very hard to match the talents, skills, and interests of an individual to the correct set of activities, thereby ensuring that the person not only enjoys the role, but also finds success through the same.

Talking about being part of the Women In Trucking team, Ellen asserts “To be part of the team at Women In Trucking Association, a person must first believe in our mission. As a nonprofit organization, we are mission driven, not profit driven. The individual must have a passion to empower and promote women in transportation careers, as without this motivation, she (or he) would not be an asset for our members.”

Keeping Track of the Progress

At its core, the primary goal for Ellen and her team is to be a resource for the industry. When it comes to collecting data based on gender, Women In Trucking leads the market. Through these data, it was revealed that women are much safer commercial drivers than men, who have been found to be twenty percent more likely to be involved in a crash.

Add to this, women are typically better with customers, better with paperwork, and are able to take better care of the equipment. Information such as these are provided to the carrier members of WIT. Ellen claims “They are now realizing that women not only do the same job as men, but in many cases, they do it better.”

In order to track the success of the team’s efforts, a WIT Index was created and, more recently, a partnership with Freightwaves was inked down. The latter was done so to monitor the percentages of women as drivers, technicians, safety managers, dispatchers and in leadership roles.

The company also tracks the publicly traded carriers with an index created by Memphis University to monitor the number of women who serve on boards and at the executive level. “Women are still very underrepresented in every role, but there is a forward movement and we are keeping track of that progress,” Ellen adds.

Breaking the Shackles of Gender Biasness

Since its inception, Women in Trucking has created awareness and have challenged motor carriers to consider ways to attract and retain women in their companies. The company has brought into attention the benefits women bring to the trucking industry.

“In the past, it was typically the sons who took over from their fathers, but now, women are assuming the top roles when their dad decides to retire. Every large trucking company in existence today started with one man and one truck. We’re working to change that, and in the future, look forward to more companies started by a woman and a truck,” said a very determined Ellen.

Representing more than Just Drivers

Women in Trucking, as the name suggests, represents ALL women employed in the trucking industry. “Many people assume we represent only drivers, but this isn’t the case at all. In fact, we like to say we represent the women who design trucks, build trucks, sell trucks, buy trucks, fix trucks and drive trucks.”

The members of Women In Trucking are both corporate and individual entities who support a common mission. The company represents trucking companies, manufacturers, driver training facilities, and vendors as well as drivers and industry leaders. The member list comprises close to 5,000 individuals and companies across ten different country. Among these, about 15% of the members are men who also support the company’s mission.

I like to say we are not FOR women, but we’re ABOUT women.

Most recently, the company added other transportation related groups, including busing, warehousing, supply chain, towing, baking facilities, rigging, white globe (final mile) delivery, vending, and other related organizations that are looking at ways to attract more women into their industries.

The Road Ahead

Ellen shares that during a recent Strategic Planning Session, the Board of Directors of the company were determined to expand the presence of their drivers by creating a driver ambassador program.

“We are in the process of creating this position and will provide a tractor and trailer to a female driver who will attend trade shows, conferences and truck stops and training facilities to talk about careers in trucking, and specifically, as a professional driver. We currently have an Image Team which speaks to the media, provides ride-alongs to legislative and regulatory leaders and represents Women In Trucking at trade shows and conferences.  We added a Canadian Image team because of our large presence in Canada. Our goal is to have these female professionals more visible, especially in programs or opportunities that include the non-trucking public so women can hear more about the jobs available in transportation.”

The company wants to expand its influence into more types of commercial transportation modes and widen its geographical reach beyond ten countries.

Website – http://womenintrucking.org/

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