Entrepreneurs think prolifically; they create something new, something different that adds value to the world through the development and implementation of their innovative ideas. Ellen Voie, the President, and CEO of Women In Trucking Association is one of the women in the business world who plays an essential role in changing the dynamics and empowering the involvement of women in the transportation sector.
Ellen is an internationally recognized speaker and authority on gender diversity and inclusion for women working in non-traditional careers in transportation. Ellen has always been described as a visionary, so being an entrepreneur was a natural extension to her because of her perception to look into the future and an aspiration to create change.
Initial Learning Experience
Ellen started as the Assistant Traffic Manager in the trucking industry but was later promoted to Traffic Manager. At that point, she was only 20 years old and was responsible for the shipments in and out of three fabricating plants, in addition to a private fleet of three trucks. She shipped in the raw steel from around the country and shipped out the finished material, handling products to customers. She says to have learned a great deal from that job and that it gave her the start of a long career in transportation and supply chain management.
Forming the Association
Ellen built the cornerstone for Women In Trucking Association in March 2007. Her goal was to create a more positive, empowering environment for women employed in the trucking industry. She was working for a large carrier in the Midwest and was charged with trying to better understand b how to attract and retain non-traditional groups as drivers, and this included women. At the time She was working on her private pilot’s license and belonged to an organization called Women in Aviation, International. It occurred to her that there was no similar organization for women in trucking and that was her impetus in forming the association.
A Comprehensive Organization
Ellen is proud to say that the organization’s membership is comprised of nearly twenty percent men who believe in its mission. This means that the organization is all-inclusive. Many men in the industry support and encourage more women to opt for careers in transportation. She says although the organization is called Women In Trucking, it is not FOR women as much as it is ABOUT women.
Ellen states that Women In Trucking Association has an annual strategic planning session where the board of directors, staff and any interested stakeholders look forward and define the activities and goals for the coming months and years. The combined effort gives the organization a vision into how the organization will address future needs for its members and the industry as a whole.
Being an Instrument of Positive Change
According to Ellen, an entrepreneur needs to see into the future and then determine how to create a positive change. She says an entrepreneur needs to possess a desire to use skills, determination and focus on helping move people and processes to result in the change one is seeking.
Ellen is of the opinion that an entrepreneur should be able to convince others that one’s path is the right one and should generate a support system, which ultimately creates a push in the right direction.
Valuing the skills women bring to the table
Women are often humble and focus on consensus building while leadership traits are often perceived as assertive and controlled. Ellen says these are the challenges women face, but instead of conforming she speaks of the need to change the culture to value leadership traits which women bring to an organization.
According to Ellen, women are better at engaging their teams, and this has been proven to be a positive employee retention strategy, but she is worried that the characteristics that allow one to be more collaborative are not identified as leadership skills. According to her women bring a different set of skills to the workplace, doesn’t mean these skills are less important to the company. She is of the opinion that these skills should be respected.
Perseverance through Adversities
Starting a nonprofit association in the middle of a recession is not the most desirable way to initiate change in an industry. Ellen lost her position due to the recession while she was responsible for two mortgages and her daughter’s college expenses. She is still not sure how she made it through that difficult time but she persevered and daughter graduated with a Master’s Degree in Economics from Purdue with NO student loans. She appreciates the thought that timing is everything and sometimes one needs to grab an opportunity despite the external conditions and make it work out.
Ellen is currently looking at leaving behind a thriving association that she let into an industry that recognized the need for change. She plans to retire in about five years, so now she is looking forward to focusing on traveling, writing and spending time with her family.
Determining the Course of Industry and Community
Ellen’s advice for budding entrepreneurs is to truly determine what one can bring to one’s industry, one’s community or one’s social network. She says that one should have something to contribute to empowering others, but one needs to identify what that skill, talent or passion is and stay true to one’s mission. She warns not to get sidetracked by others who want one to accommodate their goals. Ellen also advises staying focused and to stay away from distractions.
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