‘Starting a non-profit association is extremely difficult. To make matters worse, I started Women in Trucking in 2007, just before recession hit the industry. To overcome this, I had to prove gender diversity was an urgent and important goal,” says Ellen Voie. She is the founder of the non-profit organization, Women In Trucking Association, Inc. and envisions a more gender diverse culture in the transportation industry.
According to Ellen, in the beginning, she would stand in front of trucking company executives, and they would tell her that gender diversity wasn’t an issue. Age, ethnicity, or gender didn’t pose any roadblocks in hiring professional drivers. However, once she started showing them the benefits women bring to the industry, they started listening. She said, “Women have been proven to be safer commercial drivers because they take fewer risks. Women are often better with paperwork, customers, and in taking care of equipment.” Women value their relationship with their carrier more than men, so this made trucking companies start to ask the organization to provide more information on attracting and retaining women as drivers. “We knew we had to provide the data and so we have focused on research to understand female commercial drivers better. Once we had hard data to offer the industry, we became the experts, and more importantly, the resource,” She added.
Below are highlights of the interview conducted between Insights Success and Ellen Voie:
Kindly take us through your journey to becoming a proficient leader.
The key to being a great leader is to listen. I listen to our members when they express their concerns or frustrations related to being a woman in the trucking industry. Our members range from CEOs to drivers and technicians, but regardless of their role, they are still a minority when it comes to working in the area of the supply chain. When a driver tells me she has a problem reaching the pedals or seeing over the dash of the truck, we listen. When a CEO says to me she feels marginalized in the boardroom filled with male colleagues, we empathize. Listening to our members is crucial to our success.
How do you diversify your organization’s offerings to entice the target audience?
In addition to listening to our members’ concerns, we look at ways to make their jobs less challenging and more rewarding. We also look at ways we can reach beyond our industry and share our message with those who might not understand the transportation industry. For example, we created the Girl Scout patch so girls can learn about the supply chain and how it pertains to them personally. We added an activity book that shows how the grain in the field is shipped to the baker on a truck, from the baker to the packager on a truck, and so on. We also created a truck driver doll so children can play with a toy that might lead them into a career as a driver.
How do you strategize your game plans to tackle the competition in the market?
Our membership consists of anyone who believes in our mission. To that point, nearly anyone can join the association. However, we want to attract people who believe in the benefits of gender diversity. We really don’t have any competition in the association arena, as most of the trucking associations are segregated by types of transport (tankers, flatbeds, rigging, etc.) or geography (state associations) or even the size of the company (owner operators, small carriers or large carriers.) Our focus is gender diversity, and we’re the only organization with the mission to support both drivers and management in the trucking industry.
What are the vital traits that every businesswoman should possess?
Any businesswoman, especially women in male-dominated careers, needs to possess a thick skin. We need to forge ahead with the attitude that we know what we’re doing, and we’re not going to let anyone stop us. On the positive side, once we’ve proven ourselves, we are not only accepted, we are appreciated. Women in male-dominated environments can and do, show our peers that we are capable.
Have you, in any way, contributed towards the cause of women empowerment.
Our entire mission is to empower women. Whether they are drivers, technicians, safety managers, CEOs, or directors, we offer information and resources to help them identify and overcome diversity challenges. Every presentation I give to women (and men) to identify and understand unconscious bias in hiring, promoting, and recognizing potential is another step in addressing and, more importantly, stopping hiring and promoting practices that inhibit the advancement of women.
What are your insights on “The myth of meritocracy”? And how it could bring a change in today’s business arena?
In my experience, women who work in male-dominated careers have a harder time proving themselves. Many female drivers have been told to go back home and bake bread or take care of babies. However, once you have confirmed that you can do the job, you gain the respect of your male peers. Men admire women who succeed in their environment, for the most part. There are always men who are intimidated by women who do the same job, but although those voices seem louder, they are often in the minority. Men with integrity respect women who can do the same job.
How do you cope up with capricious technological trends to boost your personal growth?
Technology is only a tool. Once you recognize that this tool is something to be used as needed, you can control your “submission” to it. I don’t allow it to rule my time, and the silence button is often used. On the flip side, knowing what applications benefit your productivity can enhance your personal growth. I have apps that track my steps and my calorie intake as well as apps to help me in my extensive travel schedule, but I don’t use apps that distract me from doing my job.
What are your future endeavours/objectives, and where do you see yourself in the near future?
I anticipate the Women In Trucking Association to grow in both geographic regions as well as in our North American presence. We are currently creating chapters to continue our work in regional and local areas. We have also created a driver ambassador who will take a tractor-trailer to trade shows, schools, and other events to give people a hands-on experience in learning about the trucking industry.