Most people don’t picture a woman when they think of a truck driver. In fact, most women haven’t thought about a career as a professional driver, as women are still a small minority of all professional drivers.
However, as more women explore opportunities in non-traditional areas, there are a few women who are leading the way. One such example of an exemplary woman with transformative leadership acumen is Ellen Voie, who built an entire organization dedicated to trucking but only for women.
Ellen is an internationally recognized speaker and authority on gender diversity and inclusion for women working in non-traditional careers in transportation. And she has a passion for creating a more gender-diverse culture in the transportation industry.
Ellen is the President and CEO of Women In Trucking Association. The association was formed to create a more gender-diverse industry by introducing women to roles in transportation careers.
We at Insights Success got a remarkable opportunity to interview Ellen, in which she shared with us the story of her journey and how she surmounted the obstacles in this field while being a CEO. Below are the excerpts from the same.
Briefly describe your professional journey up until now.
While my original career goals didn’t include trucking, I have spent my professional life working in the transportation industry. I started in the traffic department of a steel fabricating plant just after high school. I completed a course in Traffic and Transportation Management and was promoted to Traffic Manager, responsible for all raw steel coming into the plant and the finished material handling equipment shipped out. From there, after starting a family, I used my training to be a consultant to carriers in central Wisconsin for eighteen years. After a six-year role leading a non-profit organization, I was hired as Manager of Retention and Recruiting Programs at a large midwestern carrier. My job was to better understand how to attract and retain non-traditional groups, such as women. As I researched the reasons women enter or leave the trucking profession, I felt there was a need for an organization to support them, so I founded the Women In Trucking Association in 2007.
What challenges did you face along the way?
Starting a non-profit organization is difficult, as you must first have a vision and then convince others to share that vision. Our mission has never changed, including encouraging women to consider careers in the trucking industry, addressing obstacles that might affect women, and celebrating the successes of our members. In our first year, we attracted 500 individual and corporate members and have grown to include over 7,000 members in ten countries today.
What significant impact have you brought to the transportation industry?
I believe that my vision to create a more gender-diverse trucking industry is being realized. We’ve seen a dramatic increase in the numbers of female commercial drivers as well as more women in the areas of safety, operations, maintenance, and at the senior and director levels as well. In the past, it was assumed the sons would take over the business from their dads, but that is no longer the case as more women are stepping into the top position when their fathers retire.
Tell us about Women in Trucking and its foundation pillar.
The Women In Trucking Association was formed to create a more gender-diverse industry by introducing women to roles in transportation careers. As a trade/professional organization, we are a resource for our members who are looking for best practices through networking and learning opportunities. We conduct a lot of research and provide data concerning ways to attract and retain more women. We also offer white papers to our corporate members in addition to our print and electronic publications. We hold an annual conference that attracts over 1,000 attendees who are looking for ways to network and learn and have fun with our predominantly female participants.
How do Women in Trucking promote workforce flexibility, and what is your role in it?
More women are entering the trucking industry, but many of them have personal commitments that keep them from extensive travel schedules. For drivers, this means more opportunities for local or regional jobs, such as hauling waste and recycling, delivering intermodal containers, or working for a fuel or milk hauling company. Many jobs allow women a greater work-life balance within our industry, and the need for flexibility in work hours is crucial for women in leadership roles. At Women In Trucking, we highlight the companies and the jobs that make workforce flexibility a goal.
What is your take on technology’s importance, and how are you leveraging it?
We embrace technology in the trucking industry for two reasons. First, the more we can rely on technology to reduce the physical aspect of the job (for commercial drivers), the more we can attract women and retain an aging male workforce. With technology, we can eliminate much of the lifting of cargo, cranking of dollies, or opening of a truck’s hood for a pre-trip inspection by using hydraulics to remove the physical component. The second reason is to create a safer environment using lane departure devices, anti-collision and anti-rollover technology, and mirrorless trucks by using cameras, and other safety-related products that not only make the job safer but creates safer highways for all of us.
What will be the next significant change in the transportation industry, and how are you preparing for it?
In my opinion, the use of 3D printers will affect the supply chain, as many parts and products will be transmitted via electronic means to a printer that will create the item. The need to ship apart from one location to the next will disappear. The industry will adjust to this and will adapt and change as we have always done.
What are your goals in the upcoming future?
Professionally, I want to see the Women In Trucking Association’s influence expand further by attracting more domestic and international members. We currently have members in ten countries, but we know our expertise is needed in other parts of the world, and we are looking at ways to share our best practices in other areas. I plan to retire in the coming year, so our immediate goal is to find a CEO to replace me. This will be bittersweet, as I am the founder of the organization, but I am ready to hand over the responsibilities to the next leader.
What advice would you like to give the next generation of aspiring business leaders?
My advice, especially for women, is to take risks. You can’t know what you can do without pushing yourself. It’s okay to fail, as failure is just a learning experience. There are so many opportunities in the supply chain, and women will be a vital part of this industry in the coming years.