In the quest for gender equality, we can see advancement in most sectors, even in careers still dominated by men. Regardless of the job, most of us can agree that barriers are being removed. In the late sixties and seventies, the scenario was quite different, as many careers were assigned for girls or boys. At that time, girls studied home economics and boys took industrial arts courses.
It was uncommon at the time for a woman to pursue a career that was male-specific according to the social norms. But, Ellen Voie, the Founder and President of the Women In Trucking Association (WIT), has a different story to tell. Since her childhood, Ellen was more interested in learning the hands-on skills the boys were learning. With her mother’s encouragement, she opted to take the shop class instead of home economics.
Ellen learned woodworking, welding, drafting, and auto mechanics. Title IX of the federal civil rights act had been recently adopted to create an equal level of education for both girls as well as boys. This legislation meant that girls and boys could have a level playing field when it came to school, as well as the opportunity to play in sports.
Ellen likes to relate the story about sharing the family station wagon with her older brother. When she wanted to use the car, she relied on her auto mechanics lessons to make that happen. She would disconnect the distributor cap so the car wouldn’t start for her brother and then replace it when she was ready to use the vehicle.
The Pilot to her Career
In 1978, Ellen accepted a position at a steel fabricating plant in central Wisconsin. She started out working in the drafting department, designing the material handling equipment such as steel pallets, bins, and racking.
Continuing to break barriers, Ellen accepted a position in the traffic (shipping) department as the Assistant Traffic Manager. Although she wasn’t familiar with the trucking industry, she immediately took the challenge. The company supported her by sending her to school to obtain her training in traffic and transportation management. She was later promoted to Traffic Manager.
In this role, Ellen was responsible for the inbound shipping of the steel materials as well as the outbound shipping of products as varied as material handling equipment, fireplaces, and jacks. From bringing the raw materials into the plants to shipping the completed products out to the customers, she managed the traffic duties.
The company also had three trucks of their own, and Ellen was in charge of hiring and managing the three drivers. Because tariffs determined the rates, customers often tried to sway her with the promise of gifts (bribes). Staying true to the company and her own ethics was never an issue for her. But, Ellen doesn’t deny that the journey was challenging.
A New Chapter in Ellen’s Life
Ellen had started her career at a very young age. Later, in her twenties, she met her husband, who was a professional driver. They started their own small trucking company, and during that time, Ellen and her (then) husband started a family. While raising her children, she obtained her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in communication.
Ellen wrote her Master’s Thesis about “The Complex Identities of Women Married to Professional Drivers.” She was asked to write about the trucking life for numerous magazines, ultimately leading to a book with her most popular articles called, Marriage In the Long Run.
In 2000 Ellen was hired as the Executive Director Trucker Buddy International, a pen-pal program for professional drivers. In 2006, she was recruited by a large Midwest carrier as their manager of recruiting and retention programs.
While working at Schneider, Inc., Ellen was completing her pilot’s license and was a member of an organization for female pilots. That is when she realized there wasn’t a similar group for women in the trucking industry.
In 2007 Ellen initiated the formation of the Women In Trucking Association. Their goal was, and still is, to support women employed in the trucking industry. She surrounded herself with a strong team that shared her passion. Ellen never imagined the success the group would experience in the thirteen years since its inception.
Journey with WIT
The goal of WIT is simple; to increase the number of women employed in the trucking industry. From driver to board member, diversity was the challenge. Although women are still a minority in trucking, the association has been creating positive momentum.
The Women In Trucking Image Team was created to showcase professional female drivers, safety managers, recruiters, and trainers to share their stories with p outside of the industry. In order to monitor the increase in women employed in trucking, the association has created the WIT Index to track the numbers on an annual basis.
Envisioning the Future
Ellen’s goal is to listen and then act on the information. Ellen says, “We want to hear from our members, and we want to make the association better based on that feedback. An important area of focus is member value. Why do people join? The number one reason people join is for the opportunity to network and to meet other women (and men) who have a similar passion for gender diversity in the transportation industry. One interesting fact… six percent of our members said they joined because ‘Ellen motivated them’ to become a member! Regardless of their reason in joining, the Women In Trucking Association works hard to provide a voice to its members (and potential members.)
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