You might associate success as something driven by personal ambition, but the goal is broader for others. Ellen Voie, CEO & Founder of the Women In Trucking Association, Inc., is more concerned about elevating the entire industry so everyone can benefit instead of advancing her professional path. While finding personal success, her organization is the driving force in creating a better environment for all women. Perhaps this is more of a woman’s way of leading an organization, but this is quickly becoming the best way to change the world.
Women & Softer Economics
In 2007, Ellen founded Women In Trucking Association as a nonprofit trade/professional organization. She found that women comprised about three percent of the driver population and had very little representation in board rooms or the C-Suite. The sentiment at that time was that the industry was being gender-blind and claimed to hire the best candidates. However, it was apparent that there was not a level playing field. There was unconscious bias in the hiring and promotion of female executives, and for female commercial drivers, the playing field was anything but level. Showers were communal for men, restrooms for women were scarce, trucks were designed for men, and companies didn’t provide women’s uniforms.
The most critical area was the lack of data. Since women were considered “statistically insignificant” in trucking, breaking the information down by gender was difficult. Over the years, the Women In Trucking Association has worked with universities and private entities to look at the differences between men and women in transportation careers. Now, research has proven that women take fewer risks, both in the boardroom and in the cab of a truck. Women make decisions differently, and women have different values when looking for a career at a trucking company. Women are more collaborative and better at team building. All of these are positive attributes that weren’t valued in the past.
Different But Inspiring
Unlike other girls, Ellen has been interested in less traditional activities, such as woodworking, auto mechanics, drafting, and welding. After graduating from high school, she found a position designing material handling equipment at a steel fabricating plant. She was soon offered a transfer to the traffic (shipping) department and later advanced to Traffic Manager. She earned a diploma in Traffic & Transportation Management which gave her a great deal of insight into how the supply chain works.
Later, after starting her family, Ellen took her skills in transportation and worked as a consultant to motor carriers in central Wisconsin. During that time, she earned her bachelor’s degree and Master’s degree in Communication. After eighteen years, she was ready to move on, and she accepted a position to lead the Trucker Buddy program, a nonprofit organization that matches professional drivers with elementary classrooms.
In 2006 Ellen was recruited by a large carrier in the Midwest as the Manager of Retention and Recruiting Programs. Her job was to initiate corporate-level programs to attract and retain nontraditional groups, including women. The goal was to increase the ranks of female drivers at the carrier and understand this demographic’s needs. At the time, Ellen was working on obtaining her private pilot’s license, and she belonged to a women’s aviation group. It occurred to her that there wasn’t a similar organization for women in the transportation industry, which prompted her to start the Women In Trucking Association.
Reinventing Against Disparity
Although women make up 50% of the population, female business owners are still a minority, especially in transportation careers. Women entrepreneurs entering male-populated industries find additional challenges to bring their ideas to life. The Women In Trucking Association has over 6,000 members in ten countries, and about fifteen percent of them are men who join because they support the mission. The organization provides insight to its members through surveys, research, and partnering with other organizations to better understand gender diversity in transportation careers. The goal is to be a resource for the industry and the government.
As a trade/professional organization, Women In Trucking Association serves its members. For anyone involved in the transportation environment, the opportunity to network allows members to build better businesses. They believe in transparency and are responsive to feedback. When members feel the dues are worth the cost to provide value to their company or career advancement, they’ll be sure to renew their membership, so feedback is crucial. The organization constantly surveys its members on important issues so they can better represent them. Most importantly, they use their insight to make changes in the industry by quantifying their experiences, giving them measurable goals.
Overcoming The Uncertainties
Despite such devotion, Ellen admits that she has difficulty responding to criticisms. She cannot help but often take these criticisms personally because the Women In Trucking Association is her creation. She faces a hard time when people try to attack them for something they dislike instead of discussing working together.
The world is at a stage where gender diversity is becoming an essential goal in every industry. The Women In Trucking Association is on a mission to make women aware of the career opportunities in the trucking industry. They have always had a virtual presence as an organization, so this wasn’t a factor amid the pandemic. The goal is to hire self-motivated people since employees do not have established work hours or even vacation schedules. Everyone works to complete their duties without the need for oversight.
Millions of business owners worldwide faced at least some level of challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Women In Trucking Association was also forced to make difficult decisions. For instance, they had to cancel their in-person event in 2020 and switch to a virtual conference. They had over 600 enthusiastic registered attendees, which encouraged them to provide a virtual option. Similarly, in 2021, they had over 800 at their in-person event in Dallas and hundreds more who participated in all or parts of the virtual conference.
From Ellen’s Seat
Having a solid foundation, the Women In Trucking Association has future goals to create local and regional chapters for members to continue to network throughout the year. The first chapter will be meeting early in 2022. In addition, they have launched their new Driver Ambassador tractor-trailer, driven by a female driver. She will take the mobile display around the country to educate the public about the trucking industry through interactive exhibits and a simulator in the semi-trailer.
Ellen’s message for entrepreneurs is to be persistent and not let critics affect your ambition. “Starting any business, whether it’s nonprofit or for-profit, is difficult and time-consuming. Do your homework but ask lots of questions. Find a mentor and believe in yourself.”