Influencing transportation to include more women's participation
WOMEN LEADERS ISSUE
Warren Buffett once said, “The closer that America comes to fully employing the talents of all its citizens, the greater the output of goods and services will be.” According to the U. S. Department of Labor women comprise 44 percent of full-time workers in the labor force. Moreover, up to 52 percent of management in all occupations. However, in the trucking industry, less than eight percent of the driver population is comprised of women. Additionally, women make up only 21 percent of transportation, storage and distribution managers, and 18 percent of supervisors of transportation and material handling workers. Ellen Voie, President/CEO & Founder, Women In Trucking Association’s (WIT) is on the mission to ‘encourage the employment of women in the trucking industry, promote their accomplishments, and minimize obstacles faced by women working in the trucking industry.’
Ellen earned a diploma in Traffic and Transportation Management in 1980 while employed as Traffic Manager for a steel fabricating plant. She later became a freelance transportation consultant to carriers in Wisconsin, licensing and permitting trucks for more than 16 years. During that time, Ellen earned her Master's Degree in Communication from the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point, where she completed her thesis –‘Research on the complex identities of women married to professional drivers’. She has a passion for all things engines! Not only does she hold a Class ‘A’ Commercial Driver’s License (CDL), she is also a motorcycle rider and an aviation enthusiast. “Nothing is more thrilling than flying through the sky in a single engine Cessna. I live near the airport where I recently bought a hangar, so I can fly any time the weather is good, and my schedule allows”. She walks four miles a day to distress, clear her mind and think freely in the fresh air. Ellen is a Certified Association Executive (CAE). She enthusiastically takes up classes and lectures to work her up. Her perspective towards life is shaped by the teachings of her mother Virginia Voie, who gave her a wonderful childhood of empowerment and encouragement. “She told me I could do anything I set my mind to, and I believed her!”
Commitment to diversity
WIT is a virtual organization. It was incorporated and formed as a 501(c) (6) non-profit in March 2007. The officialdom team is spread out from Florida to Tennessee to Idaho, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. In their journey of the past eleven years, they have grown from a two-person staff to a crew of three. WIT is supported by an association management firm of eight people dedicated to that supports the organization. Although separated geographically, WIT has a strong team mentality, and they stay connected through technology, complemented by regular staff meetings. Originally their board of directors consisted entirely of women. They later changed it to involve men who truly believed in their mission. Today, half of their board and twenty percent of their members is composed of men.
Attracting women to a business dominated by men
In 2012, the White House recognized WIT for being a “Transportation Innovator Champion of Change.”
Although WIT represents all women in the trucking industry, many of their members are professional drivers.
They work to:
● Educate and raise awareness for women’s issues ● Promote career opportunities for women in the industry ● Improve conditions for women already working in the industry ● Increase the number of women in leadership positions in the industry ● Increase the number of women drivers ● Serve as a resource about women working in the industry
Succession planning is a priority at WIT. Each member holds a great deal of institutional knowledge that cannot be replaced easily. This is part of their strategic plan, and many potential candidates who have expressed interest are being considered as possible CEO replacements for the future. The association provides resources for identifying unconscious bias and works to overcome it. This could be anything from the graphics or wording in their member’s recruiting ads, to outdated work (e.g., lifting) requirements or even bias inherent in their hiring and promoting practices. They have created an anti-harassment guide for motor carriers and is currently working on a ‘same-gender training’ opportunity, as the past practice of being gender neutral in training situations has led to sexual harassment issues.
Being a professional is not a job, it is a lifestyle
Being the face of an organization Ellen is accountable to members and stakeholders; has to report back to the board of members; lead and direct the staff, identify opportunities and be the glue that holds the organization together. Such diverse roles invite challenges too. Her unique outlook, however, makes her unstoppable. “I look beyond the challenge and envision the outcome. It’s the end result that matters. There will always be obstacles in the way when we encounter trials, but if we genuinely believe that the outcome is achievable and that we are in control, the challenges along the way will only make us stronger”.
“I look beyond the challenge and envision the outcome. It’s the end result that matters. There will always be obstacles in the way when we encounter trials, but if we genuinely believe that the outcome is achievable and that we are in control, the challenges along the way will only make us stronger”.
A suggestion to all women
As advised by one of her mentors, Ellen believes to “Assume good intent.” She explains, “Instead of reacting to an action by someone that might have been offensive, one needs to learn to look at it differently and not assume it was about you. Sometimes people are dealing with their own issues, and no one knows why they are acting in a way that might affect you, but it’s not always about YOU!” Having a thick skin and deflecting comments that might otherwise deflate you is a quality one must master. At the same time she recommends, “For women, they should be learning to embrace self-promotion and learn to negotiate salaries and promotions. We need to stop being over cognizant of others and take better care of ourselves. We need to accept praise and stop giving others credit for our successes”.