It is no secret trucking industry has a diversity problem. While many just accepted the status quo, Ellen Voie wondered why women were still a minority in the trucking industry. She was eager to break this outdated and inaccurate limitation. Hence, to create a gender-equal culture in the road transportation industry, Ellen established the Women In Trucking Association, Inc. (WIT). This American-based non-profit organization focuses on the employment of women in the trucking industry. The group was established in 2007 and is based in Plover, Wisconsin. The goal includes raising awareness and encouraging women to consider a career in transportation. "Our mission is to encourage the employment of women, promote their accomplishments and minimize obstacles faced by women working in the trucking industry," says Ellen Voie, President/CEO and Founder of WIT.
A born leader
Ellen, since her childhood, was naturally inclined towards learning new skills that pushed her beyond her comfort zone. She believed that she could challenge herself by testing these limits. Even in school, Ellen participated in those activities that typically appealed to boys. She was active in team sports and preferred to learn industrial arts instead of the traditional home economics classes. Willing to explore new things and take risks, Ellen has always been shattering limitations and has been an entrepreneur by heart.
Having studied engines, woodworking, welding, and drafting in her high school, in 1978, Ellen was hired at a steel fabricating plant in central Wisconsin. She worked in the drafting department, designing material handling equipment, such as steel pallets, bins, and racking. While Ellen enjoyed this role, she was promoted to the shipping department. The company sent her to Traffic and Transportation Management school, and Ellen was ultimately promoted to Traffic Manager.
After Ellen started her family, she worked as a free lane transportation consultant for 18 years. During this time, she completed her bachelor's and then Master's degree in communication. In 2006, Schneider, Inc. recruited her job to initiate corporate-level programs designed to attract and retain non-traditional groups. During that time, she also earned her pilot's license and belonged to an organization for female pilots. Ellen realized there was no such group for women in the trucking industry, and she decided to create one. This decision led to the start of WIT.
"Our mission is to encourage the employment of women, promote their accomplishments and minimize obstacles faced by women working in the trucking industry"
Redefining the Road
As Ellen continued her fight for equality in the trucking industry, she realized that a significant barrier for women in non-traditional careers was that they first needed to prove that they are capable. Secondly, they had to perform as well, if not better, than their male peers. "When you are a sole female in an organization, you are representing all women in the way you behave. Whether this is fair or not isn't the issue, as you are being observed!" shares Ellen. "However, once you have proven yourself, you are welcomed as a peer. I have found this to be true in any male-dominated profession. Do the job, and you will earn respect."
Ellen's journey to success has been far from easy. Though she had the potential, the extraordinary leadership skills, and the will to make it big, she had to go through some very challenging experiences. There were times at WIT when they couldn't meet payroll, and Ellen had to pay the staff and had to wait for the funds to pay herself. Having learned from these experiences, today, Ellen is proud to have made WIT financially secure. For someone with an ordinary mindset, this would have been enough to give up. But Ellen was determined to create a space for women, and her intent only keeps getting stronger. "Progressive companies recognize the value women bring to their organizations," says Ellen. "Women are typically more risk-averse. We make decisions differently than men. Neither one is better, but when quick decision-making, risky behaviors, and hierarchical cultures are valued, it precludes women from having the same level of success. Companies that hire more women from top to bottom have proven to be more profitable. Female commercial drivers are safer because of this risk-averse tendency. Safer drivers benefit all of us!"
Ellen considers WIT to be one substantial mentoring opportunity to attract, retain and promote women in the trucking industry. "I'd like to see carriers hiring many more female drivers as well as promoting more women into management and C-level positions," continues Ellen. "Ultimately, I would like to see more benchmarking and public recognition for the companies that have the best practices." These changes won't happen on their own but only if we have more women trailblazers'. "The greatest challenge for women in leadership roles is in having the confidence to take risks to be a pioneer. We don't always have someone to follow, so we need to make our own path to the top," says Ellen.
One Team. One vision
At WIT, the work culture is one of innovation and independence and self-motivation. Every staff member's passion is to further the mission. They know that they lead the way for every woman who wants to work in the trucking industry to feel welcome and valued. "We are a results-based organization," affirms Ellen. "We have a very independent culture." Every staff member has specific areas of responsibility. Suggesting ideas, innovations, and creativity is assumed, and a critical parameter used to gauge employee performance and contribution to the organization. A transparent work environment reduces corporate politics and nurtures the feeling of being united and faithful to the organization's purpose. "I try to be an example for my staff, members, and board of directors. I hold myself to a high standard in both my personal and professional life," adds Ellen.
For her exemplary work, Ellen was honored by the White House as a "Transportation Innovators Champion of Change" in July 2012. In 2014, for providing outstanding service to the trucking industry and association as a whole, she was awarded the Frank W. Babbitt award from the Wisconsin Motor Carriers Association. She also received the Skinner Humanitarian award, presented annually to a trucking advocate in her state. The year 2015 brought another achievement in the form of the "Distinguished Alumna of the Year" award from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point Division of Communication. She was also named one of Supply & Demand Chain Executives magazine's "2016 Pros to Know" and was chosen as Fleet Owner's Dozen Outstanding Women In Trucking in 2016. In 2021, Ellen was appointed for a two-year term on the Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
With tones of achievements, Ellen is humbled by her success. She is willing to do everything it takes to build an industry that embraces women's attributes but places a higher value on the differences they bring. Her end goal is to create a substantial change and break down the gender bias that created a divide for years. Having earned respect for herself and women in the trucking industry, Ellen is a leader in its truest sense and a winner of hearts.
"I want to be seen as a disrupter," says Ellen. "I want people to remember me as someone who had a passion for changing the corporate environment and the accomplishments to have achieved a degree of change."