Ellen Voie: Pioneering Gender Egalitarianism in Transportation Space
During the ’80s, when boys could take shop class while girls were only allowed to learn home economics, One of the Success Stories of Female Entrepreneurs Ellen Voie believed herself to be lucky to be encouraged by her mother to do what she liked. Her mother encouraged her when Ellen took shop class and learned woodworking, welding, drafting, and auto mechanics.
After completing her studies, Ellen was hired in a steel fabrication plant in 1978. From there, her manager encouraged her to complete the Traffic and Transportation Management Program and later promoted her as a Traffic Manager.
With her years of working in the transportation business, Ellen realized that there was no strong association for women in this industry and founded Women In Trucking Association ins 2007.
Since then, as the President and CEO, Ellen has been leading the organization to encourage and support women in the transportation space helping resolve their issues and building a gender-equal environment.
Read the following interview where Ellen shares how she was inspired to found Women In Trucking Organization and has been driving gender egalitarianism in the transportation industry.
Brief our audience about your journey as the President and CEO at Women in Trucking Association.
I started my career by working in the drafting department of a steel fabricating plant designing material handling equipment. Year after when I was ready to move on my manager encouraged me to pursue ‘Traffic and Transportation Management’ program and was later promoted as Traffic Manager.
I was responsible for bringing the raw materials into the plants and for shipping the completed products out to our customers. I also oversaw hiring, firing, and managing the drivers for the trucks owned by the company.
After over twenty years of working in the trucking sector, I was hired for the position of Executive Director of Trucker Buddy International where I led the program for six years. Then, I was recruited by Schneider National to lead their retention efforts. My job was to initiate corporate-level programs designed to attract and retain non-traditional groups, such as women.
At the time, I was completing my pilot’s license, and I belonged to an organization for female pilots. It struck me that there wasn’t a similar group for women in the trucking industry; so, I started one.
That was in 2007 when the Women In Trucking Association was formed. I took a lot of inspiration from the female pilot’s organization, also tapped into the people who supported this mission. I had a great team who shared my passion, and we put together a fantastic staff, board, and support group. Here we are, nearly twelve years later, with a success story I could never have imagined.
Enlighten us on how you have made an impact in the transportation industry through your stronghold in the industry.
At the Women In Trucking Association, our mission is to encourage more women to enter and succeed in careers in the supply chain. We believe our high renewal rate reflects the importance of what we offer to anyone who joins.
To promote gender diversity in the trucking industry, we had to find a way to measure desired outcomes and provide best practices for companies looking for greater diversity. We partnered with Carriers Edge to create a Diversity and Inclusion Index to measure and set benchmarks for all areas of inclusion. This is an ongoing project to recognize those companies who are achieving more balance in their hiring and promoting practices.
To continue the networking and educational opportunities, we are creating WIT Chapters so you can meet in your local or regional area.
Another way one can stay involved right now is to participate in the online Engage Platform on our website. It’s a way to learn, connect, and find others who share similar experiences. We are spending a great deal of time and resources to make this program more user-friendly and interactive.
A long-term goal has been to have a Driver Ambassador Program. We hired Kellylynn McLaughlin, a training engineer at Schneider, Inc. Her company agreed to brand her tractor and to allow her to work for WIT one week each month. Walmart donated a trailer which is currently being retrofitted into a mobile display for educational and professional visits to schools and events.
Walmart also approached us about recognizing top female drivers, so in 2020 we created a female driver of the year program. Our first recipient was Susie DeRidder who has four decades of experience as a professional driver and is based in Canada. We are currently looking for the next Female Driver of the Year, so visit our website to submit a nomination.
Being an experienced leader, share with us your opinion on how the adaptation of novel technologies in your niche market has transformed the industry and what more could be expected in the near future?
The interior cab of today’s truck resembles your car more than you realize. First, the truck has been designed to be more ergonomically correct for all body sizes, which means women are now more comfortable in the driving seat than in the past.
Today’s trucks are also safer. The opportunities are endless to provide technology to reduce driver error by relying on these devices. From personal safety to safety on the road, there are more opportunities to make our roads safer for all of us.
Personal safety is also a concern. Instead of experiencing worker’s comp claims from cranking dollies or pulling the hood open to inspect the engine, we now have devices that raise and lower the landing gear with the push of a button. There is hydraulics that opens the massive hood and even cameras the show whether your kingpin has been secured or not.
The technology removes much of the physical strength needed to operate a tractor-trailer in the past. This allows us to attract and keep more women as well as men who prefer a less physically demanding job. Even the burden of loading and unloading the cargo has been automated, and the responsibility has typically been transferred to the shipper and receiver instead of the driver.
The trucking industry has adopted advanced technology; not only to comply with government regulations but to reduce its footprint on our ecological resources as well as make the job much safer.
Taking into consideration, the current pandemic, and its impact on global economies, how are you driving your organization to sustain operations and ensuring the safety of your employees at the same time?
Last January, before we knew that a pandemic would forever change our industry (and the world!) we initiated some programs to advance our mission in the coming years. Because of the pandemic, our drivers were experiencing both physical and emotional challenges on the road. We partnered with ESPYR to offer our drivers free 24/7 access to mental health counselors and health coaches to keep them safe and healthy while alleviating some of the stresses they were experiencing. Amazon and Total Transportation of Mississippi graciously funded these services.
As the pandemic progressed into the summer and fall, we decided to accelerate towards our mission by transforming the conference and Expo into a virtual event. This was not an easy task, but with hundreds of participants, we received a positive response. However, if the circumstances allow, we plan to see these and many more participants in person this year in Dallas, Texas in November.
Currently, we are working with the CDC to provide information to our members on everything from COVID-19 and what to expect, how to protect yourself and your family. We are also giving our members information about vaccination. Additionally, we help shippers better understand how to accommodate professional drivers who enter their facilities.
What is your opinion on adopting gender egalitarianism from a leadership perspective?
We are currently creating a Diversity and Inclusion Index so our members can learn best practices and use the data for benchmarking. Ultimately, we want to use the annual index to honor the industry organizations that promote diversity and inclusion.
For that reason, the board of directors at the Women In Trucking Association determined that we need to know if we are making a difference in this industry. So, we decided to create our own WIT Index.
First, we paired with the National Transportation Institute (NTI) which graciously added a question to their quarterly wage surveys. They asked carriers for the percentage of female over-the-road drivers.
For those who responded to the NTI survey, the average percentage of over-the-road drivers who are female was 7.13% in 2017 and increased to 7.89% in 2018.
In 2019, we partnered with Freightwaves to conduct a survey to determine the industry’s participation of women as technicians, safety directors, managers, and professional drivers.
Overall, the respondents reported that women make up 10% of all over the road drivers. We also learned that only 4% of diesel technicians are women and that about 38% of fleet safety professionals are women.
In the United States, women currently comprise 7.4% of all CEOs in Fortune 500 companies and about 26% of all board seats, despite recent legislation to establish diversity quotas.
The Freightwaves survey found that female executives in trucking make up 36% of the leadership in transportation and just over 45% of non-executive employees.
Each year we also examine the publicly traded trucking companies by partnering with Memphis University to conduct the research. In 2020, of the fourteen publicly traded carriers’ women comprised 22% of the board director seats, but only 9% of the leading executives.
We have reinforced what we learned to encourage the employment of women in the transportation industry, to address obstacles, and to celebrate the successes of the women who have become visible and influential.
Now that we can monitor the data, our goal is to see the numbers increase in all areas. We intend to make the trucking industry a more diverse and inclusive environment.
Where do you envision yourself to be in the long run and what are your future goals for your company?
Our goal is to have one year’s operations budget in reserve. A third party maintains all our accounts payable and receivable activity, and an annual audit ensures third party reviews all figures.
We had a third party conduct a market assessment, and more recently, we completed a member communication survey. We interviewed current, potential, and lapsed members to understand better how we can both attract and retain both corporate and individual members.
The goal is to communicate and then listen. We want to hear from our members, and we want to make the association better based on that feedback.
Another area of focus is member value. The number one reason people join is for the opportunity to network and to meet other women (and men) who have similar roles in other companies. One interesting fact is 6% of our members said they joined because ‘Ellen motivated them’ to become a member.
The final concern of the board is the WIT brand. We’ve always heard the comment that people assume the organization is for female drivers. We represent all women who work in the trucking industry. In fact, drivers are a very small part of our organization in numbers, despite being a significant focus in creating change in the industry.