With a mission to encourage the employment of women in the trucking industry, Ellen Voie founded the Women in Trucking Association, Inc. Through her venture, Ellen aims to promote women’s accomplishments and minimize obstacles faced by women working in the trucking industry. Ellen laid the foundations of Women in Trucking Association, Inc. in March 2007, which has the mission to encourage the employment of women in trucking, address obstacles, and celebrate the success of its members. Currently, she and her team consist of over 8,000 individuals spread over ten different nations, including men who support the company’s objective. It also has a sister organization, the Women in Trucking Scholarship Foundation, which is a charitable organization that provides tuition grants to women pursuing careers in the trucking industry.
The organization is a resource for the trucking industry to empower, advance, and retain women at all career levels who work in the supply chain. It represents the women who design, build, sell, drive, fix, and own the trucks. The value Ellen and her team provide is in the information its members can use to learn, benchmark, and advance women in their organizations. Ellen expresses that it is the first, largest, and only credible organization that represents women who work in transportation careers. “It provides data and facts to its members and to the media,” she highlights.
Women in Trucking also has numerous programs in place to help the company get its message out to the non-trucking media. For example, the company has a driver ambassador program that includes a female driver who transports a trailer full of educational information, hands-on learning, and even a simulator. It also has an Image Team comprised of female commercial drivers who give rides to legislators, regulators, and members of the media. These drivers are also featured in shows and publications such as the Wall Street Journal, Megyn Kelly Show, Dr. Oz, Oprah Magazine, and the Drew Barrymore Show. It conducts research to better understand how to attract and retain women as drivers, including its annual WIT Index, an Anti-harassment employment guide, a recruiting and retention publication, and more.
Ellen also notes that autonomous vehicle technology has been embraced by the trucking industry in the race toward driverless vehicles. She feels this adds positive safety features to make the truck and the job safer. However, driverless trucks will not be a common sight for a while, as a flat tire or an animal on the road, as well as construction sites and snow storms, still need a human being to maneuver the truck through these challenges.
Building a healthy work environment
The foundation and association were both started by Ellen, who has since remained in charge of both. She recently hired a new CEO and worked with her team to build a succession plan a few years ago. She was a founding member who was devoted to the cause and served as the organization’s public face. She admired the beginning and expansion of the business, though, as an entrepreneur. The staff members are self-motivated and independent and could take a project to its completion with little direction from her. “For example, I can provide a description of what the final project should encompass, but I don’t give direction on the process. Our team has adapted very well to this type of leadership style, and since we are a virtual organization, it has worked well for us to this day,” she says. Team members from around the country now make up the company’s twelve-person workforce; “we work in a virtual environment,” she says. She was aware that there had to be a window of time for the succeeding leader to assume control. As a result, she can concentrate on what she likes to do most—speak, write, and represent the organization as its founder.
An area of unconscious bias in hiring and promoting women in the trucking industry starts with its tendency to hire someone who looks, thinks, and acts as a founder does in a leadership role. She mentions that since men have been the dominant force in the past, one can still feel the effects of this unintended consequence. To avoid this, Ellen suggests employers hire and advance women based on criteria such as the skills related to the job, not on some subjective value response to a question. This inadvertently gives the hiring manager the power to determine if the response is correct or not, which leads to hiring people with the same values. “More importantly, we need to set diversity goals and hold everyone in the organization accountable for achieving these numbers,” she mentions. “Finally, we should ask each potential employee the same questions in the same order and have the responses evaluated by a team, to ensure a more level hiring process.“
Assume good intent
In her journey, the best advice she has ever received is to ‘assume good intent.’ This implies that any action taken by another individual was probably done with positive outcomes in mind. She highlights that every individual makes incorrect assumptions about another person’s motives, but those assumptions may lead us to the wrong conclusion. She thus advises other leaders to put themselves in the other person’s shoes and try to understand what they meant by their words or actions. She reminisces over her past and would like to offer some valuable insight to her younger self. At first, she would ask herself to give her health the utmost priority. “Without your health, you can’t continue to work as hard as you could if you’re facing physical challenges,” she adds. Second, she contends that preserving mental health is necessary, stress-relieving activities are essential, and therefore having vacation time or breaks during the workweek is crucial. “Finally, family comes first. Don’t think your children will wait for you to come home and spend time with them once they have the opportunity to make those decisions,” says Ellen. Further, she suggests spending time with them and guiding them in their development, “because if you aren’t teaching them your values, they’ll learn them from someone else. Make sure it’s you,” continues Ellen. Last but not least, she asserts that every person needs a mentor to guide them on their road toward recognizing both their strengths and areas for growth. “I have always had people I’ve looked up to and will ask for advice or insight when I face a challenge. Having a mentor is very important for anyone’s career growth,” she adds.