While more and more women are finding careers in male-dominated sectors, that wasn’t the case in the seventies, which Ellen Voie experienced as a Baby Boomer. Girls were expected to learn how to cook and clean by taking home economics courses, while boys learned how to weld, do woodworking, and understand engines in industrial arts classes.
Ellen was drawn to the activities often enjoyed by boys, so she asked if she could take the shop classes instead. During the Title IX era, schools were required to offer girls the same opportunities as boys, so Ellen was allowed to learn how to weld and service motor and craft items like bookshelves and gun racks (for her dad).
This started Ellen’s lifelong interest in traditionally male-oriented endeavours. She initially went to school for broadcast journalism but returned home after working at a radio station as a disc jockey.
Ellen’s mother had gotten ill with ALS, so she found a job nearby at a steel fabricating plant, working as a drafter. Ellen was designing material handling equipment, such as racks, pallets, and shelving. After her mom passed away, she was offered a role in the shipping department.
Ellen started out as the Assistant Traffic Manager, but after earning a diploma in Traffic & Transportation Management in 1980, she was promoted to the position of Traffic Manager. Ellen was responsible for all outbound material handling equipment and inbound raw steel products.
Since she was still very young for this position (age 20), she experienced apprehension from the carriers calling on her, as they didn’t believe she was capable of the position at such an early age. Ellen proved them wrong and went on to enjoy a protracted career (44 years) in the trucking industry. After starting her family, Ellen worked as a freelance consultant to trucking companies in central Wisconsin, keeping the carriers, trucks, and drivers in compliance with state and federal regulations.
In 2000, Ellen became the Executive Director of Trucker Buddy International, a non-profit organization that matches professional drivers with elementary classrooms to exchange letters and postcards each month.
In 2006, she was hired by a large midwestern carrier as the Manager of Recruiting and Retention Programs, where she worked to create corporate level initiatives to attract and retain non-traditional groups, such as women.
During that time, she was working toward her private pilot’s license and belonged to a women’s aviation association, which made her wonder why there wasn’t a similar group for trucking. In 2007, she gathered a group of influential women who agreed with her mission to make the trucking industry more gender inclusive and the Women In Trucking Association was founded in March of that year.
The challenge was to convince the trucking industry that gender diversity was important and that her organization was the group to create that change. In its first year, Women In Trucking Association attracted 500 corporate and individual members and grew into a group with more than 8,000 members worldwide.
In an interview with The Business Berg, Ellen shares valuable facts highlighting her professional tenure and journey so far in the dynamic business arena.
Below are the excerpts from the interview:
Tell us something more about your company and its mission and vision; how does your company thrive towards enabling advancements in the dynamic business arena?
The Women In Trucking Association’s mission is to encourage women’s employment in the trucking industry, address obstacles that might keep women from succeeding, and celebrate the success of our members. That mission remains to this day, and we are now the premier and most widely recognized organization in the world which works toward a more gender-inclusive trucking workforce.
Our goal is to be the resource for carriers as well as government entities to turn to when they want to better understand how to attract and retain more women at all levels of the supply chain, from driver to CEO.
Enlighten us on how you have been impacting the niche through your expertise in the market.
We provide data, research, and benchmarking information so companies can first determine how well their diversity efforts are working and how they can improve them. We offer white papers, webinars, an e-newsletter and our publication, “Redefining the Road,” to supplement the information on our website.
What are the fundamentals that you implement to drive betterments within the work culture of your organization?
Our programs include a Driver Ambassador who takes our trailer to industry events. The trailer is fitted with a simulator, videos, touch screen monitors, and even clothing for women designed by women. We also have an Image Team in the US and Canada who give rides to regulators, legislators and journalists to help them get a glimpse into the challenges a female driver faces on the road.
We have many recognition programs, including our driver of the year, Influential Woman in Trucking, Distinguished Woman in Logistics and others. We share our member’s stories in a monthly feature, and we strive to have our driver members featured in the mainstream media to share their stories. Our annual conference, accelerate! attracted nearly 1,800 attendees last year and is the premier event to advance gender diversity in the trucking industry.
Describe in detail the values and the work culture that drives your organization.
We are a unique association in many ways. First, we all work in a virtual environment, and that includes thirteen team members who live in nine states! Secondly, we don’t have set hours or days but measure effectiveness by output. This means we are all able to work when we want and to take time off as needed. We encourage vacations and a positive work-life balance, and we expect our associates to get their work done without counting their time in minutes.
Undeniably, technology is playing a significant role in almost every sector. How are you leveraging technological advancements to make your solutions resourceful?
During the pandemic, we had to learn to rely on technology to engage our members, so we pivoted to a virtual conference and have had success in keeping this feature in addition to our in-person event each year. It gives our members who might be unable to travel the time to participate and learn via online events.
What, according to you, could be the next significant change in your sector? How is your company preparing to be a part of that change?
I am concerned that the industry is not ready for the environment regulations facing us in the coming years. Diesel engines will need to be replaced with alternative fuels or even electric engines, but the infrastructure is not in place for these mandates at this time. We will need to adapt to a more environmentally focused world.
Where do you envision yourself to be in the long run, and what are your future goals for your company?
I have already announced my retirement this year, and we have a succession plan in place. The new CEO has been named and is in the process of learning about the industry and the organization. My goal is for her continued leadership in a growing and increasingly valuable association that leads the industry in gender diversity.
What would be your advice to budding entrepreneurs who aspire to venture into the dynamic business arena?
My advice to anyone considering a career in trucking is to ask a lot of questions and to join an organization such as ours to learn from peers and mentors. Read as much as possible and then determine the best fit for your talents and interests. There are many positions in the trucking industry, from driver to diesel technician to marketing and human resources and eventually into leadership roles.