Ellen Voie has a specific definition of success.
It is a female driver backing a truck into a dock and no one commenting on her professional skill.
It is female engineers, trucking company executives, technicians, and truck or trailer saleswomen being considered knowledgeable without having to first prove themselves.
For the past decade, Voie has spearheaded an effort to make this vision a reality. The Women in Trucking Association celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, celebrating an ongoing mission to increase the number of women employed in the trucking business.
The group formed in March of 2007 at a Truckload Carriers Association Conference in Las Vegas.
"Our first board of directors was comprised of twelve very influential and passionate women who were determined to increase the presence of women employed in the trucking industry," write Voie, in an email to Material Handling Wholesaler.
Today, the association boasts nearly 4,000 members across six countries and a board of directors including representatives from Walmart,
The majority of association members are in the U.S, and about 10 percent in Canada. Others are located in Sweden, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Japan. Membership is comprised of individual members - like students, drivers and professionals - and groups like truck driving schools, carriers, manufacturers and suppliers.
"From driver to CEO, our members are women and men who believe in our mission," Voie said.
Voie, president and CEO of Women in Trucking, began with one other employee to manage the organization while continuing to work full time for a large carrier. Now that employee, Char Pingel, is the director of member services and Lana Nichols is director of programs. The organization uses the association management service Mind Share Strategies for basic organizational duties.
Voie focuses on her passions, writing and speaking on behalf of Women in Trucking. “I travel all over the world to talk about our mission and get more women interested in transportation carriers,” said Voie, who has spoken in Australia, New Zealand, Sweden and Paris, in addition to the U.S., Canada and Mexico.
Women in Trucking focuses on issues like helping ensure the best working conditions in an industry that requires those in training to share small, enclosed spaces for days at a time. “Carriers have tried to designate same gender trainers, but the EEOC has made this practice illegal, so now we have unrelated men and women sharing living (and sometimes sleeping) quarters. This is a challenge, as no one wants to blur the line between private and professional, but we haven’t found an acceptable solution,” said Voie, who believes carriers could be more honest about what to expect in a driver's career.
“From inclement weather to inspections, shipper issues, carrier expectations and more, the driver experiences frustrations that we haven’t adequately prepared him or her for in our training or recruiting process. If we did, the turnover rate wouldn’t be so high,” she said.
We need to be honest about the job and its difficulties, but we should also be addressing those obstacles. If a shipper doesn’t allow a driver to use rest room facilities, we need to drop that shipper. If a truck doesn’t accommodate a four foot three inch driver, we need to demand ergonomic changes to allow her (or him) to choose a career as a driver.”
To help facilitate these kinds of working conditions, Women in Trucking offers an anti-harassment guide free of charge to corporate members and a recruiting guide explaining what women look for in a carrier and a career and tips of advertising for drivers. Voie recommends women looking to get into the industry do their homework and search out the best education, company and working environment possible. “She needs to look for a mentor who will help her through the challenges she'll face. More importantly, she needs to be confident and sure of herself,” said Voie, who also recommends “assuming good intent” of those around her.
There have been positive development throughout the trucking industry in recent years, according to Voie, namely with truck stops. “From healthy food options, walking trails, pet areas, bigger shower heads and hair dryers and a better attitude from employees, the truck stops are focused on making the driving experience better,” she said.
Voie envisions some challenges in the coming years, as autonomous vehicles become more of a reality and regulations stiffen. But she also sees opportunities expanding, particularly as technology develops.
“People won't look at a truck as a smoke-spewing, dirty, labor-intensive vehicle,” Voie said. “Instead, they'll find that the industry pays drivers better, gets them home more often, lessens the physical demands and treats them with more respect.”
Highlights in WIT History
2009 – Mark Rousseau of Frito-Lay became the first male to serve on the board. Frito-Lay and Walmart joined as Gold Level Partners
- 2011 – Formation of the Women In Trucking Scholarship Foundation, a separate entity providing scholarships to both men and women pursuing an education in a variety of roles in the transportation industry
- 2012 – Named 'Transportation Innovator Champion of Change' by the White House
- 2013 – Created a transportation patch with the Girl Scouts so young girls can learn about supply chain and how it applies to them
- 2015 – Launched the first 'Accelerate! Conference and Expo' in Dallas. This year's conference drew over 400 attendees
Women in Trucking
For more information about the association or membership, visit www.womenintrucking.org
Eileen Schmidt is a freelance writer and journalist based in the Greater Milwaukee area. She has written for print and online publications for the past 12 years. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit eileenmozinskischmidt.wordpress.com to contact Eileen.