Ellen Voie, CEO of Women In Trucking Association, Inc., was one of the lucky personalities whose mother allowed her to do anything she wanted, and there were no “girl” careers. Ellen’s mother encouraged her when she took a shop class instead of home economics. Ellen learned woodworking, welding, drafting, and auto mechanics.
This was in 1975, shortly after Title IX of the federal civil rights act was adopted to create a level playing field in education for girls as well as boys. Until then, girls studied home economics, and boys took shop class.
In 1978, Ellen was hired at a steel fabricating plant in central Wisconsin, where she worked in the drafting department, designing material handling equipment, such as steel pallets, bins, and racking. It was fun, but not very exciting.
In 1979, Ellen’s mom passed away, and she was ready to move on with what it was determined. However, her bosses asked if she wanted to transfer into the Traffic Department instead of drafting. Ellen didn’t have a clue what was involved in “traffic,” but they increased her salary and sent her to school for “Traffic and Transportation Management.” After completing the course, her boss left the company, and she was promoted to the position of Traffic Manager.
Ellen had three plants creating steel products as varied as material handling, fireplaces, and jacks. She was responsible for bringing the raw materials into the plants and for shipping the completed products out to their customers. They also had three trucks of their own, and she was in charge of hiring, firing, and managing the three drivers.
She ended up marrying a professional driver, and she started their trucking company. She also did freelance work as a transportation consultant while she ran a small carrier, raised two children, and attended college to earn my bachelor’s and master’s degree in communication. Ellen was offered numerous writing opportunities in various magazines. My monthly columns were about family life in the trucking industry. She completed a Master’s Thesis on “The Complex Identities of Women Married to Professional Drivers.” She later published a book filled with some of the most popular articles called “Marriage In the Long Run.”
After twenty years, sadly, her marriage ended, and her children were nearly grown. She was hired for the position of Executive Director of Trucker Buddy International, where she led the program for six years. Then, she was recruited by Schneider National to lead their retention efforts. Ellen’s job was to initiate corporate-level programs designed to attract and retain non-traditional groups, such as women!
At the time, she was completing my pilot’s license, and she belonged to an organization for female pilots. It struck that there wasn’t a similar group for women in the trucking industry, so she started one.
That was in 2007 when the Women In Trucking Association was formed. She copied a lot from the female pilot’s organization but tapped into the people who supported this mission. She had a great team who shared her passion, and they put together a fantastic staff, board, and support group. Here they are, nearly thirteen years later, with a success story she could never have imagined.
The organization is a nonprofit association, which means they are here to serve its members who believe in their mission. The company mission is pretty simple; to encourage the employment of women in the trucking industry, promote their accomplishments, and minimize obstacles faced by women working in the industry. The way Women in Trucking Association impact their members is to be a resource for their members. They provide their members with insight and information to help them increase the percentage of women in their organizations. These include a recruiting and retention guide, an anti-harassment guide, best practices research, and a WIT index for benchmarking. The company also provides webinars, white papers, blogs, and their annual conference, which included over 1,100 registered attendees this past year.
A Power of Becoming Supreme in the Industry
Ellen’s role at the Women In Trucking Association as the founder and CEO is to be the visionary. She imagines where she wanted to be as she changed the trucking industry into a more gender diverse one. For that reason, she needs to depend on their team to take care of the duties that don’t fall under her strengths. This includes the financial aspect of the organization. Ellen feels that by “selling” our mission, the funds will follow from dues, sponsorship, and conference attendance. Also, the details needed to communicate with their members for everything from renewal letters, emails, and social media, as well as their magazine, Redefining the Road, are better handled by other staff members. For that reason, she has a very “hands-off” management approach.
Staying Unique of the Competitor
Since the company’s mission is to increase the percentage of women in the trucking industry, they are primarily supported by women. However, they do employ an association management firm that employs a number of men. So, from that perspective, they are not a very diverse workplace.
Being a Leader, and not a Boss
A leader should empower those around her. Instead of tearing people down, they need to build them up. At Women In Trucking Association, they take the StrengthsFInder™ survey so they can better understand what individual strengths are. Then, they work to remove responsibilities that don’t fit the person’s aptitude. Ellen always believed that it’s easier to assign duties to someone else who is energized by the project instead of expecting performance from someone who isn’t thrilled with the duty. In addition, once a project is assigned, she believes the team member who has accepted the responsibility should take ownership of the end result. She steps aside and waits for the completion of the project. They are genuinely a results-oriented environment, which means that everyone on their team must be self-motivated.
Challenges faced during the journey
As a nonprofit organization representing all women in the trucking industry who are focused on gender diversity transportation, they really don’t have any competition. There are groups that support drivers and those that support carriers. Some even focus on female drivers, but there are none who offer the resources to bring more women into every role from the driver, technician, carrier leader, board member, vendor, and all others. They represent ALL women who work within the supply chain.
Thinking Beyond Future
As a founder of the Women In Trucking Association, Ellen has led the organization in her style. She is well aware that others might have a different perspective, so she has already hired her successor who will start out as Vice President, and move into my role in the coming years. This is going to be a challenge, as she has always been viewed as the “face” of the organization.