Women In Trucking Founder Ellen Voie Discusses Industry Advancements.
Since 2007, “Bringing Gender Diversity to Transportation,” has been the rallying cry of Women In Trucking, a non-profit focused on encouraging the employment of women in trucking, promoting their accomplishments, and minimizing obstacles faced by women working in the industry. We recently caught up with Women In Trucking Founder, President, and CEO Ellen Voie to discuss the state of women in trucking and the progress she has seen since starting the organization.
What need did you see 13 years ago when you founded the Association?
“At that time, I was working for a large carrier as Manager of Retention and Recruiting Programs. I was asked to determine how to attract and retain professional drivers who were seniors, Hispanic, returning military, and women.
“When I started researching, I realized the trucking industry wasn’t very responsive to female drivers and their needs. The typical CEO’s view was that they hired ‘the best driver’ and didn’t care about gender, age, or ethnicity.
“This started to change when they began realizing the playing field wasn’t level for gender diversity. For example, at the time, all shirts were designed for men, the trucks were designed for men, and many terminals didn’t have showers for women.”
What challenges did you see for women already in the trucking industry at that time as well as for those looking to enter the industry?
“Women had to prove themselves before they were taken seriously. There are still some carriers and even some drivers who continue to resist accommodating women. Some feel that women shouldn’t be in a male-dominated environment; others feel that women should just learn to adapt to the challenges they face. These views are changing as we increase both the number of women drivers and their collective voices.”
How have these challenges evolved and changed?
“As the industry changes and begins recognizing the challenges of both an aging workforce and a very white, male driver population, it is beginning to understand the need for diversity. However, the need for good drivers should be the motivation, not just the need to fill empty seats.
“Also, as the number of women drivers grows, there is increasing pressure to accommodate them. For example, truck manufacturers are now looking at ways to ensure women are as comfortable in the cab as men by making the seats, pedals, and dashboards adaptable to shorter legs and arms.
“Travel centers are also accommodating women with more showers amenities such as hair dryers, big shower heads, and fluffy towels (which men enjoy as well!). They are also more sensitive to offering products in the convenience stores for women, such as female hygiene products, clothes, gloves, and boots sized for women.”
Are there other areas where you are also seeing progress being made?
“In the past, women had to adapt to the environment. Now they are being seen as well as heard. Changes are taking place to actively recruit, retain, and celebrate female drivers. Trucking companies are recognizing their female drivers with banquets, picnics, listening sessions, and more.
“Overall, women are becoming much more visible. We are seeing more women competing in truck driving championships, rodeos, road teams, image programs, and even industry recruitment advertisements. Part of the Association’s mission is to celebrate success. We recognize female drivers, women in logistics, and influential women throughout trucking. We also honor a ‘Member of the Month’ so we can tell her individual story.”
In what areas of the industry are women making the most strides?
“Every large carrier today started with one man and a truck. We’re working hard to change that by helping women become drivers, owner-operators, and fleet owners. We’re here to help them succeed by learning from others in the industry. We are also thrilled to see more daughters taking over trucking and logistics companies from their dads – sometimes even when they have brothers! It’s not always ‘Smith and Sons’ on the truck these days.”
Do the challenges for women in the trucking industry mirror those in other industries? How?
“The Association has partnered with other women’s organizations throughout the transportation industry that face the same challenges we do. Whether the mode is truck, rail, bus, pipeline, or even airplanes, women are still in the minority.
“We believe our organization is the leader in educating the industry on how to attract and retain female drivers, managers, technicians, and so much more. I am asked to speak at conferences for towing, rigging, last mile, home delivery, vending machine suppliers, shippers, and other industries with similar recruitment and retention challenges.”
What other challenges are present in the industry and how do you see things in the years ahead?
“The biggest challenge is that our industry has an image problem. Your average neighbor doesn’t associate the professional driver in that tractor trailer with the gallon of milk on the store shelf. We’re trying to change that. The pandemic has made this clearer with the recent toilet paper and hand sanitizer shortages. However, we need to ensure that people can relate to the driver as someone who moves the economy, not just a hinderance on the road.”