Ellen Voie's picture

Mar 6, 2017

By:

Ellen Voie

President & CEO, Women In Trucking

I had a simple goal when I created the Women In Trucking organization 10 years ago: make it easier for women to succeed in this male-dominated industry. And after spending more than 35 years in the trucking industry, it’s easy for me to see how far women have come. 

Still, there’s much more that can be done. 

Our group got its start back in 2007, while I was working for Schneider National. At the time, Schneider launched an effort to attract and retain non-traditional groups to the industry, like women. While conducting initial research on the project, it became painfully clear that companies put virtually zero focus on bringing women in as drivers or team leaders. It was also shocking to realize that while there were advocacy groups for women in all sorts of industries, there was absolutely nothing out there to support women in ours.

That is exactly why Women In Trucking was created. Our growth speaks to how far the industry has come. We’ve expanded from our very first member in 2007 to almost 4,000 today. Members come from all over the US, as well as Australia, Sweden, Japan, North Africa and New Zealand.

While the majority of members are women, 17 percent are men who support our mission — to encourage the employment of women in trucking industry, promote their accomplishments and minimize obstacles. In fact, our goal is to increase the number of women employed in the industry; not just as drivers, but women in leadership roles as well, because diversity in the boardroom brings greater profits to the company.

That diversity is just one of the benefits companies realize when they bring women onboard.  That shouldn’t diminish the fact that women also make great drivers. They’re safer, more attentive to paperwork and easier on equipment. They also make incredible dispatchers because of their ability to connect with drivers and show empathy towards them. Drivers with female dispatchers know that she’s there for them and will put their safety first.

Since we began our mission 10 years ago, there have been so many changes in the industry’s perceptions about employing women. When we began talking to fleet owners and managers, they were still giving out big belt buckles for safe driving awards (definitely not a way to include women). I would tell them, “We’re going to start making you look at the world differently.”

Today, I feel like we have accomplished that goal. Ten years ago, you didn't see women in recruiting ads; all ads were aimed directly at men. You didn't see uniforms for women. Many of the truck stops didn't even have showers for women. 

Now, we actively work with truck stops to make them a nicer, safer, more inclusive environment for female drivers. They've been adding amenities such as hair dryers; big, fluffy towels; and larger shower heads, which the male drivers appreciate as well. The truck stops have also put in more lighting to increase safety and security.

We also collaborate with truck cab designers, sharing our ideas on improving ergonomics to ensure that female drivers have safe equipment that fits them like it does their male counterparts. Cab security systems are also constantly being improved to ensure driver safety while sleeping. We've come a long way, but women still make up only about seven percent of the driver population and about 14 percent of management.

The biggest challenge to recruiting women is to make the industry appealing while overcoming misconceptions. When people look at a truck, they see a smokestack. They see an engine. They don't even think about the fact that the interior has been totally redesigned so that it’s safer. They don’t realize that drivers get home more often now, and they overlook the fact that in trucking, women make the same amount of money as men. 

Our biggest issue is that people outside of the trucking industry don't even think that women can do this job. We are working hard to counter these misconceptions, and have even created the Girl Scout Transportation Patch, designed to encourage young girls to learn about the trucking industry through their troop.

We’re also teaching companies that recruiting women means demonstrating to them how the trucking industry makes their world a better place. Women are much more value- and community-oriented and need to feel that the job that they do improves not just their own life but also the world around them. We have to connect for them the fact that without the trucking industry, even that gallon of milk a mother is buying for her children wouldn’t be there.

Women who do join the industry are very satisfied in their jobs. When I speak to women at an event, I often ask them, “How many of you thought you would be working in the trucking industry when you were in high school?” Nobody ever raises their hand. Yet, they all love the job. Once they're in, whether they're in accounting, the dispatch department, or safety, they’re very happy.

We have made huge strides in the past 10 years, and there is a bright future ahead for women joining the trucking industry. This is a field that welcomes women and wants more diversity. It has a long way to go, but fleet managers and owners really are seeing the world differently now, actively recruiting women and honoring their female drivers. I’d like to think that our group, Women In Trucking, has played a role in that. And even though there’s more ahead of us to do, our members are up for the challenge.  
 

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