Every March, the world comes together on International Women’s Day to recognize the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women and girls and to raise awareness of the work that needs to take place. And there’s much work to be done – particularly in the transportation industry.
The numbers speak for themselves; a study conducted by Women in Trucking and FrightWaves found that just over 10.2 percent of OTA drivers in the U.S. in 2019 were female.
For Ellen Voie, president and CEO of Women in Trucking, it’s a number that needs to be challenged – and changed.
She founded Women in Trucking in 2007, and since then, has worked tirelessly to raise awareness and bring about change in a male-dominated industry that all too often, discounts the abilities of women and the contributions they can make.
“Women bring a different perspective to the workplace, whether it’s in the cab of a truck or the corner office,” says Voie. “First, women are more risk averse. This means that women are safer commercial drivers because we avoid risk such as speeding, distracted driving or unsafe operation. In the board room, women explore each decision with risk in mind, and area less likely to rush into a decision such as an acquisition or other activity involving risk.”
Further to this, explains Voie, numerous studies have proven that a more diverse workforce is a more profitable one, so by bringing women’s voices to the table, it allows decision makers to gain broader perspectives.
She’s (rightfully) proud of what the organization has accomplished since it got its start; at the time, Voie didn’t realize just how important its work was. “I didn’t realize the extent this industry needed guidance on attracting and retaining women,” she explains. “At first, carriers insisted they wanted to hire the best person, but once we pointed out that they were exhibiting unconscious bias in both hiring and promoting women, they started listening. They’ve changed the trucks, the facilities and even the uniforms to accommodate women.”
But that doesn’t mean the organization’s work is anywhere close to done. Not even close.
Because despite all the incredible work the organization has accomplished, women continue to face obstacles in the industry. Namely, for women who work in a male dominated environment, the challenge is in proving themselves, says Voie.
“Whether she is a driver, a maintenance, technician, safety professional or CEO, she is being observed by her male (and female) peers to make sure she is competent and capable of doing the job. However, once she has proven she’s up to the task, she will be accepted and welcomed by most of her colleagues.”
Five years ago, the organization launched its now-annual Accelerate Conference, which is intended to educate and empower, and to allow women a chance to network by building her circle of influence with like-minded women and men.
It’s now become the fastest-growing conference in the industry.
In its first year, there were 300 attendees. Last year, there were more than 1,1000 registered attendees – over 85 per cent of which were women. It’s a number that’s “unheard of” at a trucking industry event, says Voie.
“The energy at our event is exciting as we focus on topics that benefit anyone who wants to advance her (or his) career,” she says. For example, keynote speakers talk about subjects such as communication styles, branding oneself and even negotiation skills. “It’s all about learning from others to advance our careers in transportation,” Voie explains.
Although this year’s event (taking place November 12-13) will be virtual due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, Voie promises the same quality of content as in past years, and says organizers are also making it as interactive as possible, with lunch and learn events, roundtables, breakout sessions and the event’s keynote speaker, Department of Transportation Secretary, Elaine Chao.
“To make our attendees think about how they can use the information to further their careers,” she says. “Despite their roles, each person will find valuable information to take back to the workplace. We want to empower, educate and of course, entertain our attendees to they are energized and motivated to create positive changes in their personal and professional lives.”