Women in leadership roles remains low in trucking

by Truck News-West

DALLAS, Texas – Ellen Voie, president and CEO of Women in Trucking, says the most successful businesses embrace women in high level executive roles.

Citing several studies as evidence during the Omnitracs Outlook User Conference in Dallas today, Voie pointed to the correlation between success from a business standpoint and for the women in those leadership roles.

“We need more women in leadership roles,” she said. “We need more women running these businesses.”

In the U.S., 10% of top executives at trucking companies are female, while 14% occupy board seats.

S&P 500 companies are doing slightly better when it comes to women in leadership roles, with 26.5% being top executives, 21.2% holding seats on the board, but only 4.8% being CEOs.

Voie highlighted several challenges companies face when looking to bring more women into leadership positions, which are not limited to societal biases.

First and foremost, Voie said many women are “power reluctant,” where their male counterparts push harder to get what they want in the workplace.

“Women often don’t want to push for more authority or responsibility,” Voie said, adding that she was speaking in generalities.

Voie continued, saying women typically do not negotiate for higher salaries or benefits, and shy away from celebrating their accomplishments, underselling themselves.

She also said women are usually more modest than men, and are more concerned with being liked by others.

Voie pointed to the genetic makeup of women versus men, saying estrogen encourages bonding and connection, while discouraging conflict and risk taking.

Even the way women and men approach problem solving differs.

Citing the book Why Women, Voie said men tend to approach problem solving by narrowing the field of options and focusing in on the fastest solution. Women, on the other hand, expand the field of options and explore the best solution.

“Neither one is right or wrong,” said Voie. “It’s just a different approach to problem solving.”

If women are to become more successful in promoting themselves in the workplace, Voie said they need to be more positive, learn to handle criticism, savor positive moments, speak up, take credit, and accept praise.

“One of the things that is frustrating is when you give someone a compliment and they downplay it,” said Voie. “Just say thank you and stop right there.”

Altruism is also important to women when selecting a place to work.

“We want to have confidence that we are making our world a better place,” said Voie. “Not that men don’t, but it’s a higher priority for women when looking for a career.”

Aside from what women can do better to improve the number of women in leadership roles, Voie said societal bias around the effort remains.

Studies have shown that men who speak up in the workplace among their peers are viewed more positively, whereas women are viewed in a more negative light.

Voie pointed to the likeability study The Heidi-Howard Experiment from Harvard Business School. Choosing the case study of successful and outgoing entrepreneur Heidi Roizen, the same story was read by two groups, with one changing Heidi’s name to Howard. Though the groups found both the male and female characters to be equally competent, Howard came across as more appealing, and Heidi was seen as selfish and not someone they would want to work for.

“We expect women to act a certain way, but then in a leadership role, they are expected to act differently, which leads to confusion,” said Voie.

The #MeToo movement also had an impact on how men and women interact in the workplace.

Surveys reveal almost half of male managers are uncomfortable participating in common work activities with female colleagues, such as mentoring or even socializing.

Nearly 30% of male managers are not comfortable working alone with a woman, more than twice as many as prior to the #MeToo movement. Men in senior positions are 3.5 times more likely to hesitate to having dinner with a junior-level woman than a man, and five times more likely to hesitate to traveling for work with a junior-level woman compared to a male.

Voie said this trend is an unfortunate result of the #MeToo movement, and “it’s something we really need to address or at least be cognizant of.”

Voie advised carriers to be open to admitting there is a problem with the number of women in leadership roles in the industry. She said companies should review how and where they are looking to attract and hire women. Placing job advertisements in appropriate locations, such as university job boards and other places women job search, can help entice more qualified women to apply for positions. As will how a job posting is worded.

Ellen Voie.

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