Championing women in the industry

by Abdul Latheef

As the founder and CEO of Women In Trucking (WIT), Ellen Voie has been passionate about creating a better environment for women in the industry. She knows what women want.

“A safety culture is what they are looking for,” Voie told Today’s Trucking.

The aim of the association, launched in 2007, is to encourage the employment of women in the industry, promote their accomplishments and minimize obstacles they face.

Mentoring them is no easy task, though. 

Ellen Voie
Ellen Voie (Photo: WIT)

“I have worked with many women entering the industry, and the most difficult challenge is in getting them to understand that they are capable, valued and will succeed,” Voie said. “Many women question their own capabilities, but my motto is, ‘Life begins at the edge of your comfort zone.’”

Lisa Arseneau, commercial product manager at Staebler Insurance of Kitchener, Ont., faced a different set of problems.

“The most difficult challenge is to ascertain what their learning style is because everyone is different,” said Arseneau. “For example, if I am mentoring someone who is in a position of management in a trucking firm, they can fly by the seat of their pants.”

In the insurance industry, there’s yet another style of learning. In other words, Arseneau said, there are a lot of variables in mentoring, man or woman.

Shelley Uvanile-Hesch, CEO of the Women’s Trucking Federation of Canada (WTFC), believes mentoring women is not difficult, but just different.

“Some of the women have different obstacles in their career in comparison to men. For some of them, it is just the difference in using equipment.”

Uvanile-Hesch also keeps in touch with the ladies she has helped mentor over the years because she thinks mentoring should be a continuing process.

“For some people, it turns into a lifelong friendship, and for some it doesn’t. But it is important,” she said.

Arseneau agrees.

She is also well-connected with some of her proteges, and one person that stands out is Leanne Quail, operations manager at Paul Quail Transport of Alliston, Ont.

“She listens, she is passionate, and she is probably one of my most successful mentees,” Arseneau said.

Lisa Arseneau (left) says Leanne Quail is one of her most successful mentees. (Photo: Supplied)

Since meeting Quail at a conference of the Truck Training Schools of Ontario (TTSAO) a few years ago, the two have developed a close professional relationship, Arseneau said.

And, Quail has become a leader in her own right, winning recognition from the industry.

Voie of WIT too has a “favorite” person on her list. She names Lana Nichols, director of programs at the association. Nichols started at an entry-level position.

“She has kept me on my toes by asking me for more responsibility and challenging me along the way. She is gaining new skills because she is looking for higher level duties,” Voie said. “I have learned that she thinks a lot like me in her approach to solving problems, and I see her as a very high-level executive in the organization in the near future.”

Voie also coached WIT’s Canadian Image Team on public speaking and media relations.

To support its mission of empowering women, WIT has many programs in place. A key initiative is the Diversity and Inclusion Index, launched in November in association with the online driver training provider CarriersEdge of Markham, Ont.

The index is not just about women. It will look into the industry’s efforts to create a more inclusive workplace for all.

WIT also has a number of recognition programs such as the Female Driver of the Year, Influential Woman in Trucking, Distinguished Woman in Logistics, Top Women to Watch and Top Companies for Women to Work.

Susie De Ridder (Photo: WIT)

Last April, Susie De Ridder of Armour Transportation Systems of New Brunswick was named the first Female Driver of the Year award. De Ridder is a member of WIT’s Canadian Image Team. So is Joanne Mackenzie, celebrated driver and founder of the Trucking for a Cure campaign.

Despite the efforts by WIT and other stakeholders, the number of women in trucking remains low. Women make up just over 10% of America’s 3.5 million truck drivers, and in Canada they account for a mere 3%.

So, what can be done to attract more women to the industry?

“First, we need to look at unconscious bias in the hiring of all drivers. There are still companies that do not hire women,” said Voie. “Then, we need to look at the equipment, the work environment and the culture of the company to see if they are truly seeking female drivers.”

Uvanile-Hesch pointed out another significant barrier. In advertisements, brochures and posters, trucking is still portrayed as a man’s world. 

“How do we make women feel welcome to an industry that only ever displays images of men?” she asked.

Uvanile-Hesch said an organization conducting a study on trucking recently tried to get some stock images of women. She said it could find just two or three images, and they turned out to be the photos of the same person.

“Right there is a big indicator that this industry still has a problem in showing women are welcome. If we just keep showing it is still a boys’ club, how we are going to bring them in?”

Arseneau said the industry is doing a much better job lately in attracting women, but there is still an “old guard” that is not particularly enthusiastic about hiring them.

“I will say this though: Trucking insurance is dominated by females,” Arseneau said citing the example of Northbridge Insurance of Toronto, Ont., where she said many top executives are women.

Arseneau, however, cautioned those who are considering employment in the industry as a last-resort job.

“One should aspire to be in trucking, not settle for being in trucking because I think trucking is an honorable profession.”

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