In many ways, the trucking industry proved a natural fit for Ellen Voie. She recalls that when in high school back in the 1970s, she became the first girl to take shop classes—learning welding, woodworking, and drafting. After high school, she got a job at a local steel fabricating facility, drafting pallet and storage rack designs.
Then, almost out of the blue, the company’s managers asked her about filling an open position in its traffic department. “I’m all of 19 at the time and said to myself, ‘Traffic? What’s that? But it sounds interesting.’ So I went back to school for transportation management training.”
Voie earned a diploma in traffic and transportation management while serving as traffic manager for a steel fabricating plant in Central Wisconsin before going on to work as a dispatcher for a grain hauling carrier. She later married an owner-operator, and while raising a family, she learned the nitty-gritty about licensing, permitting, fuel tax reporting, driver logbooks, and all the back-office requirements of trucking.
Voie went on to work as a freelance transportation consultant to Wisconsin-based carriers for 16 years. She earned a master’s degree in communication from the University of Wisconsin/Stevens Point, where she completed her thesis research on what she terms the “complex identities” of women married to professional truck drivers.
From 2000 to 2006, Voie served as the executive director of Trucker Buddy International, a pen pal program between professional drivers and elementary students, before becoming manager of retention and recruiting programs at Schneider, Inc.
Based on her experience, she felt trucking needed a woman-focused organization to help attract more females to the industry. This led her to found the nonprofit Women in Trucking in March 2007, going full time with the organization in 2008. “I’ll say this: Don’t found a 501(c) 3 [nonprofit] during a recession. Sometimes I can’t believe we succeeded,” she says. “But I firmly believe life begins at the edge of your comfort zone, so we pushed on. Sometimes you just need to jump in and do it.”
That includes getting involved on the policy side of the industry. In 2015, Voie began a two-year term on the Entry-Level Driver Training Advisory Committee of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. She also serves on the board of directors of the Wisconsin Motor Carrier Assn. and is a member of the Wisconsin DOT’s Motor Carrier Advisory Committee . She helped adapt the Wisconsin Driver’s Manual to include information on sharing the road with trucks.
Voie keeps “pushing on” because she believes trucking can offer women a lot of opportunities, whether in the truck cab or the boardroom.
“Women by nature are more attuned to safety issues, and getting more women into leadership roles in this industry will help foster that,” she explains. “Half of the trucking companies in the U.S. don’t have women in management or their boards of directors. That’s an area that offers opportunity and [an area] where women can make a big difference.”