Ellen Voie

Interview by
Published on
February 9, 2022

In this episode...

Ellen Voie founded the highly regarded Women In Trucking (WIT) association and currently serves as its president. She is widely regarded and internationally recognized as an authority on gender diversity and on the inclusion of women in careers in transportation. In this podcast, she discusses some of the findings of her research on these timely topics, along with giving a review of a white paper on female driver safety. Do women married to drivers feel abandoned? Can these stress-filled relationships survive? How does a family cope in healthy ways when a parent (in most cases a dad) is gone for periods of time? It’s real talk, authentic, and from the front lines. You won’t want to miss this conversation!

Ellen Voie

Ellen Voie is an industry leader and spokesperson globally for issues related to women in trucking and strategic ways to grow their participation as owners, operators and supply chain change agents.


because my daughter um spent she went to a friend's house and it was a weeknight and it was um and she came home the next day and she goes mom you wouldn't believe this but her dad was home and it's a Wednesday and I thought right

that some daddies are home on Wednesdays

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it's another exciting episode of life of the mile delivered by freightworks and it is a joy to have for our first ever second podcast guest ellen boya those of you that are familiar with women in trucking know that she's the founder and president barbie on that uh she has influence through her own uh platform on serious uh we're gonna have a radio we're gonna have her talk about that in a minute but today we're gonna go a little bit of a different direction we we were thrilled to be able to snag her out of the flow of all the things that she's doing and all the different hats uh that she wears so ellen thank you so much for being here today well thank you for having me on a second time i appreciate it second time i appreciate it well you know i i'm maybe one of the few people outside of the academic world and outside of your immediate family and some others that is actually qualified to say i've read your master's thesis but i did and folks i'm going to tell you this your life by the mile delivered by frameworks you know we're interested in presenting the full story the full orb story of trucking and logistics and i found it fascinating to be able to read a master's thesis from the university of wisconsin-stevens point that ellen did where she talked about some of the relational dimensions and impacts of the industry on relationships specifically and so today's discussion is just going to be kind of an open mic discussion with you asking you some questions and i want to start out by by asking this what prompted you to do that research in the first place so i was getting my master's degree in communication and my emphasis was interpersonal and of course in order to graduate you have to write a thesis and that's usually a two to three year project and you have to come up with new knowledge and so uh at the time i was married to an owner operator we had a small fleet three trucks and i also was doing consulting to trucking companies but my passion has always been for the people side of the industry and so when i proposed this thesis topic um i wanted to explore the complex identities of women married to professional drivers because i knew that when when they're the i'll say the husband so allow me to be gender specific here but when the husband is home he's part of it you're part of a couple um you make decisions together you're raising the kids you're just planning the kids and then he leaves and suddenly you're a single mom and i mean a single mom and the hardest part is that you're not really single you're not right you're not really married and your friends and your family don't really understand and so it there's a a sisterhood of women married to professional drivers because they understand they understand right right and uh you know what's so interesting is i grew up in a military family and i found so many parallels between what you were describing with my own experience with a father that was a pilot in the air force and would be gone and um they're down now tell me a little bit about some of the presuppositions going into the research and then top line for people some of the things that you learn so i'm glad you mentioned military because my thesis committee of phd's required that i explore military relationships i also um explored commuter couples um so a couple differences that i want to elaborate on with community commuter couples um there's an expectation that this isn't forever um you know one of them is going to move eventually hopefully i mean they don't plan on living in two separate cities forever so there's a difference there the other thing about military unless your career military but typically then your family comes with you but typically for military um like if you're going out on a submarine or you're going to afghanistan afghanistan there's also the expectation that there's an ending um there is no there is no ending when you're married to a professional driver um because that's their career so the big difference um between military um uh and also uh commuting couples um

misconception let me put it that way that people have misconceptions when you're married to a professional driver is that you don't have a good marriage they assume that he's gone um because you're not happy and that's not the case and in my situation um this is years ago so we're talking you know i got married in the 80s so you know my kids are in their 30s so it's been a long time but um in those days drivers would be gone for weeks at a time and he'd be gone for six weeks and so some of the challenges were um you couldn't rsvp to a wedding because you didn't know when they'd be back um you couldn't make a dental appointment um whenever your family or friends would invite you to something um they would invite you as a single person but yet um if you're if you go out with your single friends you're not single you're still married but your married friends don't really want a fifth wheel with them and i'll tell you i'll tell you a very disheartening situation that happened to me so uh i would it was a very rare sunday when my former husband went to church with me and and so these two couples came up to us and they said hey we've got a couple's group on wednesday nights um and my former husband said oh well i drive truck i can't make it um and so they turned around and walked away and i stood there thinking i stood there thinking wow um um i'm not part of a couple part of it but i'm not single but i'm not saying and and so it's it's it is and so that's why i did the study because because um women married two professional drivers get it they get they get you know you have a good relationship um you support him when he's on the road you share everything with the kids and and you have to make sure that your friends and family know that it's not he's not on the road because you're not getting along he's on the road because he's providing for his family right right that is so that is so good now let me ask you this where do and again not to make gender stereotypes but in most cases at least then and it's still true i guess today you're talking about a driver if it's an over-the-road driver not a couple that's a team you're talking about a man that's out and a woman is there so where do they find support where do they find the support and encouragement that they need in those situations well there are some groups out there i i belong to an organization uh families of professional drivers but also you have to have friends who understand your situation um and so if you have friends who know that uh what your life is like and they're accepting of it um and and also i have to tell you like i had to get my appendix out my appendix and i ended up in the hospital and in those days we didn't have cell phones and so i had to call his dispatcher and tell and say the next time he calls in tell him his wife is at st michael's hospital you know i mean it was different in those days so um you have to have a support group that can take your kids when you need your appendix out you know and and stuff like that so you really do need to surround yourself with people who will be there for you we'll be there for you ellen is there much data on things like marital attrition and divorce rates and that kind of thing among the the pool of drivers is there data out there on that no there's not um and i've seen headlines that say that the trucking industry has a higher divorce rate i've also seen headlines you know articles that say it's a much lower divorce rate so i i don't think that we really have a grasp on that um but i would guess if i was just guessing that the divorce rate is probably the same as it is for any other occupation and and i'm glad you asked me that question because one of the things that my professor one of my professors said to me was my professor said to me you have to understand you have to figure out the relationship and it's not time and distance apart it's not that because um you still can have a good relationship when your spouse is in a truck so what the whole and you read my thesis so the whole thing is your values it's all about your values if if if you work you work in an office and you're if you come home every night to your spouse at five o'clock that doesn't mean that you don't have you know don't have that potential or the opportunity to cheat on your spouse even though you go home every night so it's really not time and distance apart it's your values if your values are intact and say no my marriage is important i will not cheat then then that's this the strength in a marriage so the perception that people think that truck drivers have a girlfriend at every truck stop is so wrong right it's really right it's about your values yeah that is that is so good and you know i i reflect on this um my mother's the oldest of 11 children my grandfather was the production control manager at the [ __ ] company and every single day he would come home at the same time from chick to have a bacon lettuce and tomato sandwich and it was just like clockwork and he knew where every paper clip was at his door his life was organized and my mother shared this with me she's now 89. that she grew up believing that's what a marriage is your husband comes home at 11 30 every day has a bacon lettuce and tomato sandwich and then she married somebody that was a commercial airline pilot and a pilot in the airport so a lot of it just comes with also expectations right and adaptability in the life oh yeah and i'm so glad you said that because because my daughter spent she went to a friend's house and it was a week night um and she came home the next day and she goes the next day mom you wouldn't believe this but her dad was home and it's a wednesday it's a wednesday and i thought right

that some daddies are home on Wednesdays right right right and so we all were a byproduct of the experiences that we have it's extremely important to work i was going to tell you this off-camera but I'll just tell you this directly I think you have nuggets in there that would make themselves into a nice little primer or resource or something that would really help a lot of people uh it was very interesting reading now that ethic to be an advocate in you has made its way into other areas under the aegis of women in trucking and I want to talk real quickly if I can about uh with you about this white paper that I've read that is so interesting and it's titled um same-gender training policy recruiting and uh protecting female drivers and it's a woman in trucking white paper safety and harassment series I just think this is phenomenal now one of the things that you highlighted in the summary here is that uh 42.5

of those that were polled answered yes to the question are you aware of drivers who have experienced harassment or assault when sharing the cab with the opposite gender that was startling to me talk a little bit about the problem and what you're doing through women in trucking to address it so a little history um there was a large carrier that adopted a same-gender training policy and their sexual harassment cases went way down the problem was it took longer to find a trainer for the female trainees and so the eeoc came in and sued the carrier um and so now all the the trucking industry is so afraid of being sued so they're pretending to be gender blind and i think that is just so wrong we are the only mode of transportation that puts two unrelated individuals in an enclosed space with sleeping quarters and when you know i i get i get female drivers who will contact me and say you know i'd like to see in a hotel or i don't want to sleep in the cab of a truck with my male trainer um and companies are like oh no we we're gender blind here we're you know we're not going to um accommodate you and and so the white people really i want to stress it's a same gender training option i'm not saying it's the right thing for everyone but um some companies will put one of the the student probably in a hotel uh which is fine put them in a hotel but if i were to say to you butch um first of all do you have any do you have any daughters i have three okay so let me let me set the scenario for you let's say your daughter's 23 years old and she calls you up and she says dad i am so excited i just finished my training i'm gonna work in the transportation industry um i get to go i get to start i finished all the training so i get to go out and i'm i'm so excited about you know starting my new career but i'm feeling a little uncomfortable dad because i have to share a hotel room with my boss what would be your response what would be your response well you already know the answer we don't know each other well but you know the answer well enough to know i would say i'll be a gate b3 uh i'll be flying there tonight i mean no way no way right but what do we do we let young women share sleeping quarters and so i was sitting on an airplane reading an article about two professors from new york university who did research on the proximity of the bunk bed in a dorm room and how it is conducive to sexual harassment and sexual assault just because when you're sitting in an area with a bed it raises uh attention um t-e-n-s-i-o-n tension yeah um and so i contacted them and i said do you think that having a sleeper birth within inches would do the same thing and they said oh absolutely um so i'd like to get them to do the research but it would cost me a lot of money but um so that's that's something hopefully in the future but but the fact that we are supposed to pretend that that sleeper birth isn't there um and yet at night um and yet one of them it might be in the top bunk one might be on the bottom but they're still sharing an enclosed space and to me that's that's just so wrong that's just so wrong right right and you know what it's good that you're bringing attention to this and more than that that you can influence perhaps the industry uh to address it because i i've said often when we make the unthinkable thinkable the untenable tenable the unbelievable believable all things become permissible and it's just it's just not i mean i i was extremely protective not in a way that was inappropriate with my teenage daughters but that's what a father does and certainly one in my case it's guided by biblical principles about how you manage life and manage relationships and the like what uh what other issues specifically and we talked about this a little bit in the first podcast that we did but what are some of the other issues that women in trucking are having you know drill down go deeper and and really press out an advocacy to address and might it be possible ellen that with the need for the marketplace to have more drivers that there's going to be latitudes of acceptance to say we're going to start making changes so that things get better i'd like you to use your considerable expertise in this area and just talk about that for a little bit so even the white paper on same gender training really is all about safety and so one of the reasons a lot of women leave the industry is because they don't feel safe and so we need we did a study a best practices study with female drivers and asked them on a scale of one to ten how safe do you feel and the average response was four and a half 4.4 i saw that i saw that right so when i say to um other people other people what if you felt safe half the time you went to work would you want to work in a in a career where you don't feel safe no and so we need to work on safety and so the the three areas that we really need to focus on is the equipment is it you know is the equipment you have newer equipment i know that you have very well kept up equipment that is a primary concern because you know that a broken down truck or a trailer is not safe the second is um where are you sending them what kind of loading docks what kind of areas is it safe is it secure is it dark is it fenced in are there security guards does the driver feel safe to back into that loading dock 24 7. and then the the third and i think this is the most important is the culture so um what is the safety culture of the company and if i were to say hey i don't feel comfortable going in that area because there's a protest going on or i don't want to go in the southeast because they're expecting a blizzard or there's a tornado i don't want to go into bacteria does the driver have the ability to say i'm calling it because i'm the one who's behind the wheel so it's the safety culture and women leave the industry because they're not feeling safe so if we want to keep women we have to make sure that those three areas are addressed and that they will feel safe in addition to um the trainings the training situation um and making them feel their personal safety is a priority personal safety is a priority ella do you ever feel like the hill is so tall the mountain is so tall that you're not going to get to the top and how will you know when you're there do you know how the how will the how will the industry have changed so that you know that all the white papers and the tireless effort on your radio program how will you know when the needle is moving are you encouraged at all i actually am um so a couple things have happened one is um in the infrastructure bill there were two diversity initiatives uh in there and one of them was to create a women in trucking advisory committee at the federal motorcare safety administration um so i'm looking forward to that that would mean that other groups you're on that other well i haven't heard that yet i'm assuming i will be because i helped edit the bill and had my senator and congressman introduce it but um nobody's contacted me yet to start that process but the other initiative was an outreach program for all modes of transportation and about careers in them um but a couple weeks ago uh we were women in trucking was invited to a listening session with the office of gender policy council of gender policy um from the white house and so i sent in the names of influential women who had been either served on my board or their drivers on our image team or other influential women in the industry and we had a listening session with the white house and it was supposed to last 60 minutes and it actually lasted 90. so and a lot of great things were brought up such as safe parking um you know the same gender training uh initiative um and things like that so the fact that we actually have um the white house saying tell us how we can how the government can actually um make it better for female drivers and parking is something the government does have some um influence in um you know creating some uh parking areas maybe using some government property um things like that uh rest areas uh things like that so um there are things the government can be doing and and we are thrilled that we actually have uh the ear of the white house and one other um i was invited to uh another event with um uh secretary buda judge and uh secretary of labor walsh um just before a christmas break um and that was to talk about mostly driver training issues and things like that so um just to be able to participate in those discussions has elevated women in trucking to to have a voice and that's what we need is to have a voice to be able to make a difference to be able to make a difference okay this is a question that's not in reference at all to your age but but just your experience do in your interactions in the marketplace are you seeing young younger ellen boys out there have you seen women that are advocates and mobilizing and and really following in the wake of what you've been a pioneer where are you finding them i actually am um and that is so refreshing i'm seeing women who are coming into this industry and saying wow um i hadn't realized all the opportunities in supply chain and i want to share this with other people i want to you know i want sisters moms cousins aunts to know that women are valued in this industry and that women have a place and a voice so that's a big change from years ago because years ago women just wanted to do their job and not be noticed because they were in such a minority but now women are more being vocal and saying you know i have i want a voice and i want you to hear me and i have an opinion so um i'm seeing a big change and maybe it's maybe it's the next generation and how they feel more uh you know vocal and assertive about expressing themselves which is great i love it which is great i love it well you know it's so impactful i remember talking to one of the first female pilots at american airlines and she talked about the impact of reading the biography of amelia earhart and and what powerful impact that had on her so you don't really know ellen all the people and lives that you're touching while you're in the middle of all the prey and it's extremely extremely important now as we round down with our last couple of minutes here talk specifically about women in trucking and make a quick pitch for people to become involved and how can they do that well thank you for letting me share that um we are 15 years old we have about 6 000 members in 10 countries and our mission has never changed it's three-fold to encourage the employment of women in the industry to address obstacles and obstacles are things like uh same-gender training safety um and then third part is to celebrate success so we want to tell their stories we want to highlight the pioneers so that other women will look at them and say wow look at if they can do this i can do this and so i have to also mention that about 15 percent of our members are men and so anyone can join if they support our mission and we have both corporate members and individual members so we you know from a driver to a student to a a huge corporation um we would love to have their support so so womeningtrucking.org okay well i'm going to go there and i'm i'm not a truck driver and i'm not in logistics and i'm not a driver manager i'll join i'm a podcast host and maybe we can create a little category there now talk a little bit also about before our time ends about your radio program and how can people find you there and what do you talk about you know when i was in high school if you had asked me what i wanted to do for my career i told everybody it was broadcast journalism that was exactly what i wanted to do so fast forward all these years um and about four years ago uh i was on a lot of serious xm shows i would be the guest on freewheeling and you know the day nemo show and so finally i said you know i should probably have my own show and so they came to me and they said you should have your own show so uh for four years i've had my own radio show women in trucking saturday mornings 10 central 11 eastern and it's a two-hour show and it's a call-in show so drivers call in and express their opinions um this coming saturday will be about driver training the new entry-level driver training rules are going to affect training um in just a little over a week last week we talked about income taxes hey tax season but um and and we're going to have some women in non-traditional careers in two weeks a female race car driver things like that so you never know what we're going to talk about but it's always interesting it's uh it's as i said it's a call-in show so you never know what the callers will say or make a comment or ask a question but it's so much fun so much fun well if you ever get a phone call from someone named joyce maltby it's an 89 year old mother of mine and now that i'm doing this everything about trucking she clips out articles and sends them to me in the mail you know and she's also emailed basil so i get emails from her so if you ever hear from a joyce malty that's what is now we're coming to the end of our time you've already gotten one of our yeti mugs and so uh we have hats so i this is a life by the mile cap and it's got a leather uh little logo there so we'll send that to you and i guess you're gonna send me a children's book what's the children's book about it's not a children's book it's called marriage in the long run oh it's not

so um and you can get it at women in trucking but i'm sending you one and i'm gonna autograph it but it's a collection of articles so after i wrote my master's thesis i i was writing for a number of magazines and i did articles and one of the one of the columns was called family matters one was called um ask ellen and one was called marriage in the long run and so it's so good i took some of the best articles um about being married to a professional driver some of the challenges you're gonna laugh you're gonna cry um because it's really about what it's like being having a professional driver i talk about my kids teaching my son how to drive when his dad's a professional driver trying to telling me remotely how he should shift it's just fun so uh i think you'll get a kick out of it i think you'll get a kick out of it ellen that's that's great folks this is ellen boya she's the founder and president of women in trucking more than that she's a voice to the industry to be kinder to be gentler to be safer it's always a pleasure to have you and uh you know we'll look forward maybe to seeing you at mats in march we will be there we'll be doing our salute to women behind the wheel on friday night so come and join us we'll have a chocolate phone chocolate fountain okay all right uh folks uh this is butch malpe i'm your host for life of the mile delivered by freightworks we've had ellen boya with us again today and make sure you check out women in trucking do what you can to become a part of that group be an advocate be a voice listen to her she's got important things to say to the industry check into her radio program and that is again on saturdays at what time at 10 a.m central as serious channel channel 146. great thanks again for being here you have a great night okay thank you so much butch thanks for watching this episode you know life by the mile delivered by freight works is one of the newest largest and fastest-growing podcasts actually produced by a trucking company now we want you to like and share this episode if you'd like to see more episodes click here and make sure that you subscribe to this channel by clicking here we'll see you there

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