FROM LEAH’S DESK: CELEBRATING SIX YEARS OF RELATIONSHIPS AND PURPOSE AT WOMEN IN TRUCKING
I have to admit it’s somewhat of an interesting juncture that I find myself writing this farewell note to the Board of Directors of Women in Trucking — at 43, eight months pregnant, and suddenly face to face with the same questions millions of other women, especially those working as truck drivers, face annually: How am I going to balance maternity leave with running my business? How will decisions about work vs. child care impact my career? What if the baby comes earlier than expected and completely dashes my well-laid plans for leave? Or if complications arise and hamper my ability to return to work the way I hope?
For women behind the wheel, these questions obviously spring up much sooner in their pregnancies, and their questions are often more stark: Will I have to quit my job entirely? Will my job be displaced if I do?
But the questions and obstacles women face in trucking obviously extend well beyond pregnancy. There’s ongoing and critical work to be done in improving safety for new entrant drivers during the training and onboarding process, promoting trucking as a positive career for women, and helping propel women to leadership positions within motor carriers’ organizations.
Over the past six years, it’s facing head on those types of questions that has drawn so much passion and energy to my work as a Director on the Board at Women In Trucking. As has, of course, supporting WIT’s other missions so important and impactful: Celebrating women in our industry and their accomplishments; building robust mentorship programs that connect newer drivers with advocates and role models; and working with our wonderful ambassadors to carry the torch at a grassroots level.
Under the masterful leadership of WIT founder and president Ellen Voie, and the team of amazing Directors who’ve come and gone in WIT’s 16 year history, we’ve built an organization that does all of that and so much more. Women In Trucking has become one of the most visible, respected, and community-minded organizations in transportation. And I’m so proud and humbled to have worked alongside Ellen, the rest of the Board of Directors, the executive team, and of course our thousands of members to navigate those missions the past six years.
I began my first term on the WIT in 2016, the year after I joined The National Transportation Institute and after 14 years managing human resources, driver recruiting, retention and wellness efforts at a large truckload fleet. Three two-year terms later — the limit for a Board role at WIT — my time on the Board officially ended March 9, 2022. In that time, I chaired our membership committee, and we saw membership grow extraordinarily, reaching near triple the size in only six years. I also took part in multiple task force efforts related to Member Retention, Driver Engagement and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.
I wanted to be someone who could be counted on to show up for WIT’s causes and to be truly dedicated to the outcomes we were driving toward through our mission. I did that by pursuing driver-focused activities and programs that could have a real impact on the face of trucking and improve conditions so that more women want to enter the industry. My hope is that these And those programs will continue to grow and evolve long persist after my time serving on the board.I’m no longer part of the association’s board.
I’m of course going to miss the strategic planning meetings with the leadership teams where we set annual and long-term goals for WIT. It was in those meetings where I and the other Directors I was fortunate to work with forged friendships that helped make our work that much more rewarding. That includes the late-night phone calls and the collective months on the road together atin conferences, meetings, and countless video conferences addressing WIT’s key strategies, policies and reforms.
Perhaps most of all, though, I’ll miss mentoring and supporting our members and ambassadors on a one on one basis as a Director, and I loved working closely with the drivers on the Board each term. One relationship that’s been particularly special is the one made with Deb LaBree over the past two years. Watching her grow, enrich her skills as a professional, and be so active in the WIT social and Image Team community — it’s been emblematic of why I joined the Board in the first place.
Lastly, I wanted to highlight a few WIT accomplishments and initiatives I’m particularly proud to have seen bloom over the past six years:
Promoting trucking as a fantastic career for women.
Obviously that’s the main goal of the association, and to have been in a front-line position over the past six years to do that has been one of the highlights of my own career. Thousands and thousands of women have entered the industry in the past six years — not just as drivers but in roles at all levels at trucking companies. And it’s been special to see trucking’s continued evolution to a more inclusive industry, and to see so many of those new entrants join Women in Trucking, support each other, take active roles on committees, and mentor one another at every step of the way.
Promoting our future with Girl Scouts.
To help change the perception of trucking, we’ve tried to reach people at ages where they’re forming those perceptions in the first place. One initiative I’m so proud of is the WIT partnership with the Girl Scouts to create the Women in Trucking Girl Scouts Patch Program. So far, more than 1,500 Girl Scouts have earned the WIT patch, including 30 at an NTI sponsored event. They do so by attending a “Trucks are for Girls” event, which features hands-on activities related to supply chain and offers them the chance to climb inside of a truck, operate a truck driving simulators, and meet women in leadership roles in trucking. I urge you and your company to offer this in partnership with Girl Scout Troops in your community!
Supporting first-year drivers with the LeadHER Alliance.
Last fall, WIT formed a partnership with the mentor-matching group the LeadHER Alliance, to form LeadHER Trucking. The program matches new entrant drivers with more seasoned trucking veterans to help foster community and to ensure that new women truck drivers have support and advocacy in their first year as a truck driver. NTI is sponsoring the current pod and again, I urge you to support this effort. Mentorship programs are one of several factors that promote retention of women in your workplace!
Turning conversations into action.
After I joined the WIT Board and started ramping up conversations with leadership at motor carriers, I was shocked to hear that very few tracked the percentage of women that made up their workforce, especially their driver force. That inspired us to make a change to the survey process at NTI, and we added gender as a data point to our monthly carrier survey data. Another initiative that stands out is the I Love Truckers program. After talking with Mark Colson, head of the Alabama Trucking Association, the idea was hatched to create the I Love Truckers campaign. These conversations, and the actions that sprung from them, were borne from simply being present on the Board and engaging with our industry in that capacity.
If you’re interested in joining WIT, I can’t encourage you strongly enough to do so. The support and sisterhood you’ll find will be career-changing. While I’m saying goodbye to my Board role, I’m absolutely not saying goodbye to volunteering and contributing to the organization or our members, the staff, or the leadership teams. I hope to see you all at the Accelerate conference this fall. — Leah