- Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I’m the President and CEO of the Women In Trucking Association and the founder of both the Women In Trucking Association and the Women In Trucking Scholarship Foundation. The association was formed in March 2007 and the foundation was formed in 2010. The association is a dues-based trade/professional organization and the foundation is a charitable organization. Most of my time is spent leading the association. We have over 6,000 members in ten countries, and even 15 percent of our members are men who join because they believe in our mission.
I’ve worked in the trucking industry my entire career, starting in 1979 when I became the assistant traffic manager at a steel fabricating plant in central Wisconsin. I earned my diploma in Traffic & Transportation Management. I was later promoted to Traffic Manager and after I started a family, I became a freelance transportation consultant. My job was to work with trucking companies and keep their trucks and drivers in compliance while filing the appropriate fuel tax and regulatory requirements.
After the completion of my Bachelor’s degree in 1994, I went on to earn my Master’s Degree in Communication from the University of Wisconsin in Stevens Point in 1999. I completed my thesis research on the “Complex identities of women married to professional drivers.”
In 2000 I was hired as the executive director at Trucker Buddy International, a pen-pal program that matches professional drivers with elementary classrooms. I ran that program for six years until being recruited by a large Mid-Western carrier. I was hired as Retention and Recruiting Program manager, which encompassed corporate level initiatives to attract and retain non-traditional groups, which included women. After doing my research on why women enter the trucking industry, as well as why they leave and what makes them leave a carrier, I realized the industry could be more focused on gender diversity. That’s when I put together a board of directors and completed the legal requirements to form the Women In Trucking Association.
- Tell our readers about your current leadership role at the company.
Currently, I am the President and CEO, which has been my role since the beginning. As a founder, I was the drive behind the organization and continue to be the face to this day. I report to a board of directors. Our staff includes five employees of the organization as well as seven individuals who work for our association management firm.
- What were some of the hurdles you faced as a leader?
The biggest hurdle I had was to establish credibility. Most new non-profit organizations don’t last, so I had to prove that we would be around and that we would deliver on our promise to increase the ranks of women in the trucking industry.
The other challenge is in convincing people that the trucking industry needs an organization like ours, as many people think gender diversity means being gender blind. This isn’t the case. There needs to be a level playing field, and we need to be the group that points out inequities that keep women from entering the industry or succeeding in the industry.
- As a seasoned business executive, what is your assessment of the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on your industry? And how did your company manage to overcome such a massive challenge?
For the trucking industry as a whole, the pandemic was a blessing in disguise. It brought the importance of trucks and truck drivers to those outsides of the industry. Suddenly they understood that the toilet paper on the grocery store shelf that they are going to purchase was delivered on a truck. In the past, the trucking industry was invisible as long as everything went right. It’s only when there’s a crash or other negative news stories that trucks get any attention. This time, however, that changed. Not only did people see trucks as a part of the economy, they saw the job as one that can survive a pandemic. The trucking industry didn’t stop at any time. We have jobs and they aren’t going away and can’t be outsourced.
- What advice would you provide to aspiring and rising female entrepreneurs?
My advice for aspiring female entrepreneurs is to set their goals and move forward. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you it can’t be done, or who questions your ability or talent. If you have the passion and the drive, you can accomplish anything. Don’t give up! Keep your eye on the final goal and think big. There will be people along the way who will want to cause you to stumble, but just ignore them. I would also advise an entrepreneur to surround herself with people who think differently. Have people who are going to question your methods, your goals, and your motives because it will make you stronger. Be sure to have a mentor who can help you think through things.
- What is the most important takeaway/lesson from the COVID-19 epidemic, in your opinion?
The biggest takeaway from the pandemic is that we need to be nimble. We need to make changes in days or even hours if we’re getting off course. For example, when we had to cancel our in-person conference in 2020 we immediately explored technology platforms that would allow us to deliver top-notch presentations online so our attendees get as close to the same experience they would have had in person. We succeeded and now continue to hold a virtual component of our conference, even though we were back to meeting in person in 2021.
- If you had the chance, what would be the one thing you would alter about your industry?
The trucking industry has always been a male populated one, and although our mission is to change this, we still have a long way to go. I would like to help people understand how much the trucks have changed, the job has changed and the industry itself has changed in the past thirty years. People still look at an eighteen-wheeler on the road and think it’s dirty and the job is physically demanding. Neither of these is true anymore, as the use of technology has changed the environment dramatically. My wish is that the public could better understand that our drivers are women and men who are moms and dads, grandparents, siblings, and spouses who want to get home to their own families as well. It’s really about people, not trucks.
- What have you envisioned for the future regarding your role at your organization and for your personal ambitions as well?
In 2020 we hired a vice president who is slated to take over upon my retirement in 2023. This has been a challenge, as it’s hard to transfer fifteen years of experience to someone in such a short time. The next eighteen months will be one of transition as we move more of the duties to the future CEO. This also means that staff will be making adjustments in their roles as well.
For me personally, I look forward to spending my retirement years with my children (I have a grown son and daughter) and their families. Grandchildren grow up too soon and I want to be a part of their lives and an influence in their future. I also have an airplane, a Cessna Skyhawk, and I plan on flying that whenever possible. My home overlooks the local airport where I keep my plane, so it’s accessible.