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What happens when you eliminate the echo effect, and new conversation enters the board room? How can a more diverse leadership team create a competitive advantage in business? Whether you're running a trucking company or building a technology startup, adding diversity to your team will introduce new perspective. And new perspective might just be the key to taking your company to the next level. In this episode, host Seth Clevenger asks two pioneer women, Lily Shen, President of Transfix, and Ellen Voie, President of Women in Trucking, what it will take for trucking companies to remove barriers and become more inclusive.


Ellen Voie is an internationally recognized speaker and authority on gender diversity and inclusion for women working in non-traditional careers in transportation. She has been invited to speak to audiences in Sweden, Australia, New Zealand, Viet Nam, France, Mexico, and Canada in addition to being a popular speaker at conferences throughout the United States. As founder of the Women In Trucking Association in March of 2007, Voie currently serves as the nonprofit organization’s President/CEO.  

Lily Shen

Ellen Voie

EP. 2

Brought to you by:

Guest One, Lily Shen

Episode Transcript

Dan Ronan: This episode is sponsored by Great Dane Trailers. From Transport Topics in Washington, D.C., this is RoadSigns. Here is your host, Seth Clevenger.

Seth Clevenger: Thank you for listening to RoadSigns, the podcast series from Transport Topics that explores the trends and technologies that are shaping the future of trucking. In this episode, we're going to take a step back and have a conversation about diversity and inclusion in the transportation industry, especially in leadership roles. We usually think of diversity in the workplace as a matter of fairness and offering equal opportunities. But there's more to it than that. It can also be a path to better business management. Some business leaders believe that having people with different backgrounds and life experiences in the conference room or the boardroom can translate to a better bottom line. So let's look deeper. How can a more diverse management team create a competitive advantage? And how can trucking companies become more inclusive and take down barriers? To help us answer those questions we're going to speak with two trailblazing women in the transportation industry.

Later in the program, we're going to bring in Ellen Voie, president of the Women in Trucking Association. But first, we're excited to welcome Lily Shen, president and chief operating officer at Transfix, a digital freight broker that has built an online marketplace for on-demand trucking. Thanks for joining the program, Lily.

Lily Shen: My pleasure. Thank you for having me.

Seth Clevenger: So we talk a lot about technology on this podcast and we’ll definitely save some time for that.

But let's shift gears this episode and have a conversation about how businesses can benefit by fostering inclusive workplaces with a range of different perspectives. Now, Lily, you've worked on Wall Street and at tech companies like eBay as well as startup firms. In your experience, how does having a more diverse leadership team change company dynamics and what is the advantage?

Lily Shen: Yeah, first, Seth, I just want to thank you for talking about this today. I think it's a really important topic and I really appreciate you elevating this for your listeners. I've been really fortunate in my career to be surrounded by great leaders at various companies like IDEO and now Transfix. And, you know, all have really recognized the importance of diversity and community in their own ways. And it's proven to be not just the right thing to do, but a true business advantage. You know, needs and expectations of our customers and partners are evolving very, very quickly.

And I believe that businesses also have to evolve quickly to remain competitive. And your best position to tap into the growing needs of your own customer base with people in your own company. So you just have to constantly think about what that looks like.

You know, when I think about my experience, I really believe that diverse teams at every single level are just really introducing new perspectives, ways of thinking and working and therefore better outcomes. It pushes individuals in the room to, you know, beyond their comfort zone and really fosters an environment of curiosity and growth. It's proven to help build a culture of generative thinking. So you have more and better ideas on the table. And because of that, you can get to better solutions more quickly.

Seth Clevenger: Sure. And given your work history and some of the very interesting companies you worked for in the past and work for today, can you share some examples from your career where you've seen better ideas or innovations sparked by people of different backgrounds and life experiences working together? And when did you really begin to see that as a competitive advantage?

Lily Shen: Of course, the first and earliest example I can think of was almost 20 years ago during my time at eBay, where we really honed the benefit of not only a diverse team, but a diverse and really global community that drove the best ideas and innovation for the company. And it was simply powerful. You know, a community of millions was our team, not just the 800 employees at the time when I started. And we listened carefully. We thought deeply about what it meant to make buyers and sellers more successful. Our focus was really on enabling and breaking down barriers. And, you know, it gave us the ability to think about the whole ecosystem of products, partners and offerings that we had to provide to become a better solution and become a platform that others become, too. Because whether you're running a small business from home, selling collectibles, cross-border, or an executive at Dell and IBM developing new strategies to sell refurbished products on a new platform, you know, the solutions needed are really different. And, you know, I think your ability to have a diverse team to bring those ideas together is important. I would say the diversity and perspectives and experiences gives us an opportunity to really identify that one single thread that connects everyone. And that's what enabled us to create a global platform.

Seth Clevenger: Sure. And you know, let's talk specifically about the transportation industry. And we're always hearing about the driver shortage and the maintenance technician shortage. But transportation, of course, also needs a new generation of leaders, fleet managers and entrepreneurs to join this industry and bring fresh ideas and perspectives. So just how much opportunity do you see for transportation to add more talent by attracting people from more diverse backgrounds?

Lily Shen: It's a huge opportunity. There's a ton of talented, hungry individuals who really want to have an impact and drive change in the industry.

Seth Clevenger: So it's a combination across organizations and out at all levels to really attract those people to be able to build the right teams for the business at the right time.

And this may seem like an obvious question, but how can trucking and logistics companies become more inclusive? Was this mostly hiring practices or is it a commitment from the C-suite? Is it eliminating barriers? I mean, what do you find really moves the needle on this?

Lily Shen: I wish there was one silver bullet, but you do have to do it all. It's not an easy answer. But that's why it has to start from the top. There needs to be a commitment to diversity, because being able to hire a diverse team doesn't necessarily even guarantee a strong culture and better results. The executives have to be committed to it. You have to bring on the best people and you really have to develop them.

The leadership team has to build a culture that fosters that generation of ideas and continuous improvement really help people to synthesize what's most important and take bets and collaborate to achieve results and be constantly thinking about the development of these individuals. And you know what? We're talking about building that culture internally. I think it's equally important that we're catalyzing this across the industry and driving this externally with a broader transportation community as well. I'm a firm believer that it's never about one individual or one company. We have to come together to drive the change, which is why it's really exciting for me. Technology continues to be a driving force for change, but we're also seeing a new hungry generation of talent seeking to have a larger impact on ourselves. And we had the opportunity to shape that today.

Seth Clevenger: Even in 2019, you know, it's still somewhat rare in the technology field to see women in top leadership roles, especially at startups. And frankly, I'd say the same is true in the trucking industry. So really, what's your advice to women working in transportation or technology who are interested in pursuing the leadership path?

Lily Shen: I would start with saying bet on yourself. Take the risks. You make thousands of decisions every day and actively think about the opportunities that really extend beyond your comfort zone and that expand your role, whether directly or indirectly. And you know, sometimes the opportunities are right in front of you. The best decisions I've made in my career involved a lot of risk. But be confident and simply know that you can find your voice. And you know, the last thing is be resilient. You won't get it right. No, you won't always get it right. But, you know, I think learning from your mistakes is probably the most valuable thing and continue to move forward.

Seth Clevenger: Sure. And Lily, given your experience in finance and technology, why did you decide to join Transfix and what attracted you to the transportation industry?

Lily Shen: Of course, I joined Transfix for a number of reasons. First and foremost, I believe the people who are truly best in class, I've had the honor of working with many capable teams and this one is really top-tier in terms of experience, collaboration, you know, and passion in terms of driving results.

I was very drawn to the space when thinking about an industry with tremendous impact. It's tough to compete with one that literally makes the world move. And every day we're enabling the movement of products, people and spaces. And lastly, it's highly fragmented and complex and inefficient, which to me is really right for technology. You know, technology is a powerful way in which we can solve complex problems and provide more access and really advance and transform persons every day. And in the same way as eBay broke down barriers for buying and selling or, you know, during my time at wealth funds, you know, providing better access to personal investing. My hope is that we build the largest platform that truly enables shippers and carriers to build their businesses. Well, eliminating waste.

Seth Clevenger: Yeah, absolutely. And I'm glad you spent a little time on what Transfix is doing, because I do want to spotlight the company has a lot of interesting things happening with digital freight brokerage and of course, Transfix is part of this broader trend toward digital freight matching. And maybe I'll just have you give us a quick overview for listeners who might not be all that familiar with the company. How does it work and what do you do differently from the more traditional model?

Lily Shen: So at Transfix we aspire to build a better way to move freight. The incredible inefficiencies in the industry, I believe, hurts shippers, carriers, consumers and the environment and with the emergence of artificial intelligence and automation. I believe we can really unlock value in a way that's never been done before. What makes Transfix truly different is our intent and our approach. This problem, we combine deeply just experts with best-in-class technology to solve real problems for both shippers and carriers in a sustainable way. And that really meets them where they are. And we believe we can create a better ecosystem and one where everyone wins. We want to really imagine the way things are done. And we're doing this by building a tech-enabled platform that fosters stronger relationships that helps people better connect, sustain and optimize their entire supply chain.

And, you know, we really strive to empower our carriers to get the freight they want to create stability, to really help grow their businesses and really improve their quality of life. So, you know, we strive to empower shippers with flexible, high-quality and cost-effective freight solutions, along with increased visibility and insights are there to optimize their entire supply chain and really give them peace of mind.

Seth Clevenger: Sure. And before I let you go, Lily, I do want to get your thoughts on where this industry is headed. Of course, Transfix is working to be a big part of that, but now some of the other trends that we've seen in transportation technology are mobility, big data, artificial intelligence is coming in really to help us interpret all the information that we now have at our fingertips. But what technology trends do you believe are really poised to change the future of the transportation industry?

Lily Shen: Yeah, it's a really exciting time for the industry. There is a lot of investment coming into this space. And, you know, I think a lot of solutions coming out to the market, some incremental and, you know, a number of moonshot ideas. And I believe it's truly healthy for the industry. In the end of the day, though, I believe that data is king and one's ability to build a true data platform with a superior user experience is going to recognize the best network effects and efficiencies that can really change the industry and move it forward in the short, medium and long term. Some of the other trends that you might see may materialize in 10 to 15 years. It'll take time, mass adoption and scale. So I believe that the opportunity in driving that change longer term for us is some is work that needs to be done today. So by building out the right data platforms, continuing to invest in machine learning and also double down investing in the user experience.

Seth Clevenger: OK, great. Well, I think that's a good place to leave it. Thanks again for joining us, Lily. We really appreciate your time and insights.

Lily Shen: My pleasure. Thanks so much.


Seth Clevenger: Next on RoadSigns, we're pleased to welcome Ellen Voie, president of the Women in Trucking Association. Thanks for joining us.

Ellen Voie: Thank you so much for having me on your show.

Seth Clevenger: So I'd like to have a conversation about diversity and inclusiveness in the trucking industry, especially at the management level. Of course, we usually look at this from the perspective of doing the right thing and offer equal opportunities. And I certainly don't want to downplay that. But there are also examples of how diversity can be a competitive advantage in the business world. So, Ellen, I want to get your take on that. How can companies benefit from having more diverse leadership that includes people with different perspectives and different backgrounds?

Ellen Voie: Well, actually, companies that hire more, have a more diverse workforce actually earn more money. They actually have a higher operating income. And that's because women actually lead differently than men. And just in a nutshell, women are more risk averse. So let's say you're in the boardroom and you have a conversation about whether you should do an acquisition or merger or whatever. Women will actually look at all the options on the table and then consider are there other options that I should be thinking about? And so they expand the options and take longer to make a decision where men are more likely to narrow the options and then make it define which one is the best priority, top priority and choose that one. So women will actually make men look at other options and maybe slow down the process and be a little bit more sensitive to the risks they're taking.

Seth Clevenger: Different management styles, different thought processes and leadership styles.

And you know, when you combine the two and you have different voices, there's an opportunity to hopefully settle on the best decision.

Ellen Voie: Right. And there's no right or wrong. But I mean, it's been proven that the companies that have more women or a more diverse leadership group actually do outperform on average companies with all white males at the top.

Seth Clevenger: And let's talk specifically about the trucking industry. You know, when you look at our industry, when you look at transportation, what barriers do you see out there that exist, especially for women, you know, particularly those that are in the leadership side and on the management track?

Ellen Voie: Well, I always like to say that every large trucking company out there started with a man in a truck. Right. Look at all the big companies. So it's always been a very male-dominated environment. And people like to hire people who have the same values and look like them. So right away, you've got a little bit of an unconscious bias in hiring, but that is changing. And companies are actually trying to attract more women, which is really, in my opinion, it's smart for everyone, for the industry as a whole. So I think that the industry itself is looking at women as equals and more daughters are taking over the trucking companies from their dads than in the past. And I love it. I think it's awesome that there's trucking companies out there where maybe the dad started the company and the daughters, the president and the son is maybe in sales or something like that. So it's much more acceptable. But the biggest barrier that I would say that we have as an industry is that women don't look at trucking and say, I fit in there. So we need to make sure that they feel welcome and valued and that they can see themselves working in the trucking industry.

Seth Clevenger: Absolutely. And, you know, this question may seem a little obvious, but if you're a trucking or a logistics company, you know, how can you become more inclusive? You know, obviously, we're talking about hiring practices, but how do you really move the needle on that? Is this a commitment from the C-suite? And, you know, some of the companies that you've seen in the industry, you know what really stands out among the companies that have really made progress in this area?

Ellen Voie: Well, first of all, you have to be aware of unconscious bias. OK, so make sure that in your job descriptions, you aren't using words that are more attractive to men like hierarchy and risk taking or competitive or dominant. Those words are less appealing to women. So, first of all, what words you use in the recruiting? Where are you placing the ads? And then when you are actually doing the interviewing, how many women actually apply for the job and track that? A lot of companies don't track how many women apply. And then the other thing is when you're doing hiring, stick to a script and only ask questions in the same order of every candidate that relates to the skills needed for the job. Because it's been proven that when a manager is hiring someone and they start asking subjective questions like what would you what would you say your greatest weaknesses or describe a situation? You know, I mean, those kind of subjective things. It's the manager who's making the determination whether the applicant fits in with the company. So if you if you have a script and every applicant is asked the exact same questions in the exact same order, it's much less subjective. So there's lots of ways to make sure that women get a level playing field in the hiring process.

Seth Clevenger: And what would be your advice to women in our industry? Who are interested in pursuing the leadership path will be your top advice.

Ellen Voie: Well, I would say go for it. Often power reluctant. And what I mean by that is women will do their job. And I'm generalizing. So please allow me to generalize. But it's been proven that women will do their job and expect somebody to notice that they're doing a good job. They don't want to toot their own horn. They don't want to raise your hand and say, hey, I did this. But women need to do that. They need to speak up and say, wow, I just saved the company X number of dollars this week. I just want you to be aware of it. It's not bragging. It's telling them that you were doing a job and that you're doing your job well. So that's one of the things. And the other thing is women hesitate in negotiating. There's a book called Women Don't Ask. Sara Laschever spoke at one of our conferences, and it's uncomfortable for us because we want to be liked. So we don't want to put you in an adversarial situation. So negotiating, is it more difficult for women? But you know what? You have to ask for raises.

You have to ask for promotions. So we actually talked to women to make sure that you raise your hand, make sure that you ask. And also one other thing that I tell women when I speak at conferences, when someone gives you a compliment or an award, just say thank you. Because as women we’re more likely to say, I want to thank my team, I thank my spouse. Just say thank you and just accept the award and revel in it.

Seth Clevenger: Sure. Oh, no, thank you for that. And of course, we were talking about the leadership ranks here, but it goes well beyond that. You know, we constantly hear that trucking companies are struggling to recruit and retain drivers especially. But then you look at the demographics and only, what, six to eight percent of all truck drivers are women. And of course, women are nearly half the entire workforce. So just how much untapped potential do you see for women drivers in the trucking industry? And what will it take to more fully realize that potential?

Ellen Voie: Well, many years ago, when I started Women in Trucking in 2007, I would hear over and over again, oh, Ellen, we just want to hire the best person. And I would keep hammering. I'd say, well, we've actually proven that women are safer drivers. Women are better with customers. Women are often better with equipment, easier to train. Women drivers are risk averse. So even the American Transportation Research Institute found that men were 20 percent more likely to be involved in a crash. So women actually bring a lot to this industry. So companies are starting to realize that and they're starting to celebrate their female drivers. I love it when carriers will have, you know, like a diamond, the highway or a women behind the wheel or, you know, wanting to drive different events where they bring their female drivers in and sit down and ask them, what can we be doing differently as a carrier? How can we better accommodate you? And sometimes it's just as simple as giving the women shirts that fit them instead of having them went where the men for shirts. I mean, a lot of times since we've done things in such a, you know, 'oh, we've always done it that way.' A lot of times companies just don't think about things differently.

Seth Clevenger: You know, as you mentioned, a lot of drivers have gone on to build trucking companies. And if more women became drivers, naturally, you'd expect more would also end up starting companies of their own. And that's not to say that there aren't women leading high-profile trucking companies today. You know, Judy McReynolds, chairman and CEO of ArcBest immediately comes to mind. And, you know, as you mentioned, you know, there are lots of family-owned businesses, and the trucking industry is a fragmented industry, lots of small and medium-sized companies. And we have seen a lot of cases where daughters have taken over the reins from their fathers. Ellen, what are some of the other, you know, maybe more interesting pathways that you've seen for women who have risen to leadership positions in trucking?

Ellen Voie: Well, in addition to daughters taking over the company, their fathers and I can name quite a few members of women in trucking because we we're just so proud of them. And we're especially proud of the fact that the family didn't just automatically assume that the son was the better candidate. And they actually, you know, said, well, which one, you know, which one of our children is a better leader? But there's a little bit of a challenge for a driver to become an executive. And the reason I say that is because the qualities that make a good driver, which means you're risk averse, don't mind being alone for long periods of time. You're very, very patient because you're out on the road. Those are not necessarily qualities that make a good executive, because an executive needs to be much more aggressive, much, much more comfortable inside a building, in a work environment. And that's one of the things that drivers always say they love. And, you know, an executive has to have different characteristics of that. It's a challenge to move a driver into the C-suite, but it can be done. But that's one of the things that when I talk to drivers and I'll ask them, you ever thought about being a safety manager or, you know, another role inside the company, typically the responses is they would rather be in the truck. So there is a challenge in moving a driver into the C-suite.

Seth Clevenger: Understood. And actually, this overall topic, women in transportation has been raised in Congress with promoting Women in Trucking Workforce Act was introduced in November. That legislation would create an advisory board to identify barriers women encounter when they're trying to enter the industry. Ellen, what's your reaction to that? What are your thoughts?

Ellen Voie: We are so thrilled. I actually helped draft that. And it's my ... I live in Wisconsin. So when Senator Moran's office had initiated that, they said we need a Democrat. And Tammy Baldwin is a Wisconsin senator. So I approached her office and they immediately said, yep, we're onto this. And then they wanted it presented in the House as well, a companion bill. So my congressman, Mike Gallagher, who we've given a ride in a truck, jumped on it as well. So basically all the bill does is create an advisory group at the federal level. And I am thrilled with that because Women in Trucking is a dues-based organization. We're supported by the industry itself. We don't get government money. So to be able to have a voice at that level and to have other groups with the same focus on bringing more women into the industry, I am just thrilled about doing this. I can't wait. They actually are still rewriting it because they are including an educational component, like an educational institution to be part of that advisory committee as well. So it's going to be quite a few months, if not a year or two, before that comes to fruition. But the fact that the industry itself is saying, yeah, this is something that we all want to share. Not just Women in Trucking, but all of the association groups want to share in that challenge.

Seth Clevenger: I'm thrilled that we'll be watching that closely. And they're just looking back a ways. You know, Ellen, you founded Women in Trucking back in 2007. So maybe just a little bit of a retrospective. Can you take us back to the beginning of the association? What really initially sparked the idea behind it?

Ellen Voie: Well, I'm going to go back to, I actually ran the Trucking Party program from 2000 to 2006. And so I became more involved in nonprofit organizations. And I earned my certified association executive status, which means I can run a nonprofit. And then I got hired by a large trucking company in the Midwest and they said figure out how to attract and retain nontraditional groups. And that was returning military, Hispanics, seniors and women. And so at the time, I was getting my pilot's license and I belonged to a women in aviation group. And it struck me, why isn't there a women in trucking organization? So I started doing my research and put together a board of directors, had an attorney help draft all the documentation. And I was still working at the carrier because my job was actually part of that as well. And so I started Women in Trucking in 2007. And I have to tell you Seth, if you had told me in 2007 that we'd be at 5,500 members in 10 countries. And, you know, our last conference we had over 1,100 registered attendees. Obviously, a nerve was struck in this industry but people have embraced our mission. And basically the mission is to increase the percentage of women at all levels in the industry. So I am so thrilled with the response from the trucking industry in supporting our cause.

Seth Clevenger: Sure. And here we are 12 years later. Since you founded the organization, how much progress do you think that the the trucking industry made toward becoming more inclusive? And how much further do we have to go?

Ellen Voie: Well, that's a great question, because we do believe that the industry is recognizing the value that women bring to the boardroom and to, you know, the cab of the truck. So to me, it used to be they just wanted a good driver in the seat, didn't care much about gender. And now they're saying, well, we see what when they bring to the industry. But I'm going to tell you, the next challenge is we've put together a task force for the LGBTQ-plus community, because, again, this industry has a lot of LGBTQ drivers and leaders. But going back to 2007 when people said, well, we just want the best person for the job, I don't think that this industry has embraced the fact that we need to reach out to different groups and when we talk about diversity, sure, I think we need more ethnic diversity. I think we need, you know, lots of different types of diversity, but we call ourselves the voice of gender diversity. And so we're exploring how we can better accommodate the LGBTQ community. And again, I'm not sure that this industry is ready to tackle that.

Seth Clevenger: Well, it's another topic we'll have to pay attention to. And, you know, it's certainly a world of opportunity out there to broaden the appeal of trucking to more people. And you hear about it so much. You know, all these companies are just wondering where the next generation of drivers are going to come from. And I think they also should be thinking about where the next generation of leaders are going to come from. So, yeah. Any final thoughts on what needs to happen in the coming years? Ellen, I'll let you pick a final thought.

Ellen Voie: Well, first of all, let me put a plug in for having the listeners join Women in Trucking Association. If you believe in our mission, it's womenintrucking.org. But I guess I just want people to start asking their female executives or female drivers, their technicians, safety managers, ask them, how can we make this a better environment for you? Because you'll be surprised. And, you know, they won't mind answering that question. But if we're not turning to the people that we're trying to attract into the industry and ask them, you know, how can we make this safer, more attractive for all of us, then we're not really listening. And so I would just say listen and make changes.

Seth Clevenger: I think it's a great place to leave it. We really appreciate your time, Ellen, and thanks for sharing and bringing this conversation to the forefront of the industry.

Ellen Voie: Really appreciate it. Well, thank you for giving me this opportunity, Seth.

Seth Clevenger: Before we wrap up, let's take a moment to revisit our original questions. How can a more diverse leadership team create a competitive advantage in business and how can trucking companies remove barriers and become more inclusive? One of the benefits of diversity in the broadest sense is you can avoid the echo chamber of everyone agreeing because they all share the same perspective. When the management team includes people who have different backgrounds and bring different life experiences, the conversation will also be different. And there's a better chance you'll settle on a good decision. Maybe it'll even spark a winning idea that your competitors had never imagined. But to really move the needle on diversity in the management ranks, it takes a commitment from the top down. Whether you're running a trucking company or building a technology startup, adding fresh perspectives to your team might be the key to taking your company to the next level.

If you've enjoyed this episode of RoadSigns, please let others know. Rate and review us on Apple podcasts and Spotify. If my questions have sparked questions of your own, share them with me and the RoadSigns team. You can email us at share@ttnews.com. We'll read them and respond daily. And of course, we'll continue the conversation about the future of trucking in upcoming episodes of RoadSigns.

Until then, I'm Seth Clevenger. Thank you for listening.

Guest Two, Ellen Voie

EP. 3

After leading the operations and growth of the business the past two years as Chief Operating Officer, Shen has expanded her role to oversee all departments including corporate development, product, engineering, finance, legal and human resources, with the executive team directly reporting to her.  Prior to joining Transfix, Shen spent almost 20 years in leadership roles at Silicon Valley’s leading technology companies, such as eBay, IDEO, and Wealthfront.