Trailblazing Women in the Fleet Industry

Trailblazing Women in the Fleet Industry

By Jasmine Glasheen
September 2020


Women are swiftly scaling ranks in the fleet industry. Today, women comprise 47 percent of the trucking workforce, including 7 percent of drivers and 23 percent of fleet management roles. The number of female fleet business owners is also on the rise. American Express 2019 State of Women-Owned Businesses report found that, between 2014 and 2019, the growth in the share of total employment by women-owned transportation and warehousing firms increased by 10 percent. The share of total revenue by women-owned firms in transportation and warehousing increased by 28 percent during this time.
The question, then, becomes: what inspires female pioneers to enter the traditionally male-dominated transportation industry? We spoke with four female fleet leaders from different sectors to find out their path to a career in the transportation industry, what inspires them, and what advice they have for the next generation of women in fleet.

Choosing a Career in Fleet Management

The path to a career in fleet management is rarely linear. However, for many women in the field, that journey includes a work history that includes management roles. Nancy Murray, Senior Manager, General Services & Travel CAFM, Agfa says that, like many in the fleet industry, a career in fleet found her.  
“There were changes coming to our General Services & Travel dept 8 years ago that included the retirement of the fleet/travel person. With the synergies between fleet management and facility management, I was asked to take on the responsibility of the fleet and travel with my facility duties, as restructuring our group was necessary.”
“While it was a choice to take on the responsibilities,” she continues, “I am glad that I did as I now manage the entire department. It has proven to be a very interesting part of my job functions and has led to some great relationships with both colleagues and suppliers.”

Ruth Alfson, CAFM, Fleet Manager, City of Cincinnati rose through the ranks to become NAFA’s president in 2015 until 2017. Although Ruth has an illustrious career in the fleet industry, she says that she got into the fleet management accidentally. “I was asked to take over the fleet 2 weeks into a new job and I have been doing fleet ever since.”
Like many in the fleet industry, Laura Jozwiak, Senior Vice President, Sales and Client Relations at Wheels Inc. wasn’t looking for a career in Fleet Management specifically. Instead, she was drawn to the continuous change, continuous problems to solve, and continuous learning as she learned more about the business.
Jozwiak says, “Fleet never gets dull!”
Amy M McAdams CAFM, Fleet Manager at Farmer Brothers started working in fleet in 2010 out of necessity, after over 20 years of working as an accountant:
“I was working for a large building and facilities management company when the then fleet manager made the decision to leave the organization,” MacAdams says. “The role reported to a new division within the organization that was being led by the interim controller I had been reporting to.”
“With my financial background at the company,” she continues, “I was able to bring structure and accountability to the organization in a role that built on my education and experience. I immediately fell in love with the dynamic nature of the position and still comment on how long it took for me to realize that fleet was the right fit for me.”

A Unique Perspective on the Transportation Industry  

Some would argue that women bring a unique skillset to the fleet industry. However, McAdams doesn’t feel that gender alone means that someone bring certain assets to the field. 
“I don’t think there is anything unique about fleet management that is dependent on the person being male or female,” McAdams says. “Although I do ask a lot of questions and love to learn new things.”
Similarly, Jozwiak says that everyone brings unique insights to the industry. “We all come with our unique backgrounds and perspectives to add into the conversation and drive results,” she says.
“If you are a woman and could benefit from a helping hand or shoulders to climb on, just reach out,” she adds. “Many will help you define your career within fleet, including me!”

Networking Strategies for Women in Fleet

The transportation industry is distinctive in its interconnectedness. Networking enables fleet leaders to identify more effective solutions for operational issues that arise. Learning how colleagues handle challenges––such as identifying ridesharing options, navigating between technology solution providers, and managing their team during a crisis––can be instrumental to a fleet leader’s success.
Nancy Murray networks with her colleagues and joins as many fleet organizations as she can in order to broaden her professional network.
“I am active with my local NAFA chapter and have served as an officer for 5 years, the last 3 as the Chapter Chair,” Murray says. “I believe in active participation and sharing knowledge at any group opportunity. I am a member of AFLA and Women in Fleet as well.”

Ruth Alfson shares her expertise by writing guides and manuals for NAFA. She has been a CAFM mentor and she speaks at NAFA events.
Alfson says, “I believe in giving back to a profession that has done so much for me and my career.”
Jozwiak has had many mentors throughout her career, “whether they knew they were or not!”  She looks for ways to give back by writing blogs, mentoring several people inside and outside of her organization, and participating at industry conferences.
“My goal in doing so,” she says, “is to invite more people into the conversation and cultivate our collective passion to keep improving our craft and results.”
When McAdams was first learning her role as a fleet manager, she met a lot of people who were happy to share experiences, answer questions, and provide guidance. 
“I’ve been asked to be on panel discussions at I&E, and that’s great,” McAdams says, “but what I really like is to share MY experiences with anyone that asks.”

Advice for Women Entering a Fleet Management Position

Murray urges women entering the fleet industry to continue to seek education and network. “That is the best way to gain information, get acclimated and begin the journey,” she says.
“Professional organizations can make this easier and give you access to enormous amounts of knowledge that others are more than willing to share. Subscribe to the professional publications, too, so that you have timely information. Attend as many webinars and other educational forums to continue to be current and relevant in the field.”
Jozwiak “Lean in and enjoy the camaraderie this industry has to offer!  Whether you are a woman, a man, corporate fleet, government fleet, manage sedans, or manage trucks….all are welcome.  Just be ready and open for a career full of fast paced learning and continual change to products, supply chains and technology.  Use our industry networking channels to connect with people and ask lots of questions.  You have a voice, so use it!”
Ruth Alfson “Find mentors that can guide you through the ins and outs of fleet.  Also, make sure that you have the knowledge needed for the position and the best way to do that is obtain your CAFM designation.  The education you will receive is invaluable.”
McAdam’s advice is simple: “Don’t be shy.  Ask a ton of questions.  And remember, you’ve got this!”

Skills of Effective Fleet Leaders

Every vertical demands a different professional skillset. As such, there are specific strengths that can help prospective fleet managers move up the corporate ladder. Murray maintained that communication skills are one of the most important assets to becoming effective fleet manager.
“Both written and speaking communication skills are extremely important to share your ideas and solutions,” Murray says. “And knowing how to present to your specific audience. Being a good listener is another part of communication skills that can set you apart. Just as important are organizational skills for project and people management.”
Jozwiak, on the other hand, believes that creating a positive company atmosphere takes precedence. She adds that strong fleet leaders can create a vision and an environment that allows their team to wake up and be “excited about what they get to do, instead of what they have to do.”
While Alfson posits that listening is one of the most important qualities in fleet leadership. Alfson says, “Effective leaders need to make sure they LISTEN to all points of view, CONSIDER all those points and why they are being made, then COMMUNICATE the decision made so that all understand the need for the chosen approach and the benefits it will bring.”

Strategies to Manage Next-gen Employees

It can be a challenge to recruit and retain talent, especially when it comes to recruiting next-gen workers into the trucking industry. The 2019 Census found that the median age for truck drivers is 46, compared to 41 for all other industries.
McAdams has trained a lot of new employees, young and old. The way she approaches training is to share the WHY behind the process. “This will give you the big picture and help to relate what we do as fleet managers to the corporate goals that we support.”
Jozwiak adds that each generation wants to be heard and valued, and next-gens are no different. “Give your next-gen team members the training and tools they need to work independently,” She suggests. “Allow them to take safe risks to pave new roads.”
While Murray doesn’t manage next-gens differently, she says that they may require more “listening and discussion” before accepting company policy. “They have different viewpoints and by listening and discussing the company policies with them, they tend to accept the policy knowing they were able to be part of the discussion.”
“Sometimes,” Murray adds, “these discussions may lead to changes in the policy.”

Closing Thoughts

There are myriad benefits for women who choose to pursue a career in the transportation industry. Among them are a competitive salary, low unemployment rates, and the opportunity to work in a field that’s constantly evolving. Alfson challenges those who perceive fleet as a ‘men’s only’ club:
“It doesn’t matter if you are a woman or a man,” she says. “Those who succeed are the ones who invest the time, energy and effort in being the best at what they do and are willing to share their best practices with others.”
Murray says that fleet is a profession that seems to find you. “It is a very diverse occupation with many paths that you can branch off to,” she continues. “You will find it challenging at times, satisfying at times, but most of all, you will become a part of a community.”
Jozwiak adds that the fleet industry is a challenging and rewarding career that never grows old, “especially right now in our time in fleet,” she says. “We need your voice to add to the conversation on how we will manage to a carbon neutral fleet, adapt to new mobility challenges and opportunities, and ensure the safety of our employees while on the road.” 
Jozwiak adds, “There is no reason NOT to join fleet!”

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