Rebecca Brewster, president and COO of the American Transportation Research Institute(ATRI) was honored with the third annual “Influential Woman in Trucking” award this week.  Navistar, Inc. and the Women in Trucking Association (WIT) made the presentation during the Truckload Carriers annual conference in Las Vegas. The award seeks to recognize women in the trucking industry who make or influence key decisions, have a proven record of responsibility and who mentor or serve as a role model to other women.

Brewster, who was selected from among more than 100 nominees, has served as president and COO of ATRI for the past ten years. She is also an ex officio member of the Transportation Research Board Executive Committee and an active member of its Truck and Bus Safety Committee.

“We are excited to honor a woman who has had so much influence on commercial trucking,” said Ellen Voie, president and CEO of WIT. “Under Rebecca’s guidance, the American Transportation Research Institute’s research has given us insights into efficiency, safety and driver well being---touching every aspect of our industry.”

Navistar’s vice president, manufacturing and operations, Jan Allman, noted that, “It is not easy to play and win in what has been a male-dominated world, and women like Rebecca demonstrate that it can be done.”

WIT and Navistar also honored three runners-up for this year’s award. They included: Sandra Ambrose-Clark, president ESJ Carrier Corp.; Lana Batts, co-president, Driver iQ; and Judy McReynolds, president and CEO, Arkansas Best Corp.

Prior to the actual awards presentation, Navistar and WIT also hosted a panel discussion about women in trucking, moderated by TCA president, Chris Burruss.  The four panelists were: Sandra Ambrose-Clark; Joyce Brenny, co-founder of Brenny Transportation, Inc.; Ann Wilson, senior director, regional transportation for Wal-Mart; and the Honorable Deborah A.P. Hersman, chair of the National Transportation Safety Board.

Several themes emerged during the panel discussion, including:

  • The value of diversity in the workplace, with diversity being defined as diversity of perspective and opinion
  • The importance of a “service point of view” in creating highly successful companies with engaged and loyal employees
  • The need to make the many and various jobs within the trucking industry more “visible” career options, especially for young women
  • The value of flexible schedules and accommodating workers’ personal needs

Panelists were also very quick to oppose the establishment of all-female mentoring or networking programs at fleets and other businesses. The reason?  Every woman on the panel (as well as many in the audience) credited men in the trucking industry for “giving me the chance to prove that I could do the job.”

Brenny reported that her company decided not to establish a separate female-to-female mentoring program.

Wilson said, “At Wal-Mart, we have all sorts of mentoring circles and I feel rather mixed about that. I don’t want people to think that I got a particular job because I am a woman.”

Ambrose-Clark noted that she was “asked to be on the board specifically because I was a woman, but I was fine with that…whatever it took [to get started].  Men have been my mentors [ever since].”

Hersman agreed, noting that, “It has been the men in my life who have helped advance me. Women have let me down.”

Hersman also observed that the notion of “balance” between work and private life is a myth. “There is no balance of family and work,” she said. “Don’t believe it if people say there is. I am fortunate to have a tremendous support structure… There is a place [along my hour-long commute] where I stop feeling guilty about how early I left work and start feeling guilty about how late I’m getting home.”

Been there, done that, right?