Women in fleet: intimidated no more
Women in Fleet Management (WIFM) members Theresa Belding and Sue Miller are accepted in the fleet business as industry veterans today, but they couldn't have predicted that when they started out decades ago as two of the few women in the profession at the time.
"Initially, it was a little intimidating," said Belding, who manages a 4,500-vehicle fleet and oversees fleet safety and risk management as director of fleet services for pharmaceutical company Allergan.
Miller felt pretty isolated when she started out. "It was definitely the good old boys club. A lot of cigars, martini lunches, and that type of thing."
Belding is no longer intimidated, and Miller is no longer isolated. Belding has now been in the fleet business for 26 years. Miller directed a 3,500-vehicle fleet for McDonald's for almost 30 years and has been senior fleet account manager for telematics company, Geotab, for the past year and a half. Female fleet managers like these two have made a positive mark on the industry, and Belding, Miller, and other women want to give back to the profession through their membership in the WIFM group.
Celebrating its five-year anniversary this year, WIFM provides networking, mentoring and other opportunities to women and men in the fleet industry. Counting female and male members, along with industry members involved with the group through the Automotive Fleet Leasing Association (AFLA) and LinkedIn, WIFM is now about 1,500 to 1,700 members strong.
Belding and Miller have been with the group since the beginning, but Carolyn Edwards, senior vice president for fleet management company LeasePlan USA, first came up with the idea for the WIFM organization.
About 10 years ago, Edwards had just completed LeasePlan's Women's Professional Development Series. LeasePlan at the time was looking to bring more women into leadership positions and held a seven-week leadership training course. "We learned a ton, and I began networking with other women at LeasePlan who I really didn't interact with," Edwards said. "And it just grew." After finishing her work with the series, Edwards began checking to see if the fleet industry had ever formed a women's leadership group.
She heard of earlier efforts to start a women's fleet organization, but none of those lasted long. Edwards decided to start WIFM, and she was among a small group of original members that included Miller, Nancy D'Amico of LeasePlan, Gayle Pratt of Ecolab, and Christy Coyte Meyer, then of Johnson Controls and now with Adient. About 25 women and men attended the first gathering, which took place at a meeting of what is now known as the NAFA Fleet Management Association.
"It was our first meeting, and everyone wanted more," Edwards said. "We were just getting together, saying, 'Hey, this is Women in Fleet Management, what could it be, what do we want to turn this into,' and it was more of a brainstorming session." When AFLA joined forces with WIFM almost immediately afterward, WIFM's growth accelerated.
"There is a definite need out there, and I keep mentioning women, but it wasn't just women that signed up," Edwards said. "Everyone seemed to enjoy what the mission was about and wanted to learn more and get involved."
Ed Peper, U.S. vice president, General Motors Fleet, is one of several men involved with WIFM. In response to questions from AF, he wrote in an email that collaboration in the fleet industry is needed from many different perspectives. "Regardless of gender, everyone in the industry has something to bring to the table, and we can all learn and grow from each other's success," he stated.
Peper believes in the overall mission of WIFM, and at the very first meeting of the organization five years ago, members worked on a mission statement. The statement they came up with reads in part: "Bringing together 'like-minded' people in our industry and being a resource for women fleet leaders that encourages personal and professional career fulfillment through mentoring, fleet expertise sharing, business community involvement, and networking."
To learn more about WIFM, read the full article on Automotive Fleet.