In the beginning, they wanted to elevate women’s voices, give them a “place at the table”: an organization for women in fleet to share industry knowledge, experience, collaboration and camaraderie. And they weren’t certain if many others would be interested in such a group.
Today, as Women in Fleet Management (WIFM), celebrates its 10th anniversary, the vision of its five founders has counts hundreds in membership, establishing an open forum for learning and networking, recognition for women industry contributions, and a mentoring platform.
“WIFM has lifted the perception of women’s professionalism in fleet management,” the founders point out. The group has given women “the voice that was missing” and spotlighted their accomplishments,” within their own companies and the industry.
It Began with a Car Ride
The organization began, appropriately enough, with a car ride in 2009. Carolyn Edwards, then director of operations, vehicle acquisition at LeasePlan USA and her colleague, Nancy D’Amico, LeasePlan CIO, shared a ride following a gathering of a women in technology gathering. Was there such a group for women in fleet, they wondered. “Was one needed or even wanted?”
After a bit of research found no existing women’s fleet group, Edwards contacted four members of LeasePlan’s Future Directions Board: Sue Miller, director fleet management services at McDonald’s; Gayle Pratt, global fleet director for Ecolab; Ginny Liddle, CAFM, corporate fleet administrator at Terracon; and Christy Coyte Meyer, corporate global fleet director for Johnson Controls, Inc.
“Carolyn floated the idea to a few of us as we were talking about supporting our fleet industry and women in particular,” remembers Pratt, a 35-year fleet veteran who retired in 2013.
“All five of us were so involved in the industry and our jobs. We’d see each other at conferences and meetings, but those events needed something different—a place for women.” says Coyte Meyer, now retired after a 40-year-plus fleet career.
Liddle, who retired in 2018, jumped at the proposal. “It sounded wonderful!” she recalls.
Pratt, who joined the fleet industry in the 1970s, was the only woman in the company’s management and leadership. She wanted “to give back and support other women to get to levels that they felt comfortable with and learn how to go about doing just that.”
New Group Takes Shape
Over the next two years, the nascent group gradually took shape primarily via informal “in our spare time” monthly conference calls.
The women determined the group’s mission, goals and activities using similar professional association models and “taking the best ideas of our own organizations, all centered on fleet,” says Miller, now senior fleet account manager at Geotab, a global commercial telematics and fleet solutions provider.
The group’s mission statement reflected the founders’ fundamental vision:
“To provide a resource for women fleet leaders that encourages personal and career fulfillment through mentoring, fleet expertise sharing, fleet and business community involvement and networking.”
Eventually, a name was adopted. “Women in Fleet was the original name,” says Liddle. “Carolyn added the word ‘Management.’”
WIFM pages on Facebook and LinkedIn were created.
A key value was open membership and participation. “Men have been welcomed from the beginning,” said Liddle. “This was to be a women’s group but for everyone, open to all.”
With a Little Help from Friends
Help from industry mainstays was early and substantial. Mike Pitcher, LeasePlan CEO promised full support. Both the NAFA Fleet Management Association and the Automotive Fleet & Leasing Association (AFLA) also encouraged WIFM’s growth, Edwards recalls.
“AFLA in particular came right to the table,” says Edwards. “Its support took the pressure off with organizational and financial help.”
Bill Elliott, then executive director for AFLA “helped with creating the foundational structure,” Coyte Meyer recalls.
Critical help and support also came from General Motors U.S. vice-president Ed Peper, PARS and other fleet industry partners, says Edwards. “Everyone wanted to see WIFM succeed.”
Mike Antich, editor and associate publisher for Automotive Fleet offered valuable assistance.
“Mike helped boost awareness and publicity for WIFM, and his staff designed our logo and he wrote the first article in February 2011 introducing WIFM to the fleet industry,” Edwards explains. Antich’s group also provided the “backroom” guidance for the initial website, according to Pratt.
Group Welcomed Warmly
Ready for its organizational debut, WIFM hosted the opening mixer to an enthusiastic reception at AFLA’s 2011 conference, an event that helped the “group take off,” says Edwards.
“WIFM was immediately welcomed by women in the industry,” Miller recalls. “It was what women wanted and needed. The biggest surprise was how it blew up; we thought if we got 300 members eventually, we’d be successful. Instead from the beginning interest in membership was overwhelming.”
Governed by a board of directors and mentoring, membership, learning, and social media committees, WIFM has developed popular mentoring and speaker’s programs, webinar series and informal networking events at industry meetings.
“AFLA offered space at its meetings for a WIFM-dedicated session—a panel reflecting the perspectives of women in fleet, bringing women to have a seat at the table,” says Edwards.
AFLA also hosts a WIFM web page with news and activity registrations. Additional initiatives include regular interviews of women fleet leaders in Fleet Management Weekly and ongoing discussions in the WIFM LinkedIn group.
Speakers and webinar topics have focused on topics key to women and leadership, from personal and professional development to practical tips on specific fleet challenges.
WIFM’s mentoring program is one of the group’s most popular membership services and a favorite of each founding member, providing the opportunity to pass on their knowledge and experience to industry newcomers.
“It is now a formalized process,” says Edwards. “People sign up on WIFM’s page on the AFLA site. A committee pairs up mentors and mentees from the signups and provides guidelines for good mentoring relationships and tips for a successful process. Participants are surveyed to keep improving the program.”
Pratt believes “getting the mentorship program up and running is one of the most valuable and supportive ways to sustain and further women in the fleet industry.”
Miller also cites the group’s “informal” mentoring: “We provide information to help women in the profession; to lift themselves, gain confidence and recognize the value of networking.”
“The scope of WIFM membership has meant that members represent diverse knowledge and skill sets, and when one member needs help, they can find someone doing similar work,” says Liddle.
“The diversity of WIFM membership has helped the organization keep up with changes in the industry over the years,” agrees Miller. Members with “different backgrounds and professional tenure” offer “nuggets of wisdom” and help the group maintain relevance, particularly with younger women, she adds.
WIFM ‘A Living Legacy’
Edwards, the woman whose phone calls to four fleet colleagues initiated a pioneering organization led by and for women in fleet, describes her involvement in WIFM “a living legacy, a home run. When I decide to retire, I will have made my mark—along with others in WIFM—on the fleet industry.”
The foundation of WIFM’s success, believes Edwards, is connection, “relating daily challenges to women in the fleet, building relationships.” While the group “calls upon men at times to seek their input, we also share with them ‘This is how it feels as a woman in fleet,’” she explains. “Because WIFM is an open group, we all learn ideas, learning, knowledge and innovations from each other.”
Hopes for the Future
The five WIFM co-founders expressed hope for the organization’s bright future.
Coyte Meyer anticipates the group’s continued success in “helping everyone,” because “industry seniors can learn, too, from fresh new faces.”
For Liddle, the international possibilities for WIFM exciting; pre-COVID, Edwards presented the concept to groups in Canada and Australia.
“I hope WIFM continues with its great leadership, programs and services,” says Pratt, identifying current WIFM president Lori Rasmussen’s “awesome leadership” in “the timely speakers and webinars with thoughtful and relevant topics.”
Miller echoes that optimism, anticipating WIFM “can continue to grow in richness in the support it provides women and men in fleet,” to continue offering “something special.”
“The sky’s the limit,” enthuses Edwards, who hopes “to pass WIFM on to the next generation, keep the up-and-coming women engaged in growing the group and perhaps one day it will a standalone organization.”
And to think, she recalls, “It all started with a car ride.”