This commentary was written by U.S. Xpress President and CEO Eric Fuller. The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of FreightWaves or its affiliates.
By Eric Fuller
As the leader of a large, publicly traded trucking company, it’s my responsibility to look out for our nearly 10,000 team members, our investors and our industry. Part of this involves assessing risks both near and long term.
In recent months, I’ve become increasingly enlightened that the existing divisive rhetoric around diversity and inclusion within the trucking industry could significantly impact the growth and transformation of U.S. Xpress and our entire industry.
I’m calling on trucking and logistics business leaders large and small to begin taking steps to create a culture more accepting of others from different races, ethnicities, genders and sexual orientation. As an industry, we’ll struggle to attract the type of talent we need to compete in a global economy if we don’t start having these conversations and enacting real change.
This change won’t be easy and will take uncomfortable conversations and challenging opinions of the past. We should face the fact that our industry is behind others and needs to play catch-up. We’re often diverse in front-line and entry-level positions; however, we have very little diversity at the management, executive and board levels.
As a straight, white male, what I see as positive characteristics for opportunity within our industry is different than what a gay, Black or female person may see — or someone of Asian descent, someone who is trans or Latinx.
I have done a lot of listening to others about their experiences this past year. What I heard made me sad, angry, and even at times, confused. I had no idea the pain that people often feel due to the belief that they don’t have a voice, opportunity, or even worse, are blatantly discriminated against.
Many will say things like: “Why does it have to be about race, gender or sexual preference?” or “Can’t we just judge someone on their individual qualities?” or “I don’t see color when I am hiring someone.” If only it were that simple.
Just saying and doing the right thing yourself will not fix the problem. We must all make change and challenge each other to do the same. We must speak up and take action to change our industry.
I ask that you start down a path of exploration. Start talking to team members from minority communities within your organization and listen to them. Ask them to tell you how they view the openness and inclusion within our industry. Listen to their concerns and frustrations. Put yourself in their shoes. Think about the advantages that you have and how different their experiences are than yours. Embrace the reality of why their experiences are different.
To enact real change, our industry leaders must also acknowledge these issues and come together to help find solutions. It will take time but it’s an investment worth making.
Many might say they would gladly hire an executive from a minority demographic but there aren’t any qualified candidates. We must start intentionally targeting and opening opportunities for minorities to build a career at the management level in trucking. If we don’t start making this a priority, we’ll continue to fall behind peer industries on staffing diverse leadership.
In the previous year, I’ve interviewed multiple, highly skilled candidates for roles at U.S. Xpress. We’ve had numerous finalists who have backed out of the interview process because they were hesitant to join the trucking industry. While each candidate has his or her own story, overwhelmingly I heard them talk about the lack of acceptance of diversity and perceived lack of opportunity within our industry.
Today’s young professionals aren’t necessarily choosing the job with the biggest salary, they’re choosing a career path that challenges them where they can work alongside other people who share the same philosophies, a place where they can feel welcomed for who they are without fear of hate or discrimination. Today’s young people want to live and work in diverse and inclusive communities and for companies that share that vision.
While I admit that U.S. Xpress has a long way to go in developing a more inclusive culture, we have made significant strides. We’ve established a Diversity & Inclusion Council led by a wide assortment of team members each representing unique points of view. From this council, we’ve also launched employee resource groups that are also led by our team members and are a safe space for open dialogue about important issues that impact women, the LGBTQ+ community and the many military veterans working at our company.
This year, we also published our first corporate responsibility report and have established aggressive goals around environmental responsibility and community giving. These are important topics and the right things to do for large companies like U.S. Xpress, but also for smaller, more locally focused organizations.
I’m proud to be a part of the trucking industry, but we have work to do. And the first step is acknowledging that change is needed. Change is imperative if we’re to continue to attract, retain and nurture the talent necessary to grow our industry, to develop a diverse and inclusive community, and create opportunities for everyone. But without change, we all face an uncertain future.
Disclosure: FreightWaves founder and CEO Craig Fuller retains ownership of U.S. Xpress shares through his family trust.
About the author
Before being named president and CEO, Eric Fuller served for five years as U.S. Xpress’ president and COO responsible for operations including OTR, dedicated services, customer service and planning. As co-founder Max Fuller’s oldest son, he has had the unique opportunity to gain a detailed understanding of U.S. Xpress from the inside out. He is particularly attuned to the day-to-day challenges his employees face, as he has worked in a wide variety of roles across the company for nearly 20 years.