Nicole Philbrick (shown left) and Erica Shelangoski have started VOCE, a group aiming to empower women in the workplace.  - Photo courtesy Nicole Philbrick

Nicole Philbrick (shown left) and Erica Shelangoski have started VOCE, a group aiming to empower women in the workplace. 

Photo courtesy Nicole Philbrick

Two Iowa-based pupil transporters have started an organization dedicated to empowering women in the industry.

Nicole Philbrick, a transportation fleet supervisor, and Erica Shelangoski, a transportation training and safety supervisor, have started VOCE.

Pronounced “VO-chay,” as Philbrick notes in the Iowa Pupil Transportation Association’s (IPTA's) May 2021 newsletter, the group’s mission is to encourage women to reach their highest potential in the workplace and confront sexism, starting with the student transportation workforce.

Philbrick wrote an article that appeared in the newsletter recounting experiences with sexism that she, Shelangoski, and other women have contended with, referring to it as “the elephant in the room.”

“… It’s the one that’s been sitting in our breakrooms, our offices, our garages, and on our buses. It’s the one clumsily hiding behind the questions, ‘it’s just a joke - why are you so uptight?’ and, ‘is she really qualified for that job?’ When someone points out the elephant, we sometimes offer equally clumsy explanations such as, ‘Well, he’s just from a different generation,’ or ‘that’s just the way things are.’ Other times, we try to ignore it altogether or convince ourselves it isn’t real. But, the elephant is real and it’s time we call it by its real name. Sexism.”

VOCE will kick off with a live video chat on May 18 at 10:00 a.m. Central Standard Time (CST) with the goal of hearing from women and allies who work in pupil transportation about their experiences and what empowerment looks like to them. Philbrick and Shelangoski will also share their own experiences and related data.

Those interested in attending the video chat can go to bit.ly/ourvoce and fill out a brief survey with their contact information to receive details about the upcoming video chat and future events.

Additionally, VOCE will hold an in-person meeting on July 20 at 3:15 p.m. CST at the IPTA’s annual conference to discuss ideas from the May 18 meeting and next steps.

Anyone who is interested in learning more about the organization can follow VOCE’s Facebook and Instagram pages or send an email message to ourvoce@gmail.com.

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