STEM: Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics. STEM doesn’t mean you’ll be working in a lab your whole life. It could result in speeding around a race track for your job or working on the next mobility frontier, or it could result in being the CEO of a Fortune 500 company.
I started my career in the auto industry because I like fast cars. A well-crafted fast car is the ultimate marriage between form and function. There is something very exciting about sitting in a beautiful car with flowy, swoopy lines and pushing it to the limit. For a chance to work on making them even faster, I went into electrical engineering and joined the Society of Automotive Engineers. I found being involved in engineering and co-op programs to be extremely helpful and valuable jumping off points for my career and expanded my views of what I can be capable of with my degree.
I would like to paint a small picture of just some of the opportunities that STEM has to offer and share three reasons why women are needed in the STEM fields: Creativity, Diversity, and Curiosity/Skepticism. Hopefully, my experience will inspire other women to pursue the art of STEM.
Reason #1: Women have a unique sense of creativity.
Most people associate art and creativity with paintings, literature and music. Engineering and mathematical formulas typically aren’t the first thing to pop in your head. That is a miss. Success within engineering is often achieved through creativity. It’s achieved by looking at a problem differently and more creatively than anybody else and using math and technology to present the solution.
At first glance, that may not be obvious to a lot of young women, and young professionals considering going into STEM. STEM isn’t just numbers by-the-book. A career in STEM will provide an opportunity to use your unique way of looking at the world to identify and solve problems. If you can do that, there’s no limit to where your career can go and fun you can have on the way.
I still am a lover of arts and literature, and it has never been an either/or decision between arts and STEM or STEAM. I incorporate and practice art in my job on a regular basis. In the same way that artists may use paint or a camera to communicate their unique vision, open your eyes and expand your experience, I use math and science. I create with numbers and formulas and other cool tools technology affords me. There is quiet satisfaction in identifying an unrecognized opportunity and implementing solutions that hundreds of millions of people will use. Today, my tools are software and code.
And now that Chevrolet has gone one step further in creating this connected car ecosystem, it’s my job to determine where to paint next.
STEM isn’t just numbers by-the-book. A career in STEM will provide an opportunity to use your unique way of looking at the world to identify and solve problems.
Reason #2: Diversity in the workspace among men and woman is crucial.
Diversity in this field is crucial. That’s where I think the STEM industry doesn’t always do itself justice. Success in this field won’t be determined simply by who can solve an equation the fastest, but by who solves a problem creatively. Beyond diversity of gender or diversity of race, the more important aspect is diversity of thinking. Ability to look at the world a little differently lets you see opportunities that other people may have missed. You can then express your creativity in providing a solution using technology and science as a medium.
I saw this practice first hand, when Chevrolet rolled out Apple CarPlay and Android Auto through its vehicle lineup. When we first embarked on this project, some people questioned whether a large global automaker can be nimble enough to work successfully with established tech companies like Apple and Google. There was the also added challenge in rolling out this new feature across the entire Chevy lineup, from a Chevy Cruze to the Malibu, because we believe this is something all our consumers would value.
The quiet steady work that GM has put into nurturing diversity of talent paid off in this instance. Today, Chevrolet offers these technologies on more models than any other automaker in the industry. This was possible because of engineers and developers with different opinions, poking holes and advocating passionately for the best ways to deliver customer experience in implementing CarPlay and Android Auto.
Reason #3: Women are encouraged to have a healthy sense of curiosity and skepticism.
My career in the industry started out with a co-op position that eventually turned in to a full-time position with General Motors where I was fortunate enough to indulge my curiosity in all different aspects of engineering and more. My insatiable curiosity kicked again. I got my MBA and jumped in with both feet on the business side of the automotive industry, leading to various stints in internal consulting, corporate strategy and business development. Today I’ve been given the challenge of leading innovation and strategically figuring out where to take OnStar and our connected car ecosystem.
In addition to working in different areas of engineering, I was lucky that GM offered me a chance to indulge my curiosity and work in the business side of the automotive industry after my MBA, leading to various stints in internal consulting, corporate strategy and to business development and new technology. Working at GM exposed me to opportunities beyond traditional STEM activities that I did not know I really needed to understand in order to excel in business, but I am grateful that I was exposed to them.
I would also advise women that a healthy amount of skepticism is not a bad thing. You should be asking questions, and trying to find ways to solve a problem differently. Don’t let others dictate what you should think – you have a unique way of thinking for a reason, use it. A career in engineering and technology will provide an opportunity to use your unique way of looking at the world to identify and solve problems. If you can do that, there’s no limit to where your career can go and fun you can have along the way.