For over 150 years, women have celebrated their most prestigious accomplishments during the month of March. A group once limited by the dictates of discrimination now endeavors to set a new standard of excellence that far surpasses expectations.
Women are changing the face of several industries, and the automotive world is no different. By thinking outside the box, they are creating their own lane in a field previously reserved for men.
In honor of Women's History Month, General Motors hosted more than 100 Detroit high school students to promote education in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). The "Women in Electrification" panel consisted of four of GM's top female employees who transformed their interests into careers. The event held at the company's world headquarters was moderated by Detroit Free Press columnist Rochelle Riley.
Each panelist spoke about her personal journey, and how an initial interest in science and math served as preparation for her career. The women have used their extensive backgrounds, knowledge and experience to set a new standard at GM by promoting technological advancement and innovation.
Panelists answered several questions, providing advice on how to navigate the engineering world. Serving as trailblazers, they encouraged students to be unafraid to follow in their footsteps. They also described what they consider the amazing benefits of working in the field.
"It's the smartest decision you can make for your future... the possibilities are endless... you can work in all areas and even travel across the world", said Britta Gross, Director of Advanced Vehicle Commercialization Policy.
Going against the grain pays off, and each panelist described the many perks of deciding on such a career. One thing all panelists could agree on as one of the major benefits of working in engineering rested on it's variety, and a wide range of options.
"There are a lot of different careers, and a lot of different things... engineering opens the doors to many things. Almost everything today is built on technology, so having that type of background would serve you very well", said MaryAnn Jeffers, Assistant Chief Engineer for Electrification.
Alisyn Malek, a release engineer for charging components, also expressed the advantages of developing her area of expertise. She called attention to being able to profession "hop".
"You can work on everything from how a car rides, to phone apps, to sales, and all that's in between... and I think those opportunities are what makes this industry attractive. The ability to look over the course of a 30- plus year career and say, I can do a little bit of everything... that's really cool."
Positions might vary, yet one thing engineers can always count on is financial stability. Malek talked about the importance of financial freedom. Her current salary provides her with enough money to pay off student loans, keep up with current bills and operate an art gallery in the Metro-Detroit area.
Tips on navigating the world of engineering might have been the primary focus, yet panelists shared advice that applies to life in general. The common theme among their words of wisdom encouraged students to remain passionately invested in whichever field they choose.
"When you're looking at what you want to do when you grow up... what business you want to be in, you have think about what you're passionate about. You have to be interested and have a natural curiosity toward it because your career is going to be very long, and you need to have that energy behind it", said Marketing Director Cristi Landy.
Having the right energy is key, and panelists stressed that STEM students must remain committed to making a difference. Another important lesson panelists shared with attendees is to embrace mistakes as a natural part of the process.
"Don't stress too much about making the wrong decisions. If you're interested in doing engineering, just pick one and go for it", said MaryAnn Jeffers.
Unique challenges do exist for women in engineering. Panelists recalled incidents of discrimination earlier in their career, but acknowledged that changes in society have reshaped how people think about workplace diversity. Those who have encountered prejudice stated they overcame obstacles by allowing their work to speak for itself. Cristi Landy stressed that sticking to the facts, and presenting one's case is the best strategy to fight against prejudice.
"If you know your stuff, that's going to take you a long way."
Success requires hard work, and putting forth the required effort. Panelists have witnessed that younger generations are more open to diversity than earlier ones. So much so that women in engineering can profit from pushing the envelope.
"There are so many pluses to entering a male-nominated industry. Number one, we're special. We stand out... so if you do the work, and stick to the facts...you will really stand out and have so many opportunities", said Britta Gross.
The GM women stressed that pursuing goals that others might shun away from creates an expertise that pays off in the long run. For students interested in STEM-related topics yet unsure of their specific focus, panelists encouraged them to think outside the box.
One of the largest and fastest-growing automotive markets, GM boasts a front row ranking when it comes to workplace diversity. It currently employs over 5,700 women, and continues to provide tremendous incentives to those interested in engineering. The Buick Achievers scholarship program annually gives millions of dollars to STEM students across the country.
Challenging the norm is never easy, and sometimes an extra push is needed to step into a new standard of greatness. Events like "Women in Electrification" willfully accept that responsibility. It's a responsibility more organizations must take on in order to steer our future generations toward innovation and excellence.
For more information on General Motors, visit www.gm.com.