Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Women in Engineering and Success in the Automotive Industry

Though women have traditionally had a small presence in most engineering fields, the numbers are astonishingly low for women in the automotive industry where we make up only 5% of the engineers in the field. As a senior undergraduate student at Northwestern University studying Mechanical Engineering, with a job lined up in Transmission and Drive-line Engineering, I aim to understand why women are hesitant to break into the automotive industry and what we can do to retain the women who have already chosen a career in automotive.

Alexa Kurzius addressed this topic in an article titled "What’s driving women away from engineering and auto?” and took an in-depth look at the many obstacles that  may cause women to turn away from a career in the automotive engineering industry or why women do not stick with a career in it. Kurzius names educational disparities, sociological pressures and the reputation of the auto industry as the main deterrents for women, but recognizes some of the women who have broken into the industry and serve as "valuable inspiration for future females". The article does a very nice job of examining how women in STEM fields find success and what is being done to encourage more women to pursue STEM fields in the first place.

The women behind the all new 2015 Ford Mustang
 Another article in USA Today written by Jayne O’Donnell also focuses in on the careers of four prominent women in the industry, Alicia Boler-Davis, ChrisBarman, Rebecca Seilier and Jennifer Shaw, and their successes in the field. The women in the article have been involved in many different aspects of the industry including the development of advanced safety technologies, and manufacturing plant management. O'Donnell also takes a look at the various programs and policies that the automotive industry has started to implement in an effort to recruit and retain female engineers.

From these two articles I have come up with three action items to help you as you explore your career in the automotive industry!
  • Find a mentor or positive role model – There may not be a lot of women that you work with directly, but seek out someone in the company that you respect or admire and use them as a resource to help you navigate your career. Some companies may have mentor-ship programs or networks already in place that you can take advantage of!
  • Know that your work is influential – Your work has a very obvious influence on the world and has the opportunity to positively affect people’s lives. You are in a position to directly make an impact on the world around you, that's something to be proud of!
  • Remember that work isn’t everything –I’m not saying that work isn’t important, but finding a balance between work and our lives outside of work is also crucial to being healthy and happy. It can be challenging, but taking time for yourself and your family can help you feel more confident and prepared to put forward your best work.  

Even though women are still a minority in the world of automotive engineering, it’s important to remember that we’re not alone! Seeking out support networks and reaching out to other women in the field is the best way to encourage and inspire women in our industry.

Kelly Hartzell is an undergraduate student at Northwestern University and is on track to graduate in June 2014 with a degree in Mechanical Engineering and a certificate in Integrated Marketing Communications. She will be moving to Michigan in the Fall to start a full-time job in Transmission and Drive-line Engineering. Questions or comments? Find her on twitter @KellyAnn_5280, Linkedin, or Google+

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