Electrical Engineering            Autonomous Vehicles            Sustainability
Paige Kassalen
Mobility
The world is changing dramatically! Ridesharing, electric vehicles, and autonomous vehicles will create new demands for all levels of the automotive value chain. I spend my days tracking trends and interpreting how businesses will need to change to continue adding value.

Here is one of my favorite stories about how I ended up speaking at an autonomous vehicles conference:

Tomorrow will be the first time I deliver a presentation about the work I’ve been doing with autonomous vehicles. For 30 minutes,  I will be discussing interior experiences, enabling technologies, and providing my unusual perspective on the space race of the 21st century.

A few weeks ago, I was in Silicon Valley at an autonomous vehicle conference. The attendee list was filled with professionals with knowledge and experience in the field.  I walked into the conference ready to take on the world! The first speaker gave a great presentation. The next speaker also shared very relevant information about the industry. The third speaker got up, and then the fourth… At this point, I checked my program to learn that all 36 speakers were the exact definition of what you think when you think of a tech executive from Silicon Valley.

 The conference program featured 36 speakers, however, there was not one woman. When I texted my male friend saying I was frustrated with the lack of diversity, he jokingly said, “Don’t be a man-hater.”  I knew he was joking, but I struggled to find the right way to explain how I was feeling. I finally settled on asking him what he would think if he walked into a conference and every speaker was a woman or every speaker was a different race than him. He responded by saying that he would think he might be in the wrong place.

His response reflects one of the reasons we don’t have more diversity in STEAM fields. When you walk into a room and you realize that no one looks like you, you start to question if you should be there. If you do this your entire life, slowly your interest or passion for the subject gets overruled by the want to be around people similar to yourself.

As I sat in the conference feeling out of place, I realized that I am not doing anything to help the situation by just being in the audience. I knew it would be scary to get up on stage in front so many people, and I knew that I would always feel like my work wasn’t perfect enough. While I had doubt, I quickly decided that if I’m not willing to walk on stage and present when I’ve been working on in my job for a year, then there are probably others with valuable information who may also be afraid.

At that moment, I emailed the conference planner to see if there was a last minute speaker cancellation. He replied to me quickly, saying that there actually was a spot open. Now, there I was preparing (aka "Nervously freaking out")  but happy that I did something to make sure that there isn’t someone like me who feels out of place in this exciting industry!