Sebnem Tugce Pala is a public policy professional with deep experience in the field of sustainable transportation. She has worked as the Energy Grant Strategy Director for Miami’s first unicorn startup, REEF Technology and led AmpUp’s Public Policy and Government Affairs team. Sebnem attended the Professional Diploma Program in Business Administration and Project Management at UC Berkeley and received her MA in Development Studies at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva (IHEID) as well as an MA in International Political Economy at the University of Warwick in the United Kingdom.
We sat down with Sebnem to learn more about her career, interests and plans for the Mentorship Program.
Q: How did you become involved in the autonomous driving industry?
While studying at UC Berkeley, I conducted policy research on autonomous drones and autonomous vehicles at the Transportation Sustainability Research Center. My policy research on autonomous vehicles was an eye-opening experience, and I became more involved in the autonomous driving industry. I believe that sustainability in transportation starts with autonomous vehicles; this pandemic has been a game changer for autonomous vehicles in every aspect and has highlighted the significance of the deployment of this technology.
Q: When did you join WIA? Why did you decide to join?
I joined WIA in 2019. I was attending WIA events regularly before the pandemic. Women in Autonomy is a great platform for female leaders where they can educate, inspire and guide each other. Thus, I decided to join and am so happy to be part of the community.
Q: How has mentorship influenced your career?
I wholeheartedly believe that mentorship is a long journey. As for both parties (mentees and mentors), mentorship is an amazing learning experience. That being said, I learned more about myself through the WIA mentorship program. I enhanced my active listening skills and I better understood the importance of giving and receiving feedback, as well as asking the right questions and expressing appreciation and gratitude. Without a doubt, this has been a huge contribution to my career.
Q: Why did you decide to participate in the WIA Mentorship Program?
Thanks to the WIA events before the pandemic, I knew that the organization is full of female leaders and I have always enjoyed meeting female executives, policy makers, engineers and academics who are interested in autonomy and technology. Once WIA launched their Mentorship Program, I signed up for it right away. This Mentorship Program has given me the opportunity to meet inspiring female leaders and to discuss the common challenges that we are facing in this challenging industry and grow together.
Q: What inspired you to take on the role of Mentorship Program Director?
Just before the end of the previous term, we (mentees and mentors) were invited to a happy hour event where we had the chance to provide feedback and learn more about the experiences of other mentees/mentors and the peer mentoring groups. I previously participated in other mentorship programs so I had some suggestions for developing WIA’s program further. They really appreciated my feedback and offered me the role of Mentorship Program Director. As I am passionate about autonomy and women's leadership, I decided to take on this role and see the impact of my suggestions directly.
Q: What are your goals for the program?
First and foremost, I would like this program to be an enjoyable experience for everyone. I aim to create our own Mentorship Guidebook, Checklist and Agreement Template. I plan to have more regular check-ins with our mentors/mentees and peer mentoring groups and share suggestions for books, TED Talks and articles. More importantly, I hope to offer my guidance, feedback, and make sure that everything is running smoothly and is in line with WIA’s mission.
Q: What are you most looking forward to in this new role?
I would love to empower female leadership in this new role. I have previously worked as the Program Director for other mentorship programs, however, this program specifically enables women to grow their careers and network, sharing invaluable experiences with each other. Despite being the Program Director, I am still part of a peer mentoring group. I am most looking forward to inspiring my fellow participants and to continue to be inspired by them.
By Laura Chace, President and CEO, ITS America and Co-Founder, MobilityXX
MobilityXX is a collaboration between ITS America, WTS International, and The Ray to elevate women’s representation and influence in transportation to produce better outcomes for everyone. It is bringing the transportation industry together to increase the number of women in the transportation workforce by 10 percent in 10 years.
Did you know…women comprise only 15% of a 14.8 million transportation workforce, and even fewer are in executive and decision-making roles? The same study, conducted by the Mineta Transportation Institute, found that attracting women to non-traditional female industries relies on the perception of the diversity of the organization, early connections with students, incentives, flexible workplaces, a welcoming culture, and connection to congruent communal goals.
Under representation in the transportation industry has real-world consequences - transportation is a key connector to economic opportunity, healthcare, education, critical services and goods, social interaction, and overall well-being. For communities across the nation, transportation is a critical component to economic inclusion and contributing to a stronger economy for everyone.
Successfully promoting women in the transportation industry requires opportunities for advancement, availability of role models (especially female ones) and, retaining women in the transportation industry can be related to actual workplace culture, clear steps to advancement and availability of ongoing mentorship and succession planning. Diversity in leadership and in teams creates favorable business outcomes that benefit men and women alike – more innovation and more profitability. According to McKinsey & Company, companies in the top-quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 21 percent more likely to outperform on profitability and 27 percent more likely to have superior value creation.
U.S. Census data shows that from 2005 to 2019, the proportion of women in transportation occupations only increased by 3%. While access to transportation is directly linked to economic opportunity, women are at a considerable disadvantage:
How can we address these inequities? MobilityXX, a partnership of the Intelligent Transportation Society of America (ITS America), The Ray and WTS International, is engaging the broader transportation industry to increase the number of women from all backgrounds in the transportation workforce by 10% over the next 10 years. To effectively solve the complex challenges in the transportation industry, we must include more diverse perspectives at the table to ensure produce better outcomes for everyone.
The MobilityXX pledge asks organizations – in the public and private sectors - to commit to this goal by completing two or more action steps from a menu of options over the next year. These actions are designed to increase the number and influence of women in these organizations – things like baselining gender and diversity makeup and measuring annually, diversifying programming to ensure varied perspectives are represented, creating sponsorship programs to build women leaders, and internship programs targeted to women and diverse candidates to name a few.
We have the power and potential to bring about positive change in transportation by attracting and promoting more women – join us, and take the pledge today!
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