Whether you’re looking for your first job or have been in your field for years, it can be incredibly difficult to determine if you’re on the right track for the career you want.
During the Women in Autonomy virtual panel, Driving Your Career, women from various autonomous vehicle companies discussed their paths and advice for finding the right career fit. There’s no single prescription for job success, however, there are common practices anyone can employ to build a meaningful career.
Watch the recording of Driving Your Career, here.
The panel — moderated by Faryl Ury, Director of Communications at Aurora — featured Julie Derence, Co-Founder of TBD Robotics, Jessica Smith, Senior Software Engineer at Aurora, and Apoorva Sachdev Lakshmanan, Technical Program Manager at Waymo.
While each panelist differed in background, interests and job role, they took similar steps to find a career they were truly passionate about.
Forget ‘Climbing the Ladder’
The panelists agreed that, as you build out your goals, one of the most important perspectives to keep in mind is that career trajectories aren’t linear.
Success doesn’t necessarily mean climbing the corporate ladder. Rather, discover what you’re truly interested in working on and seek out roles that fulfill those requirements.
“Create your own definition of success,” Derence said, adding that discussing your ideas with people you trust, like a partner, family member or friend, can help develop that definition over time.
Smith said she learned that lesson through experience, when she was promoted to a management role early on in her tenure at a company. While it felt good to be trusted as a manager, Smith said she was quickly overwhelmed with the requirements and had less time to spend on what she enjoyed working on.
As a result, she moved back to an individual contributor role, working on projects that sparked her interest alongside other engineers.
“Build boundaries around your expectations,” Smith said. “It’s important to apply the lessons you learn from past mistakes and experiences to really grow.”
Get Out of Your Comfort Zone
While career growth can stem from both promotions and lateral moves, the panelists said it’s also critical to continuously challenge yourself.
Companies offer opportunities — both large and small — for growth and to expand outside of your current role. Derence’s advice: take them.
“You should strive to feel uncomfortable at work,” she said.
Lakshmanan echoed Derence, adding that it’s important to always be learning on the job and not let yourself be “boxed in” to your title. As you progress through your career, reflect on the aspects of the job you like and those of other roles you’re interested in.
Reaching out to those in your company whose work you admire is a useful way to learn more about these opportunities as well as build out your network.
“There’s no harm in making the connection,” Lakshmanan said.
Build a Community
In addition to a personal network, panelists said building a community within your company or industry is an invaluable resource for continual career development.
Find out if your company has employee interest groups, or if there aren’t any that fit your goals, start your own.
“Seek out diverse groups of people to interact with,” Derence said. “It’s important to provide a space where women can speak freely and have an environment to talk and share experiences.”
Smith added that her career has significantly benefited from collaborating with fellow engineers, as well as mentors outside of her specific role or area of expertise.
Industry groups and conferences such as Women in Autonomy and Grace Hopper Celebration provide these opportunities for community building and mentorship.
Finally, don’t hold yourself to impossible standards. No one can do it all, and finding balance between work and life is key to finding fulfillment in your career.
“You’re balancing balls in the air, and each ball is either glass or plastic,” Lakshmanan said, referring to both work and life responsibilities. “Every day you’re deciding which balls to drop, because you’re human and you can’t keep everything in the air. If it’s plastic, it’s OK, it will bounce back up.”
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!