Creating and supporting diversity, in certain fields, can be a struggle; like encouraging women into STEM subjects and career paths. Leaders wanting to tackle challenges like these, can find agile and innovative approached to engage with diversity; General Motors have done just that – with robots. Their D&I work has created the Mercy Midnight Storm, an all-girls robotics team, who’ve gone on to compete at a national level. Watch their story here. We caught up with their mentor, Keysha Camps, to learn more about the leadership challenges, how she felt about being a D&I mentor and what she learnt from the process:
You’re the Programme Engineering Manager for General Motors. As a woman working in the STEM field, how does Diversity and Inclusion play a role in what you do?
I firmly believe that the game-changing ideas you need to solve tough problems come from bringing diverse groups of people together. I have been fortunate to be a part of teams that are filled with different perspectives, backgrounds and cultures. When the team I am a part of is inventing what the next interior or exterior of autonomous vehicles will look like, we bring in customers from all races/genders/ages. Building teams that reflect this diversity will ensure that we come up with the best solutions for customers.
The US 2017 Bureau of Labour Statistics shows only 9.2% of Mechanical Engineers are women. What can be done to improve that number?
From my experience, the key to increasing the percentage of woman engineers is by showing girls that engineering provides them the tools to invent anything they want to. When I was in high school, I knew I wanted to positively impact people. After attending a STEAM Summer Camp I learned that I could achieve this goal by pursuing an engineering degree. That summer, I learned that engineers designed the bridges that carried my family safely to their job after dropping me off at camp. Engineers even dreamed up the chemical reactions that made the next ice cream flavor I wanted to try! I knew studying engineering would give me the tools to invent anything I wanted to.
Today, what I love the most about pursuing a mechanical engineering degree is still the diverse opportunities it provides. After graduating from the University of Puerto Rico, my friends and I went on to work in different industries all over the world. I have friends that work in the aerospace, petroleum, and even make up industry! They are building the airplane that takes me to my next meeting, or inventing the most efficient fuel to power that plane, or designing the coolest lipstick color I’ll wear when I stand in front of that conference room when I land. I ultimately chose to pursue a career in the automotive industry because I think that autonomous vehicles will make the most positive impact in our lifetime.
The story of Mercy Midnight Storm is a great example of including young women in STEM. What D&I takeaways do you have from mentoring these young women?
Many of the girls of the Mercy Midnight Storm didn’t know what engineering was but they were intrigued by the idea of creating robots. Over the past 3 years mentoring these girls I’ve seen many of them declare proudly that they want to study engineering in college. Seeing this progression I’ve learned that students underrepresented in STEM fields need early exposure to and safe environments for learning about engineering. We need to do a better job if we want to see the demographics of engineering change.
What’s next for GM and STEM for young women?
The key to a successful robotics program is to create a sustainable progression of programs where girls from elementary to high school have a team to be a part of. The girls of Mercy Midnight Storm and a fellow female GM engineer, Rachael Aptowitz, started an all-girl elementary robotics team. Our next goal is to create an all-girl middle school team to complete that progression of programs and then a girl will be able to join robotics in 4th grade and will graduate high school with nine years of robotics experience – she’ll be unstoppable!