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SAE’s A World In Motion® Panel Talks Diversity in STEM  

Posted: April 24, 2023

Close your eyes and picture an engineer. What do you see?  

Center for Automotive Diversity, Inclusion and Advancement (CADIA) Founder Cheryl Thompson challenged attendees at SAE International’s WCX with this thought experiment, encouraging those in the audience at the A World In Motion® (AWIM®) sponsored STEM panel to break down their own internal biases.  

Thompson served as moderator on the panel featuring Victoria Thompson (Microsoft), Andre Daughty (Daughty Enterprises LLC), Katelyn Davis (Cavenue) and Rebecca Vollmann (ABB/B&R Industrial Automation) as they talked about creating pathways from the classroom to the workplace with diversity initiatives in STEM.  

Daughty kicked things off with a quote from Dr. Jawanza Kunjufu—“If you observe children, they will teach you how to teach them.”  

“All students don’t learn the same way, and all employees don’t work the same way,” Daughty said. “Everyone is different; and grabbing that difference is how to get the best out of everyone.”  

Honoring those differences can be the catalyst for innovation through a wealth of viewpoints, but biased programs create barriers for certain voices to rise to the top. These barriers can start in youth, and follow someone to their professional life, and can trace back to things like lack of representation, economic inequity, and unconscious bias.  

But how do you address them?  

Vollmann used an example from her own childhood, wherein she would attend car shows with her parents and be excited by the vehicles she was seeing, but disengage through the inability to touch and explore the vehicle. This only serves one type of learner, while kinetic learners are left behind. Creating events that allow young children to really experience a vehicle could get them more excited about cars, and lead down a path to engineering, like the one Vollmann herself has followed.  

These issues extend beyond the classroom.  

In the workforce, Davis brought up the example of referral programs that perpetuate homogeny through unconscious bias as workers who refer another employee typically refer someone who looks like them. Though it may be harder, Davis said, we have to do the work to make sure candidates from all backgrounds have an equal opportunity to a role and create a diversity of viewpoints.  

And as Thompson points out, we have to break down those unconscious biases and go to new places to find talent.  

“I hear people saying, ‘the talent isn’t here,’ but that’s not true,” she said. “The talent has always been there, the talent will continue to be there. The question is, where are you looking for it?”