SAE Blog Text

Meet the Authors: Katelyn Davis and Kristin Shaw

Posted: March 27, 2023

Telling stories that matter can have a life-changing impact.

As communicators in the mobility industry, Katelyn Davis (she/her) and Kristin Shaw (she/her) have heard and shared a lot of them. 

The pair first came together through industry networking, and quickly realized they wanted to work together in a more formal capacity. Soon after, they joined the board for Women in Mobility – Detroit and spent the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic creating an online community to help their peers feel connected while staying apart.

Through their work with Women in Mobility, Davis and Shaw learned a lot about the group of vibrant  professionals in the field but noticed a concerning trend. While these women were often making invaluable contributions to their field, they weren’t consistently given the opportunities to speak about their work in a meaningful way. When the opportunity presented itself for Davis and Shaw to write a book for SAE International, they knew exactly what stories they wanted to tell.

As they began developing what would become Women Driven Mobility: Rethinking the Way the World Moves, it was important to Davis and Shaw that the book focused on the work these individuals  were doing, and not rehashing how they climbed the ladder—a refrain that becomes common when talking about women’s experience in the workplace.

“We didn’t want to write about ‘the big fight’ because we already know the challenges women and underrepresented groups are facing, and we also know they’re also doing some really amazing work,” Shaw said. “And so, we wanted to treat these stories as a testament to that. "While they knew women who fit the bill for the book they were trying to put together, Davis and Shaw did experience some difficulty in convincing some women in industry that their stories were worth telling. They went to LinkedIn as a starting point and found an interesting pattern.

“It was a lot of women raising up other women, but very few women raising their own hand, and very few men raising up their female coworkers,” Davis said.

Sourcing the book this way brought forward many diverse stories, varying in ways from where they were located, to the types of projects they were working on, to the demographic backgrounds of the women featured. They uncovered so many innovative and industry-changing projects that required the authors to be selective with the submissions they received.

While they enjoyed getting to know all the women they interviewed, Shaw and Davis each found stories that stood out to them.

Davis cites a case study on the “Happy Camp Complete Streets” project as a favorite to work on, which saw infrastructure improvements in the Karuk Tribe community — a town with no pedestrian infrastructure, sidewalks, and ADA-compliant curb ramps. The community also had very little shoulder along the roadway causing safety concerns for the majority of the population which used bicycling or walking as their primary modes of transportation          .

Shaw highlighted the Houston Galveston Climate Preparation Study as a notable case study for her. Through bringing the story into the book, Shaw met her current mentor, as the chapter examines how climate preparation for major storms was unfortunately unsuccessful, and how Hurricane Harvey demonstrated the infrastructure faults in the area.

With such a range of content, the book is designed to appeal to any audience, regardless of gender—but early audiences tended to skew female or, at events where men would purchase the book, they would tell the authors they intended to share the book with a female friend or relative.

“I think it was frustrating to us because Katelyn and I would sit down and say, ‘Men don’t talk about how they do the work. They just do it,’” Shaw said. “And when we’re able to have that conversation candidly with people who don’t identify as the same gender as us and they say, ‘I see you,’ I think that was incredibly affirming that the mission is important.”

Their work, though, is far from over. Davis and Shaw noted that what they do is “living work” and both women continue to work toward platforming unique voices in the industry to share the important work they are doing.

“We’re at a very important place in history right now,” Davis said. “When we talk about automotive, transportation, and mobility, we’re at a very unique technological space where the work that is being done today in this industry will change the course of how we operate and move about in the world for the next century or so.

“The last time innovation in transportation systems was really seen was about a century ago and today we recognize that many of those platforms have been created in a way that is incredibly gendered, biased, or ableist. So when we’re looking at technology— things like AI and machine learning and vehicle autonomy and how we train these systems—we very possibly can embed bias into new systems. The same can be said for urban design and accessibility. If we don’t take the time to build teams to work on these problems from the start with very diverse backgrounds both culturally and professionally, we’re ultimately going to have the same problem we had a century ago in which we roll out all new transportation options that don’t fit the needs of everyone.”

As that world continues to develop, Shaw and Davis will be part of the work, and are considering publishing a new book. For now, get acquainted with Women Driven Mobility: Rethinking the Way the World Moves, recently selected as a 2023 Independent Press Distinguished Favorite-Leadership and a 2022 Independent Author Network Finalist in the Social Issues and Education/Reference categories.

Visit their website for more information, and catch Davis on an upcoming panel on Supporting Diversity in STEM at SAE’s WCX.