Pamela Fletcher has pretty much always known she wanted to work with cars. Her dad raced them and exposed her to his world starting when she was young, asking her to help out in the garage and bringing her to the racetrack with the family. “There was a lot of adrenaline there,” she tells Teen Vogue. “It’s exciting, it’s fun, and it really got me engaged and excited to learn how things work.” Fast forward to 2018, and Pamela is the vice president of General Motors’s Global Electric Vehicle Programs, a role she was promoted to in late 2017 from her previous position as executive chief engineer for Electrified Vehicles and New Technologies. And yes, it’s as impressive as it sounds.
In her new(ish) position, Pamela is leading GM’s charge to launch more than 20 all-electric vehicles around the world by 2023 (she already oversaw the development of the Chevrolet Bolt EV, the first electric car with a long-range that’s considered “affordable” to many) and execute the plan she created to move the company along the pathway to a world of zero emissions, zero crashes, and zero congestion. She’s focused on self-driving cars that can hopefully cut-down on auto fatalities (in 2016, there were 37,000 in the U.S. alone, most of which Pamela says were caused by human error) and electric cars that minimize the auto industry’s environmental impact and increase energy independence around the world — including developing countries. “These things are big,” Pamela says. “They’re game changing. They really change the world.”
And they’re a big part of why Pamela was named to Create & Cultivate 100 list for 2018. The list, which was released in late January, honors 100 badass female visionaries in 10 categories, including health and wellness, philanthropy, fashion, food, and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math). Pamela made the list in the latter category, alongside other inspirational women like Black Girls Code founder Kimberly Bryant, Backstage Capital founder and Managing Partner Arlan Hamilton, and more. (Honorees outside of the STEM category include people like Kim Kardashian West, Rupi Kaur, Pat McGrath, and more. And while Pamela is admittedly no stranger to recognition for her and her team’s work, up until this point it’s been largely contained to the auto industry. “When you start to get involved with such a curated list of people that have impressive, but very diverse, accomplishments; when you start getting recognized outside your industry, [it] means a lot,” Pamela says. “Because there are people out there doing really impressive things.”
But when speaking about the honor, it almost seems as if Pamela doesn’t quite realize just how impressive she is, too. Women only make up 24% of the STEM workforce and only account for 17% of executive/senior level officials and managers in the motor vehicle manufacturing industry. Women in STEM face all sorts of challenges and obstacles throughout their careers, starting from a young age.
For Pamela’s part, she says the combination of support she received from her parents at a young age and her early, hands-on exposure to cars gave her the confidence to pursue engineering — and she wants other girls and women to feel that confidence, too. “When I walk into a situation, I may not know anything about it [and] certainly may not be the smartest person in the room, but [I] have the confidence that I can figure this out,” she says. “I’m not embarrassed to ask questions. […] I think [we need to get] our young ladies to the point where they don’t feel like they have to know everything to be accepted or good at something.”
That said, while she assuredly pursued her path from a young age, she also encountered her fair share of situations that are likely familiar to other women in STEM fields. For example, she once showed up to a photo shoot relating to her work and was met by a wardrobe person presenting her with goggles, a lab coat, “and some kind of crazy shoes” for her, an executive at the company, to wear. “There’s so much misconception,” she says.. “[People] assume I work on cars, so I must have dirty fingernails with grease under tem or something. […] I can have sparkly fingernails anytime.”
Then again, that’s somewhat of a lesson she had to teach herself — that she can be as feminine as she wants and still be taken seriously as an engineer and as a leader. Early on in her career, Pamela says she imposed certain things upon herself that were contrary to that. “I would never have worn heels to work, or big jewelry, or more feminine clothing, because I thought I had to look like everybody else,” she says. “But when I think back to it, nobody told me I had to do that.” She eventually learned the value of being true to yourself, doing “what’s right for you” and being “your own best advocate.”
While being a woman in a male-dominated field certainly has its challenges, it’s important to not self-impose any additional barriers that can make it even harder for you to stick to it and follow your own path to success. “It’s about doing what you love and doing a good job at it, and getting results that provide the next opportunity.”
And Pamela, along with General Motors (GM), wants to help other girls and women find that love in STEM; so they partner with organizations like Girls Who Code and [Black Girls Code](https://techcrunch.com/2017/09/12/black-girls-code-receives-255000-from-general-motors-to-launch-in-detroit/. “We find STEM is a very grassroots thing,” she says. “There are a lot of organizations out there that are working to expose more and more youth, and we try to partner with them and support them because we know we can’t do it ourselves.”
But what she can do — in fact, what she is doing — is be a role model for young girls who may not be used to seeing women in her field and in her position; which is another thing Pamela is learning to embrace. Earlier in her career, “I never wanted to be called out for anything at work because I was a woman,” she says. “I wanted to be recognized because I did a good job, not because I’m a woman.”
But her perspective changed after GM named Mary Barra CEO, making her the first female CEO not only of that company, but of any auto company in the world. Amidst the talk of that milestone, Pamela recalls Mary explaining that it’s not just about her, but about girls being able to see people like themselves in roles like hers to help realize the possibilities. “That was hugely transformational to my personal mindset,” Pamela says. “I think as we see more and more great women in great roles — and it’s not just women, it’s people of all types — it gives the youth something [to work for] because they see somebody like themselves.”
Beyond that, Pamela says she wants to work on helping girls realize not only the breadth of career opportunities that exist in STEM fields, but also the fact that pursuing STEM isn’t just for people who are passionate about science and math. In fact, it touches so many aspects of all of our lives. “When you start wearing makeup and cosmetics, that’s all about chemistry,” Pamela says. “When you get into textiles and…phones, it’s all technology. And if you really want to change whatever it is you’re interested in, you want to make a difference, there’s always science behind it somewhere.”
If you’re put off by STEM before really exploring these possibilities, Pamela just asks that you keep an open mind. “Don’t get turned off without having more information,” she says. “It may or may not be for you, but at least consider it. Because not only myself, but [also] most of my girlfriends, we’re having a good go of it. It’s pretty rewarding [and] it’s fun. […] I want all girls to feel like it’s okay to be the smart girl.”
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