Pam Fletcher: How to Climb the Ranks of the Male-dominated Auto Industry

August 3 - Sarah Ashlock

FIRST THOUGHT: Leading the Charge for the Cars of the Future

Do you recall some of the first things you did on your own? There’s the common kid stuff like hitting the road sans training wheels, tying your sneakers, making yourself lunch. While our adult selves are much more independent than our kid selves, I still find myself uncomfortable doing things alone (even though—news flash—our days are more often spent alone than with other people). Think about it: Have you gone to the movies, on a weekend getaway, an afternoon hike or even a dinner party all by yourself?


If riding solo makes you super nervous, you aren’t alone, my friend. Despite our apprehension to do things solo, there’s one activity in our lives both women and men feel at ease doing alone: driving. Interestingly, the VP of design at General Motors in the 1950s had the foresight that women would use cars just as much as men. So, he assembled a 10-member design team of women, which he regrettably dubbed “The Damsels of Design,” to give GM a more “feminine touch.” Damsels they are no longer, though; These women are now historically known as the first prominent American all-female design team.

WOMAN TO WATCH: Pam Fletcher, Executive Chief Engineer of Autonomous and Electrified Vehicles and New Technology at General Motors

Despite making strides, women are still outnumbered in the automobile industry. They accounted for 15 percent of the engineer workforce in 2013, and one of those women is today’s Woman to Watch, Pam Fletcher. That pitiful percentage has stayed with Pam during her ascent to executive chief engineer of autonomous and electrified vehicles and new technology at General Motors.

While it’s harder than a cylinder head to gain the status of female engineer, it’s even tougher to climb the leadership ranks. But Pam has put in her dues, and it all started when she was a kid. She grew up watching her dad race cars, and he never made her feel like being a girl was a disadvantage in the auto biz. As her father taught her the ins and outs of automobiles, Pam’s knowledge grew, along with her confidence.

When Pam went to college, she formed a tight-knit girl gang of engineering students, some who are also high up in the auto industry. As this executive chief engineer looks back on instances that would or could have shaped her career, she mentions networking. While working diligently helped Pam’s career, she realizes now that nurturing a network is just as crucial.

Now that she’s risen to the top, Pam has seen beyond the nuts and bolts of the auto industry and into what it heavily relies on: technology. She and her team at GM are on a mission to reduce auto emissions to zero, crashes to zilch and congestion to nada—not exactly the easiest tasks. Pam recognizes a more eco-friendly auto world won’t happen overnight, but her mission is detailed.

Part of her major mission is to launch at least 20 electric vehicles by the year 2023. Alongside her team, Pam has already overseen one of GM’s most eco-friendly vehicles: the Chevy Bolt EV. That car was the auto industry’s first long-range affordable electric car for the mass market. We can only expect to see more from her in the upcoming years.

Shattering glass ceilings and taking your seat as a woman in leadership is a tough feat these days, but women in leadership roles have grown over 28 percent in the past 40 years! Learn more about how you can rise to the top and be a great leader in your industry by heading over to!


When Pam Fletcher looks back at an unprecedented career, she recalls the best advice she’s received:

“Take the risk and do what you love. ... Opportunities might not come again, so seize them.”

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