AutomotiveWoman Wednesday

We profile women who have achieved success in automotive and motorsports with integrity, passion and sheer determination. These women define the term AutomotiveWoman.

We are automotive leaders.
We are motorsport professionals.
We are women inspiring the next generation.

fastlane

Who Am I: Kendra Blocker
Company: General Motors
Current Position: Occupant Protection System Engineer – Roof Rail Airbags
Years at Current Position: 3.5 years
Location: Warren, Michigan, USA

BIO

I have been an automotive engineer for over 20 years. In my current role I oversee the deployment of airbags from the top of all GM vehicles. I have a rewarding career working on exciting vehicles while staying focused on the safety of customers.  Learn more: https://www.gm.com

Career

Describe a typical day at work.

At the core of the work I do every day is a focus on customer safety. I do not have a typical daily schedule; it highly depends on what meetings I have on the calendar, and which project requires the most attention that day.  Recently, I have mostly been working from home in accordance with GM’s new “Work Appropriately” policy in this pandemic. I work on integrating our system requirements, best practices and lessons learned into the GM products to continuously keep our customers safe. 

Describe a current job-related responsibility which keeps you on your toes, daily.  

I’m a mechanical engineer, working on a project that is mainly electrical driven.  I find myself going back to a few of my textbooks to remember how V=IR works.  Plus, the project is tied to warranty which is directly affecting our customers.  I call meetings with many team members to learn the system and find potential issues.  Then we work through various problem-solving techniques to get to the root cause. It’s very dynamic.  I still feel like I am learning something new every day and I see that as great thing.

As a woman, tell us the most challenging hurdle you’ve had to overcome while climbing the professional ladder? 

As a member of the professional STEM community, I was often the only woman in the room. This happened regularly throughout my career, and at a variety of levels as I moved up the corporate ladder. In the beginning I had to give myself a pep talk to be confident – I am just as smart, I put forward the same effort, I have the same degree as everyone else there. Now, 20 years later, the diversity of the technical workforce has changed and continues to change, and I still have meetings where I am the only female. The difference is, I have the confidence to not let that intimidate me any longer. If I were to give advice to young women in STEM, I would say not to be intimidated by being the only female in the room.  

When met with discouragement, how do stay focused and/or prevail?

There is always an answer or solution – engineers are trained to be innovators and good problem solvers.  I am very thorough, so I will take the time to figure out how things work.  I will take something apart, work through the problem, find a new solution, and put it back together.  Plus, there are many hands to help make the task easier, you must not be afraid to ask for help.  We all want to prevail.

Being assertive is considered an asset in business.  As a woman, how do you balance the need to be your own champion with the stigma associated with the term, when it’s applied to women?

I learned I need to be confident in myself and not crossover to arrogance.  I think it is vitally important to build relationships with my colleagues. A team that gets along and likes each other is good for business.  Then I can just let my knowledge, actions, work ethic, and overall confidence speak for my character.  I feel I can show everyone I am a champion without telling them I am a champion.  

Someone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new. What was your one BIG professional mistake, and what did you learn?

One of my previous roles was in an advance vehicle design area.  I was working on my portion of the design and I intended to save this into the baseline vehicle folder on the group drive. The process also dictated that I copy the same design to another vehicle variation folder.  Instead of copying my specific design, I somehow grabbed the whole baseline vehicle folder and managed to move it into the vehicle variation folder.  I didn’t know I did it and proceeded about my day.  

The Team Lead panicked that afternoon because he could not find the baseline vehicle design folder.  This search proceeded for three days, which was lost design time.  When the Team Lead finally found the folder, my identity was associated with the last change of moving it.  Thankfully he was not too angry, but we did learn we needed to take better measures to protect our data.  Plus, we needed to make sure no one could move folders around and disrupt the design process.

Career defining moment, to-date. 

I am proud to say I’ve had many successful stories throughout my career.  However, I feel the moment that defined my professional experience occurred when I left a management position to switch companies’ mid-career.  Though the role I was in offered stability, I was seeking a role that better fit my personal and professional needs, and I knew GM would meet those needs. The transition was formative because it required me to step outside of my comfort zone: I had to have the confidence in myself to basically start over. I needed to build new networks, learn new terminology, understand a new process, display my technical and leadership skills and still find a way to thrive!

Ultimately, the experience at GM was worth the discomfort of stepping outside of my comfort zone. I’m proud of the courage I displayed despite uncertainty, and I’ve taken many lessons from that experience into other parts of my professional journey.

Words of wisdom you received from a mentor; you’d like to pay forward?

Early in my career I was lucky to have a very strong female mentor that was a director in engineering.  At the time I didn’t have children yet, but I wanted to in the future.  She told me to find a way to make your work and home life balance – it is possible to have a family, career, and be happy.  She said don’t be afraid to do whatever it takes to keep you balanced – whether it is dry cleaning your laundry, weekly food prep on Sundays, paying for house cleaning, or being brave enough to find the right career role to suit your needs.   For example, she was a third shift supervisor when her kids were in school so that she was home when they were awake. 

As I have progressed through my career, I have used her advice in many ways, and it has served me well. I’m thrilled to use this platform to pass it on to other women pursuing careers in STEM and Automotive. 

If you switched career paths tomorrow, what would you do?  

I honestly don’t know. I focused on Engineering during my sophomore year in high school due to the influence of some great people, and I have never looked back. I’ve found much fulfillment in my career as an Engineer, and I couldn’t see myself doing anything else. 

What piece of advice would you share with women keen to follow in your footsteps?  

Find a good mentor and learn from them.  Ask them tough questions, listen to their experience, and be open to their criticism and encouragement.  I feel this is important, so I make sure to take the time to mentor younger female engineers that are just getting started.  

Where do you see yourself in 5, 10 years from now? 

Still working at GM, doing what I love, working on Safety for our customers.

Famous words or motto you live by:

KISS – Keep It Simple Silly. People tend to complicate things, just keep it simple and the answer may be easier to find than you think!

Fill in the blank:

I came. I saw. I had to try it out! 

ME UNFILTERED  

Morning person, or night owl?

Night Owl

Favorite workout, or best way to blow off steam?

I love playing with my kids and taking my giant brown Newfie puppy (she’s not a bear) to the dog park.

What’s on your music playlist at the moment? 

I let me kids create a playlist and let them DJ in the car, so I have a mixture of everything – Florida Georgia Line, AJR, Jonas Brothers, Post Malone, System of a Down, Neil Diamond, Katy Perry, Old Dominion, the list goes on.

Netflix & chill or a good book?

I always love a good book, but if my hubby is home we like to hang out and watch Netflix.

Hobbies outside of work?

You mean when I’m not being a personal Lyft for my 2 children and their activities? I like to go camping, usually on a lake in Northern Michigan.

Best motorsport documentary or movie of all time. Days of Thunder. Rush. Ford vs Ferrari. Other?

I do love the Fast and Furious franchise.  I also really enjoyed Ford vs. Ferrari.

Name a hidden talent? 

I really can’t think of a hidden talent, but I can tell you about my lack of talent.  My whole family can whistle – husband, kids, brother, sister, parents, everyone… and somehow, I can’t! 

If you won the lottery, what’s the first extravagant gift you’d purchase yourself? 

I would go seek out my favorite classic Corvette’s and buy them on the spot. –  A 1950s Corvette Convertible and a 1960s Corvette Stingray, with split rear window!

Most embarrassing moment? 

I was giving a presentation to the dealership service industry personnel on components for a new vehicle.  I had a non-working passenger airbag in my hands, and I was showing the audience where to connect the wires on the bottom of the airbag.  When I flipped the airbag over to show them the bottom, I lost control of it and hit myself in the mouth. I broke off part of my front tooth!!  Mortified, I still had to finish my presentation and then promptly went to go see the dentist!!

Name a pet peeve: 

Trying to have a conversation with a know-it-all or a one-upper.  I don’t enjoy telling a story and having a person interrupt me every few minutes to correct me or tell me something better.  

Celebrity Crush:

Vin Diesel (I did say I liked the Fast and Furious Franchise!)

Name someone famous who would play you in a movie: 

Sheryl Crow.

If you could invite only three people to dinner, who would they be and what topic would you discuss?

My dad and my two grandmothers because I miss them.  I’m sure we would talk about all the things going on in the family. 

Charities or Causes you support: 

Juvenile Diabetes Foundation and American Diabetes Association 

How do we connect with you online?

You can find me on LinkedIn here: linkedin.com/in/kendra-blocker-8054845

Approved GM Hashtag: #IWorkForGM