March is Women’s History Month and offers an opportunity to look at the progress women have made in the automotive industry and the challenges that remain. We asked four leading women from Volkswagen of America to share their insights about breaking into a male-dominated industry, their role models, and where they want to take their careers in the future.
How would you describe your role and responsibilities at Volkswagen?
Shani Jayant, Principal UX designer, Innovation and Engineering Center California: I lead the Inclusive Mobility initiative from the Silicon Valley IECC campus. Our mission is to help design vehicles and services that can improve transportation and the quality of life for everyone, especially people with disabilities. We do this by working closely with disability communities from the start, so we can inform the future design of accessible self-driving electric vehicles that will come out years down the road.
Ellen Collins, Laboratory Evaluation Specialist, Volkswagen Chattanooga Assembly Plant: I primarily test, evaluate and release components according to material specs for vehicle parts for production, and field and factory issues. This year will mark my 10th year at Volkswagen.
Megan Closset, Product Manager, Volkswagen HQ: I am the product planner for what is arguably our most impassioned group of vehicles – the Golf family. I have the opportunity to connect with our most enthusiastic customers on a personal level. As a lifelong Volkswagen fan, and employee since 2005, I’ve always gone to enthusiast events as a customer first, employee second. I consider everyone who has a Volkswagen an extended family member or friend, especially on the enthusiast side.
Dawn Dameron, Senior Manager of Customer Care, Auburn Hills Corporate Office: My role is to inspire my team to deliver experiences that leave our customers, dealers and prospective customers feeling great about the brand and our products. I would argue I have the coolest job in the company. I have an immediate opportunity to really impact the way a customer or shopper views the brand. I absolutely love what I do and feel fortunate to work with such a dedicated group of people.
What do you enjoy most about what you do at Volkswagen?
Closset: I love the teamwork and camaraderie at Volkswagen. My workgroup has become my friend group. I love the people I work and interact with, and it’s not just the people on my team—it’s everyone. My favorite car aspect of the job is … the cars! I love the cars! Whether it’s driving, sharing them with customers and advocates, or welcoming someone new into the Volkswagen family, it’s really cool and rewarding.
Collins: I enjoy working with individuals who are from diverse backgrounds. It has been motivating, as well as interesting, working with such awesome associates.
Jayant: I enjoy the people! My teammates have been such great influences on me and my work ethic. Also, working with the disability community has taught me a lot about what it means to be an ally, and what it means to live out diversity and inclusion instead of just saying the words. I hope that diversity truly becomes a bigger part of Volkswagen, especially around hiring practices.
What advice would you give to other women trying to break into the automotive industry?
Dameron: Be genuine, sincere, and take stand for what you believe in – this will gain you the trust and respect needed to be successful. The simple things can go a long way.
Collins: It’s your choices that show who you truly are, not your abilities. Be courageous and brave. Take bold steps, and never forget to enjoy the journey.
Jayant: While it’s great to be a car geek, you can also enter the automotive industry other ways! I knew nothing about cars but joined my group because of my past work with multimodal interactions and working with the disability community for many years.
Closset: If you are confident, study your craft and know you’re an equal, you will succeed. Also, having dealership experience, whether you’re male or female, is very valuable. My experience there gave me the motivation to be a sales trainer and later a product trainer. I would also recommend finding a mentor.
What woman inspires you and why?
Collins: Emily Dickenson. She is one of my favorite poets. There is a verse from her poem, “We never know how high we are,” that has moved me to overcome the fear of failure.
Closset: My first boss, Laura McKelvey, remains one of the most powerful forces in my life – as a boss, as a mentor, as a business inspiration, and as a friend. She’s been with the company for 36 years and has helped me chart my course at Volkswagen. I would also say my mom. She worked full-time, but never missed an important milestone or opportunity to encourage me to do – and be – my best.
Jayant: I’m inspired by disability activist Alice Wong, who founded the Disability Visibility Project. She has done an amazing job helping to bring disability policy issues to the forefront in this year’s presidential primary elections.
Dameron: Human rights activist Malala Yousafzai. For those of you that are not familiar with her story, Yousafzai was shot by a Taliban gunman when she was 15 and went on to win the Noble Peace Prize. I am absolutely in awe of her courage and relentless drive to make the world a better place – even under terrifying circumstances. Her story was tragic, but she used it as an opportunity to make a difference and change the world around her.