Jody Kelman, 37
Director of Product and Program Management, Self-Driving Platform, Lyft
Location: San Francisco
Education: B.A., social studies, Harvard University; M.A., international relations and affairs, University of Sydney
What drew you to the auto industry? I’d been looking for a place that combines means and ends — where I both loved what I was trying to achieve and also loved how we got there. So I came to Lyft because I really think our mission is to improve people’s lives with the world’s best transportation.
First automotive job: I started at Lyft in 2015 as director of product.
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Big break: The first was in 2008 when McKinsey pulled together a team to work on the 2008 Obama transition. I had this background in public-private partnerships, but I was a month into my job here. For some reason, I got selected. Like a lot of women, I suffered from some version of impostor syndrome, and we spend far too much time asking ourselves whether we have a right to be there. That gave me a sense of “I’ve got a right to play.”
What is the major challenge you’ve faced in your career? That little impostor voice is always going to be there. One of the big challenges has been becoming comfortable with the fact that’s OK. If you don’t feel in over your head 40 to 50 percent of the time, you’re not being challenged enough. So the little impostor on my shoulder, she’s gotten me this far. The other one is that consistently, I’ve been a woman in a man’s world. As much as we are trying to bring more women into our organizations, and Lyft is very much on the forefront of that, there are still too many meetings where I am the only female voice in the room.
You’ve been in the industry five years. What has been the most important change you’ve seen? The events of the last year have forced a much more active dialogue about how we get more women and people of color into all the rooms we’re in. It’s a much more open conversation. I’d say there had been gradual progress, and then a step change in the last year.
What work achievement are you most proud of? Watching our very first self-driving ride, with nuTonomy in Boston. There was a particular sort of joy in that for me, because I grew up in Boston. I got to put both my mom and her best friend into one of the cars, and I got this incredibly joyful text from them afterward, saying, “This is the best thing. I can’t believe I got to do this before I die.” That was a once-in-a-lifetime moment.
What have you learned from the COVID-19 crisis? One of the joys of COVID for me — to the extent that’s a phrase one can naturally say — is that we’re much better being our whole selves with our teams and role modeling that some days are hard. I did an awkward and vulnerable role model with my team once where I basically said, “Hey, I told you guys I had a conflict this afternoon and had to cancel a bunch of meetings. I was really just burnt out and needed to get some sunshine.” So this idea of being a vulnerable leader is something that’s allowed me to grow as an executive.
What should be done to encourage women to enter the auto industry? It’s very much a pipeline problem. The single biggest generic thing we can do is invest in STEM education. The critical turning point is fifth grade. The more we are encouraging girls along that STEM path, the more I think we’ll be able to build that long-term vision. The other thing is Lyft has started a sponsorship program. I see our jobs as leaders within the auto-tech industry is to look at younger women and say, “You’re 100 percent qualified for this, and I’m going to make sure you take this step.”
Tell us about your family. It’s me and my amazing partner, Dave, and a complete absence of pets. Neither of us is a pet person! On the serious side, as a 37-year-old woman, I would love to have kids. I anticipate that being part of my life at some point. It’s something a lot of women at this stage of our careers are really thinking about that. We didn’t have kids on the earlier side, and now we are thinking about how we do that.
What’s your favorite weekend activity? In non-COVID times, it’s definitely city walking. I pick a neighborhood that I want to conquer and do a long, long hike through the city where the goal is to explore some place where I haven’t been.
If there were 25 hours in a day, how would you spend your extra hour? I would definitely spend it reading novels. I am an overgrown bookworm.
— Pete Bigelow