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WOMEN OF COLOR AWARD WINNERS


2014


2014 Technologist of the Year A RAPID CLIMB FOR ONE WITH A TRULY RESTLESS MIND


Alicia Boler-Davis By Garland Thompson


ews reports on the drive of Alicia Boler-Davis to the executive suite at iconic American automaker General Motors focus on her role as a maker of history. As Ebony magazine put it last year in a feature describing Boler-Davis, who had just won a Black Engineer of the Year Award for Career Achievement, “Making it in the auto industry is a tough climb for any executive, but when you’re Black and female, it’s doubly so. Which is why the success of [Davis], senior vice president of global quality and global customer experience, is so inspiring.”


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But there is so much more to say here. It really is time for Americans to give up exulting over the achievement of a single Black American — or any other individual woman of color, that matter — in reaching high rank in the technology enterprise. It is long past time we recognize that, in tracing the arc of a climb like that of Alicia Boler- Davis, the picture that emerges shows that she and all the other women of color working in technology are rapidly changing the face — some might even say the heart — of American business.


Weight of numbers


Look at the numbers: A 2010 National Science Foundation report on “scientists and engineers working in science and engineering” counted 108,000 Black women, 84,000 Hispanic women, and 271,000 Asian women working in technology. Many observers, focused on percentages rather than the actual impact of those numbers, decry the small share of the engineering workforce that represents, compared to the nearly 2.8 million white male engineers out there.


But look again. Those 463,000 women make up a talent pool twice as big as the entire cohort of uniformed officers and enlisted warriors in the U.S. Marine Corps, and 10 times the number of personnel in the U.S. Coast Guard. And no one ever underestimates the impact those warriors have on the security of the United States or, in particular, the behavior of America’s competitors on the world stage.


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So it is also true for the women of color in American industry. The impact of their achievements in reshaping the product lines, re-making management perspectives as they go, and sharpening the focus on quality in corporations that compete head-to-head against competitors all across the globe cannot be understated, and should never, ever be underestimated.


Jumping off at the start That said, let’s look closely at senior “veep” Davis’ career, exemplar that it is of the performance of women who are writing new chapters in the history of American industry.


Born in Detroit, Michigan, where as she says, “the auto industry was everywhere,” Davis, who describes herself as “always passionate about cars” as a youngster, got a chance to see automobiles being made when as a high schooler, she took a tour in a GM plant. Her father had worked for the automaker for part of his own career, and it might even be said that young Alicia Boler-Davis, passionate about cars herself, was stamped with GM’s brand on that tour.


Education came first, but manufacturing was never far from her mind. At Northwestern University, she majored in chemical engineering, and after her 1991 graduation Boler-Davis joined pharmaceutical giant Upjohn as a manufacturing engineer in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Moving up, she joined Frito-Lay as a project engineer.


WOMENOFCOLOR | FALL 2014 25


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