I’m a Black Woman in the Automotive Industry — Here’s How I’ve Succeeded in My Career

Sponsored by Continental

Photo Courtesy of Continental.

Photo Courtesy of Continental.

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May 21, 2024 at 11:10AM UTC

Quiana Kee has been interested in the automotive industry since she was a teenager. That interest has led her into a successful 20-year career with Continental. The global company is well-known for its tire business. But as Quiana recently told us: “People should know that within their vehicle there’s probably at least one thing, other than tires, that’s made by Continental.”

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Quiana has taken on a new position as Quality Director for the Americas region within the Tires Business Area. She also moved to South Carolina from the Chicago area for the role. She recently spoke with Fairygodboss about her career path, what keeps her at the company and the added challenges of starting a new job in a new location during a pandemic.

How long have you been in your current role at Continental, and what were you doing previously?

In October 2020, I started as Quality Director for the Americas within the Tires Business Area, but I’ve been with the company for about 20 years. I started out with Motorola in their automotive division and then Continental acquired that division. Within the company, I’ve held positions in engineering, project management, business development, and quality. All of my previous roles centered around automotive electronics, so my new role with a quality focus on tires is a new and welcome challenge. My most recent role was within Continental Automotive as the Head of Process Management & Quality Excellence. 

You’ve been with Continental for nearly 20 years? What keeps you at the company?

My reasons for staying have evolved over time. What really brought me to automotive was that I’ve always been interested in mobility, in cars and transportation. I can even link back to my high school and college senior projects that were both focused on transportation. I’ve stayed with the company because of the people, the technology, and how global we are. I've met fantastic people from all walks of life, from all different cultures. Also, the flexible work options have become more important in recent years as I juggle my primary jobs as a wife and a mother of two kids. 

Before 2020, was there a lot of flexibility in terms of flexible hours and remote working? Was that part of the corporate culture?

Yes, part of the reason it’s included in the culture is because we are so global. You may shift your work schedule to take some calls with Asia at night or to be on calls with Germany in the morning. Continental provides flexibility so you can do your job to the best of your ability. That’s always been the culture from my experience. 

What’s the first and last thing you do at work every day? 

The first thing that I typically do is pray. Just a quick prayer to get my mind and my spirit prepared to serve, lead, and face whatever challenges the day may bring. In my prayer time, I focus on how I can serve the people that work for me, and that I work for. 

The last thing I do is exhale! I also check my calendar at the end of the day just to see how early I have to wake up the next day. 

Why did you choose to change jobs? Was there something about the job?

I was already in quality, and I would get job descriptions floated my way occasionally as different opportunities became available. When this one came, I said: “Oh, this is in quality so I’m familiar with that, but it’s a different part of the company.” All this time with Continental and I had never worked on the tire side. I had to relocate my family to South Carolina. In my new role, I now work outside of electronics. I’m an Electrical Engineer by degree and that's how I started my career in the company, so now I’m doing something completely different with tires. It was the new product, it was a new part of the business, it was a new part of the country to be in, and it was also an opportunity to be closer to our families in Maryland. 

There was a lot going on this summer. Moving here in the pandemic was a challenge. I was watching what was happening in the country with the social and racial unrest. I started meeting more people within the company; Black colleagues in the company, Black colleagues on the tire side. So, all these different things were converging in my life to get to the point of taking the job offer and moving and having my family here, and started to build a new network. 

How does Continental support and empower its female employees in the workplace, particularly its female employees of color?

I would say the way that Continental empowers female employees would be flexibility. Because we are mothers, we are wives, we are caregivers – we wear many hats which require a lot of our time in addition to our commitment to Continental. I’m sure flexibility helps the men as well, but for us it’s so critical. The Continental Women’s Network helps as well — having that type of network available on site so you can gather together, share your experiences, have panel discussions and engage in professional development. That has been fantastic.

Throughout the corporate arena, there is a gap, I would say, in supporting Black females. There is a gap in the definition of diversity. It’s more than a mix of genders or nationalities. But Continental is starting to make a change and I’ve been a part of that as well. There have been several company-led courageous conversations and round table discussions as a result of the killing of George Floyd. Our company leadership has taken intentional steps to listen to Black employees and to seek opportunities to improve the corporate environment. So, I appreciate that Continental is starting to do more to recognize the social injustice in this country and to acknowledge how it impacts us as Black employees. I definitely see a shift toward improvement in the areas of diversity and inclusion. I’m encouraged to be part of the change. 

What’s something you think most people (perhaps even current employees) don’t know about Continental that you think they should?

Our product portfolio is so vast! When you look at all the different business areas which make up Continental, you will see that we have our hands in everything related to mobility and your everyday driving experience.

What is your favorite perk about working at Continental?

The travel. I’ve seen different parts of the world that as a young girl I wouldn't have even thought about traveling to and places I did think about traveling to but didn’t know when I would get there. As a woman who travels for business, I’m often asked how my kids feel about my frequent travel. It’s true that they don’t always like when I travel so much.  However, it’s about the quality of the time that I spend with them, not the quantity. And also, I want to set an example for them to see the world and to experience things beyond their comfort zone without fear.

How has Continental adapted to life in the pandemic? 

I would say it has adapted well. Events or activities where you thought “oh, we can’t do that remotely, or we can’t do that virtually,” suddenly we are able to do so because we have to. Because we have no choice. For the trainings, conferences, and summits that we have in the different business areas, I see we are pivoting very well. We are getting resources to the facilitators so that they know how to execute these virtual sessions in the best way possible. 

At Continental, all employees share four fundamental corporate values: Trust, Passion To Win, Freedom To Act and For One Another. Which one of the four resonates in particular with you? 

“For One Another” is a big one for me because everyone needs help sometimes. Sometimes people are afraid to ask. I don’t really like it when someone says, “that’s not my job.” It may not be my job, but I will try to direct you to the person who is responsible for that. I do not claim to know everything or everyone, but if someone comes to me for help, I want to do whatever I can to support them and then I would expect the same for me. That’s been critical for me because I didn’t have a network coming into the tires business. But everyone has been so helpful and truly exhibiting that “For One Another” spirit.

What’s something you’re especially good at work?

Explaining complicated topics to different audiences. I think as employees and as women we underestimate the importance of good communication and strong presentation skills. We can have the best ideas in the world, but if we can’t communicate them to a general population or to different audiences, then it’s no good. It will never get the life it needs. Those ideas won’t get the attention they deserve. 

What about outside of work? What do you like to do?

My husband and I like to play pool or billiards. We also enjoy family game night and family movie night. Something to bring the family all together. 

What’s your No. 1 piece of advice for women who are looking for jobs right now?

Apply anyway! Even if you don’t meet every single one of the requirements. Apply for the position anyway if you have an interest in it, you feel it will challenge you, and you have something you can contribute to the position.

Even for me, in applying for this position, I didn’t have all the preferred requirements – specifically, a vast tires background. I met the required qualifications and some of the preferred. It was a stretch because it was a new business. But I said: “I can learn from this. I can contribute. I am coming to it from a different perspective.” 

What’s the most memorable piece of career advice you’ve received?

If you don’t ask, the answer will always be no. Whether that is in salary negotiations or you want someone to help you, but you don’t know if they have time, or if it’s a job that you are interested in. You limit your options and your potential when you don’t speak up for what you want or need.  I’ve grown in this area but it’s something I’m still working on, personally and professionally, to put into action. 


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