2020 Honoree

Michelle Christensen

Senior Manager of Design at Nissan Motor Corporation

“…At an early age, girls need to see that they don’t have to fall in line on a predetermined path. We can encourage them to question things, to think for themselves, and if they don’t see the future they want out there, to take the reins and create it…”

What in your opinion are the qualities of a power woman?

A Power Woman creates her own future. She is passionate, resilient, thick-skinned.

Do you believe that there is any gender-specific role for women to play in the Covid-19 pandemic?

Considering that the majority of infected front line health care professionals are women, their role is being taxed and tested more than ever. I am overwhelmed with respect for all the caregivers and healthcare professionals and volunteers, and most of all mothers who are doing it all at the same time.

Do you believe the response to the Covid-19 pandemic highlights and emphasizes the natural resilience of women?

Every day on this earth, I am reminded of the natural resilience of women!

With all the different issues one could focus on, how do you balance your efforts in pursuit of gender equality? Is it a global approach or a specific issue that you are passionate about?

STEAM education and mentoring young women is a focus for me. When one of my first projects was made public, I received letters from young girls who were inspired by what I had accomplished. It brought tears to my eyes, and I was blown away. I never imagined it would have such an impact on young girls. Because of this, I think of those girls every single time I make a leadership decision. More than ever, I do this just as much for me as I do for the future generation of women leaders.

What do you think is the number one action we as a society can take toward empowering women and gender equality?

The number one action we can take is to lead by example. We need to show the future generation that they have the power to take charge of their own futures. At an early age, girls need to see that they don’t have to fall in line on a predetermined path. We can encourage them to question things, to think for themselves, and if they don’t see the future they want out there, to take the reins and create it. We can aim to inspire fearlessness in younger generations of women so they have the courage and the desire to be entrepreneurs and leaders of the future. And boys. It’s just as important for young boys to grow up with strong female role models. They grow up to be supportive and open-minded men. In addition, I believe there needs to be more investment in women-owned businesses and entrepreneurial endeavors, by women in VC.

Can you tell us a short story in which you encountered a block due to your gender?

Working in a male-dominated industry, there are obviously a lot of challenges and daily struggles. But any noise created by those obstacles has been greatly overshadowed by the courageous and progressive group of leaders and cohorts I’ve worked with. If the choice is there, I believe in choosing to work for companies that have that built into their culture.

Do you think that asking previous salary requirements in job interviews contributes to the pay gap between women and men? Should we push for a nationwide ban?

That sometimes plays a role in the pay gap unfortunately, but a ban may only mask a deeper issue that affects many marginalized groups. If a potential employer is asking your previous salary, it may be a great tool to quickly rule out a regressive company. If they are asking, they clearly don’t understand your value, and in doing so are exposing deeper corporate culture flaws, and you can move forward with confidence to a better employer that has a more progressive vision and leadership.

There are many studies that support the idea that a female presence in the boardroom increases the bottom line and leads to healthier work environments. What can we do to continue to support and enhance the growth and presence of women in high profile positions

The boardroom of the future will have to be diverse in order to survive. It’s critical for high profile and leadership positions to reflect the values and dreams of their customers. Companies that don’t embrace diversity will eventually lose relevancy and customers.

Was there a defining moment or experience in your life that led you to where you are today?

The first time someone asked me “Why are you a woman in car design?” At the time I was still in college, frequently the only female in my class. I remember thinking even back then: “Why am I getting this question in 2003!?” Both my parents have always been so supportive, and growing up attending car shows and tinkering in the garage with my family, there was never a discussion of general gender biases, and so I never concerned myself with it. For it to now be such a seemingly preposterous idea to everyone else, took me completely by surprise. It was at that moment I realized I needed to focus on proving my value as a designer and a leader, to encourage more women to engage in this industry, and ensure that questions like that are someday a thing of the past.

Have you seen changes in the political landscape for women over the past few years?

There have been changes but progress seems to be coming at a glacial pace.

Is “Education, education and education” one of the top three responsibilities of a civilized society? If so, why is it prohibitively expensive? If not why not?

I do think education is one of the most important responsibilities. It’s the best way to expose opportunities to young generations and provide options, perspective, inspire big ideas, and push society ahead.

If you could have someone else’s job for a day, who and what would it be?

I’d love to know what it’s like to have Lewis Hamilton’s job for a day, and experience the insanity of driving an F1 car on race day.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

When you feel lost, always go back to your roots.” During those times my husband always reminds me to look back at the reason behind what I’m doing. Why am I here? Why did I start this? Every time I feel lost and overwhelmed, this helps me refocus my energy and keep going.

What is your favorite book?

Any of John Muir’s nature writings.

What do you most value in friendship?

Passion. When I think of the common thread of my favorite people, it is their passion for what they believe in that I admire and value most. Passion is the driver of change, big ideas, and relationships, and the passion my loved ones possess inspires me daily.

What trait are you most uncomfortable about in yourself and in others?

I’m over analytical, which makes me second guess myself way too often.

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