Julie Kleinert General Motors North American Child Safety Technical Lead>

Julie Kleinert’s role at General Motors as the North American Child Safety Technical Lead for the 2012 Chevrolet Malibu may not be externally visible, but it is one of the most important positions at the company. Her job – in simple terms – is to help protect children. Kleinert’s 27-year engineering career, a vast knowledge of vehicle safety integration, and a mother’s intuition all help to contribute to the safety and protection of children in GM vehicles around the country

Kleinert is GM’s child safety technical lead for North America and she specializes in vehicle restraint system performance with children, child safety seat accommodation, and advanced technologies related to child safety. She’s been in this role since 2008 and most recently has worked on the all-new 2013 Chevrolet Malibu

“Every day I know I’m making decisions that could affect a child’s safety in our vehicles,” explains Kleinert. ”I spend countless hours evaluating the technologies that are designed to protect our young people. As a mother and grandmother, my family is my highest priority, and the safety and wellbeing of my kids and grandkids is always on my mind. I love that in my job, my number one focus is to help keep children safe in our vehicles, such as the new Chevy Malibu”.

Kleinert began her career in vehicle durability at GM in 1984. During her career, Kleinert has authored three technical papers, has submitted one industry-first patent for a safety technology which is now under review, and has received a GM award for proposing a $1 million cost-savings plan to commonize hardware across programs. Prior to current role, Kleinert was a GM safety performance and occupant protection engineer, where she focused on the development of restraint systems designed to protect occupants in frontal crashes.

Kleinert’s dedication to child passenger safety extends beyond the workplace as she also volunteers in the community to help educate families and caregivers about proper car seat installation. She also works with the Safe Kids USA “Buckle Up” educational programs to teach about safety precautions in and around vehicles.

Kleinert earned a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from Cornell University in 1984. As part of a General Motors initiative, she also participated in the University of Michigan’s UMPIRE Fellowship research program in 2007. As part of this program, she learned about the other side of car accidents – the real-life injuries that occur in the field. This included working with a trauma surgeon, observing surgeries, dissecting a cadaver to better understand human anatomy and the injuries that occur in vehicle crashes, and learning how to use extrication equipment used at vehicle crash scenes. She’s also co-authored two technical papers which compared real world crash conditions and injuries to the vehicle crash tests conducted by vehicle manufacturers.

Kleinert is married and has four adult children and two grandchildren. She and her husband live in Fenton, Mich., where she enjoys spending time with her grandchildren, playing tennis, learning to play golf and gardening.

HerHighway’s Editor in Chief Christina Selter interviewed Julie regarding how the automotive industry is perfect for women. The video is coming soon, but for now enjoy some of the Q&A below.

Who have you mentored and did someone mentor you in this industry to help you get started?
I have had several mentors during my career – both men and women. I am grateful to the mentors that were most direct with me and gave me honest feedback and guidance along the way.

I have unofficially mentored many young engineers and interns – I really enjoy working with younger engineers, not only providing my technical guidance, but also sharing my personal perspective on career paths and how to balance work and family.

As a woman what features are your favorites in a car?
There are many features I want in my vehicles. As a safety engineer, the first thing I look for is safety features (restraint technologies such as Side Curtain Airbags, crash avoidance technologies, and backup cameras and sensors). I also enjoy comfort and convenience features such as heated seats, keyless entry/ignition, OnStar, and Bluetooth hands free calling.

Why does the auto industry seem like a difficult environment for females?
I have been in the automotive industry for 27 years – I’ve never really felt it was a difficult environment for females. I will say that there is more flexibility for working moms today than when I started – there is more opportunity to have a flexible schedule or to work part-time, and today’s technology makes it much easier to work from home. These are improvements that weren’t available to me when my children were young, and as a result of these, I believe that fewer women are leaving the industry when they have children.

Why did you want to work in the auto industry?
The automotive industry was appealing to me because it offered many diverse engineering opportunities within one company.

First automotive job?
I started to work at GM when I graduated from Cornell University. I was in a College Graduate In Training program aimed at new engineers without previous automotive experience. The program provided an 18 month rotation in various assignments within the organization. What I loved about it was that I was able to experience many different engineering roles within both product engineering and manufacturing. It allowed me to discover what types of engineering assignments I would want to pursue and which ones I would not want to pursue. It also helped me to get a better sense of the overall organization and how the different departments work together.

Proudest professional achievement?
Completing an UMPIRE research fellowship at the University of Michigan. During this fellowship, I studied the other side of vehicle crashes – the real-life injuries that happen in the field. I worked in collaboration with trauma surgeons, crash investigators, biomechanic researchers, and other automotive engineers to conduct in depth research on the injuries that occur in vehicle crashes. This included working with surgeons on cadavers and observing surgeries to better understand injury mechanisms; participating in crash reconstructions; learning how to use extrication equipment used by emergency responders; and co-authoring two technical papers that compared real world crash conditions and injuries to the vehicle crash tests conducted by vehicle manufacturers.

Current challenge at work?
The biggest challenge for me has always been balancing work and family. With four children, two grandchildren, and a challenging workload, there never seems to be enough hours in the day to get everything done. The technology that makes it easier to stay connected when we’re not at work can also blur the lines between work and family time if you are not disciplined about putting away the laptop and Blackberry and prioritizing time with the family.

Dream job?
My current job comes pretty close! In my current role in Child Passenger Safety I get to do a variety of work that I enjoy – including evaluating occupant performance in restraint system testing, evaluating and developing new technologies, being involved in research projects to help advance child injury prevention in vehicles, sharing GM safety information by presenting in outside forums, and working in the field with families at Safe Kids USA’s “Buckle Up” events to help educate parents and caregivers about how to help keep their kids safe in and around vehicles. It’s very rewarding to know that what I do helps to keep children safer.

What sports or activities did you enjoy in school or/and currently?
When I was in school I enjoyed gymnastics, swimming, cycling, and skiing. Currently I enjoy playing tennis, skiing, and I am learning to play golf. I also enjoy cooking and experimenting with new recipes.

What you do to relax?
I love to read books to relax – just about anything – fiction, history, biographies, mysteries, science, and medical. I also love to garden – for me it is very relaxing to go out and get my hands dirty in the garden.