FORT MILL, S.C.—From her early childhood, Quiana Kee had an interest in engineering.
And her parents fostered that interest by making sure she had exposure to minority engineering programs, realizing there were not a lot of Black people entering the field.
While many childhood dreams evolve as children grow into adults, that wasn't the case with Kee. Currently the quality director for the Americas region within Continental's tire business, she followed up on those early career aspirations by majoring in electrical engineering.
As she entered the University of Pittsburgh—a predominantly white school—Kee followed her parents' early guidance and was part of the institution's Minority Engineering Program. That brought her the support system she said was key to her success in college.
Kee was active in the National Society of Black Engineers during college as well, which she called one of the largest student-run organizations in the nation. Its annual conference included a career fair that attracted industries that are "intentional about diversity and nurturing black talent," she said. "They are interviewing and giving job offers on the spot, so they are going to be making that investment into Black engineering talent."
That was Kee's entry point into the automotive industry, as she was hired by Motorola to work in telematics. She joined Continental when it purchased Motorola's automotive division and spent nearly 20 years in the unit, going from electronics into positions in product management and business development before jumping over to the tire business in October 2020.
She said she is bringing all the experience she gained in those posts on the automotive side and putting that into use in the tire organization, which she still views as the flagship unit for Conti.
Support system a necessity
Just as she credits her college networking organizations in helping to establish a level of comfort in the work environments at Motorola and then Continental, Kee said it was important for her to have a similar support system as she became a professional.
"Even in my career, I didn't have a whole lot of Black co-workers, and didn't see a lot of Black executives either," she said.
During her 20-year career, she has had two Black bosses, one an executive who became a mentor to her. "Having that support network matters, no matter who you are," Kee said. "You have to have a support network available to you so you don't feel alone."
The Continental Women's Network is one of the strongest employee resource groups at the company, and it has been a huge help to Kee. Members discuss issues specific to women, have the opportunity for professional development and talk about the challenges they face as women in a male-dominated industry.
Kee said she has faced several challenges being both female and Black. Once she was mistaken for a secretary while traveling outside the country, while later in her career—after she had become an executive—a fellow male exec asked her to take notes during a meeting they were going into with other executives. She told the male that surely there was someone else he could ask to take notes. She shared the response with those in the Conti Women's Network, and others said they would have done the same thing.
"The other challenge is just being underestimated, both for being a female and being a Black female," Kee said.
The best way to overcome such challenges, she said, is being comfortable in who you are. "One thing that helps with this is making sure you have a network that reinforces who you are and supports you in that way," she said. "It is understanding what I bring to the table, and being confident with that. And making sure I speak up and advocate for myself in a proper, professional way."