A Story of "Motivation" Among Us: Serpil Ulufer
In this interview of our Stories Among Us series, we hosted Serpil Ulufer, who switched from fieldwork to office work and followingly became our company's first woman atelier team leader. We talked about career, leadership. The result was a pleasant and motivating conversation in which we benefited from her profound experiences!
Hello Serpil, first of all, can we briefly get to know you for our readers?
I have been working at Ford Otosan since 2003. I started with the Production Planning Department. I worked in different positions in the same department. I can answer the question "How do we define me?" as follows:
I'm a very social person. Human relations is especially always my priority as a subject. Touching people, valuing people ... Both in my career journey and in my family life, I get my strength from my love for people. I am a mother of two children.
Our habits also changed with the pandemic these days. Being locked up at home, I started to spend more time with my family. Even though we can't go out, we cook together, have fun and socialise with each other.
As for my hobbies, I love to read books and follow movies and TV shows. I am interested in self-improvement books. Nowadays I lost myself in Gülseren Budayıcıoğlu's books. It may be due to the influence of popular media :)
How does it feel to work in an industry dominated by men's workforce?
It would be right to separate my feelings as before and after the gender equality discourse developed in the sector. When I started working in 2003, Ford Otosan had a limited number of female employees. The automotive sector was an environment that women were not used to. Likewise, the sector was not used to seeing women on the field. I can say that in the early days I had a problem of acceptance stemming from society, more precisely from the way we were brought up.
The things I mean by accepting are: sometimes being treated as if invisible, being ignored... Unfortunately, I did see such negativities, but as time passed, this situation improved. The world is developing rapidly, people believe more and more that they can solve problems through communication. This counts for every team, department and industry. The power of women has now been recognised. I'm not talking about any kind of superiority. As women, our point of view on events, speed of problem-solving and ability to see them from a broad perspective; I think these actually speeded us up to take part in the sector.
Thanks to the gender equality policies of our company, our number has increased a lot over time. As our number increased, habits and attitudes also changed; women were able to have a say at every stage. Production Planning, which I was a part of when I started working, is a department close to the field. Our team is known as Material Movements. We have a priority target to increase the number of our female employees to 10% in this department, which was 99% men at the time. The volume of male employees in the industry was a situation that had to be broken. In this field, I think we have come a long way with the support of our company. I believe that as time passes, the number of women will increase in the sector.
Could you explain a little more about your job description so that our readers can understand better?
Of course. In the Production Planning Material Movements section, I worked at all stages such as the organisation of the shipments related to the production, all the infrastructure required for the production, from goods acceptance to supply. Material Movements is a team that is completely affiliated to production, working more in the field. At first, I was an office worker what we define as delivery and acceptance. Later, as this process progressed, I became a leader in the relevant group of the team. I was a group leader for about 7-8 years. Later, I switched to the Material Supply Coordinator position. Finally, I became the atelier team leader. These transitions took place in a slow process, my competencies increased in the field I work in; I think I have risen by digesting slowly and gaining value.
You are the first woman atelier team leader in our company. What have you experienced in your career up to this point? What were the motivating forces in your story?
I am very people-oriented. In event that I experience; I approach the person that I communicate with empathy and by absorbing their thoughts. Sometimes I did encounter antipathetic approaches, in these situations I put myself in the other person's shoes and made analysis thinking: "If I were in his place, would my reaction be like this?".
Let's proceed with a very simple example; information needs to be collected when there is an equipment inventory control job in the field. For whatever reason, male employees were primarily preferred. Because you know that unfortunately there is a perception about men understanding better about equipment! I had a hard time breaking this thought at first. As you become more experienced over time, as your way of expressing yourself becomes clearer, that distinction disappears without you realising it. As your knowledge increases, your stance becomes upright and clear. I sounded out against inequality. You make the other side feel it over time.
In my career journey, I always found strength in myself and never gave up! Every time I was depressed, I said: I am all for it! I will be on this team and I will make a serious contribution! I never gave up, I always found the motivation in myself.
My family has been a great support in my career. I have many roles in my business life and besides the responsibilities I have towards my colleagues at work; I have responsibilities at home as well. My two children are now adults. I raised my daughter at Ford Otosan, her birth and childhood coincide with the time I worked for our company. In the early days I was working in a shift system, which is a bit more demanding. On this journey, I think I have passed this exam, at least the current aspect, by motivating myself and empathising with the people.
Do you think you can spare enough time for your family during this process? Can you talk about the difficulties of the shift system?
As I said, I was working in shifts when my daughter was an infant. This actually was the most challenging part of my journey. The process we call production is very fast and paced. I admit that there were times when I felt like I was running out of battery when coming home with a tired mind and body due to this tempo, and meeting my children who are in need of my care and love. Even though my children didn't feel it, there were times that I missed my responsibilities at home. I will never forget, my mother once said: My daughter, you are having a hard time, you seem not to be able to spare enough time for your children, you can maybe change your sector!
When you work in shifts, your sleep pattern is disturbed, you want to rest when you come home, whereas the child wants to spend time with you. Noticing this situation, my mother suggested to me change my sector. At that time I thought, am I egoistic? Am I putting my kids in the second plan for my own career and success? I also thought, on the one hand, would any father receive such a feedback? When my answer was no, I decided to park this advice aside and continue on my way. Now my son is in university, my daughter is in high school and is also an active athlete. I got over it, I had a hard time, but I did it!
Your story is incredibly motivating! What would you like to say to women who face the same dilemmas?
Many of our female colleagues, with whom I started working when I first started working, eventually quit. Often the reasons for leaving were that they could not take family and business life together. That's what I meant, I could have quit, but I didn't give up. As long as you put in enough effort and work in the job you love, everything is possible. I loved my job and I'm glad how it turned out!
What do you think a good leader should have?
In fact, a good leader is a whole of many features coming together. So the leader becomes good by integrating with the team. A good leader should think positively, have a rich imagination, and keep the perceptions open at all times.
The meaning of a good leader is hidden in its name. You are the pioneer, you are the factor in the decisions that many people will make. Therefore, your priority should be justice. The personal decisions we make can affect the team in different ways. Leadership really is not easy, I say this with capital letters. We are people who work with very small teams, I am sure that the difficulties of leaders working with larger teams are much more as each person is a different world. You may not approach everyone in the same way, not even with the same gestures. The words coming out of your mouth is perceived differently by person A and person B. You have to approach each person differently. You should always be firm and visionary in order to operate many people with different characters together on the same goal. Here, reveals the importance of self-improvement. I aim to improve myself by reading these kinds of books, after all, learning is a never-ending process.
We talked about books at the beginning of our conversation. Can you suggest a book to us?
I can recommend Gülseren Budayıcıoğlu's books; The Girl in the Glass and Back to Life. Also, Adam Fawer's book The Improbable is very good, I highly recommend it.
Let's talk about the movies you've watched?
Last night I watched Çetin Tekindor's film, My Father, it was a very emotional movie. Previously, I watched Paper Lives. The movie started as a classic drama, but the end was very surprising! Also, Çağatay Ulusoy acted very well!
Finally, what advice would you give to women who would like to make progress in their careers in the automotive industry?
Our company implements many policies in the field of gender equality now. This is a great chance for women who would like to work in our company. I am very happy because we need to reach a certain rate in the number of female employment. If we want to talk about equality, we also have to ensure equality in all areas.
Unfortunately, women have to work hard in today's conditions to be able to say “count me in too”. I admit women have more responsibilities due to the habits that come from our community traditions. This is why we need to work much harder and support each other so that more women participate in employment.
To intend and pursue that intention; to set achievable goals and never to deviate from that goal are the best things that I can suggest. Speaking of myself, I have always had a goal. When I first started working, my adaptation process was challenging, besides, I was having trouble getting acceptance, but then I asked myself the following questions: If I am doing this job, what is the best part of it? What can I do to get there?
I always wanted the next step, I made an effort to get there. When I was the group leader, I thought, why can't I be a material supply coordinator? I've reached that point, then I said, I could be the shift supervisor. When I reached this goal, I started dreaming why I am not the atelier team leader, and I intensified my work for this promotion. I always had a goal; I always had a dream. My last suggestion is that everyone should have a goal. An attainable goal is absolutely essential for a good career.
We cannot thank enough Serpil Ulufer, who is the first woman atelier leader in our company! We end this motivational conversation for women who are working and who are thinking of starting their business life and wish her happiness in her life. See you soon!