Global Director, Vehicles and Operations
Pallavi Lal, Hatch’s global director, Vehicles and Operations, has more than 23 years of experience in the rail transportation industry and calls Hatch’s Ambler office her home base. Pallavi came to Hatch via a merger with LTK Engineering Services in November 2020. At LTK, she led the vehicle engineering practice in the US and served as vice-president for the New Jersey Region. Pallavi’s experience includes both the technical and managerial aspects of leading a project from its inception to completion. Pallavi leads and directs project teams across the globe to ensure timely delivery of projects involving contract management, and risk assessment/mitigation.
When not working, she enjoys getting involved with communities, painting, traveling, and spending time with her family and dog, Browny.
My advice would be it’s normal to feel uncomfortable but don’t get discouraged. Do something you have not done before. When you choose to do something, give it 100% of your energy.
Why did you become interested in the STEM field?
My family really guided me to be in the STEM field. They exposed me to many different things, which allowed me to develop an interest in STEM. My dad was a mechanical engineer, same as me, and ever since I was young, he tried to teach me how to build things and to have a curiosity in science and math. Encouraging children to pursue STEM careers is typical in India, where I grew up.
What myths would you dispel about being a woman in the STEM field?
In general, women and girls are perceived as not being interested in STEM, which isn’t true. I think women lack exposure at an early age, which influences their interest in STEM. That leads to a pervasive bias. Society oftentimes assume girls aren’t interested in STEM and would rather pursue dancing, art or anything other than science or math. In reality, it’s just that they are not as exposed as men. Women can be interested in anything, just like men can be.
Today, Indian society encourages women in STEM far more than it used to. Before, a lot of girls didn’t even have access to school systems or didn’t even go to school. But the Indian government worked very hard to change that. In many states, education is free for girls. I didn’t pay anything for my engineering school as my four years of undergraduate education were free. With no financial burden, parents were motivated to send their daughters to college and that changed everything. When I ask my nieces in India what they would like to do in life, they say they would like the same career as their parents. It was the same for me. Since my dad was an engineer, I wanted to be an engineer.
In the US, I encounter young women who don’t have access to, or don’t know how to get into the STEM field. I have led many panel discussions in middle schools and community colleges to discuss how to get girls interested in STEM. When I am invited to give lectures in colleges, or when I try to promote STEM in middle schools, I find that very few girls are interested. I went to an event at my son’s elementary school in which parents were asked to talk about their professions. I asked each student to tell me their career choice when they grow-up. Interestingly, most girls wanted to grow up to be ballerinas. I didn’t hear any of them say they wanted to be a doctor or an engineer. That’s an example of lack of exposure.
What advice would you give to young women about the STEM field?
Oftentimes, I felt uncomfortable stepping out of my comfort zone. My advice would be it’s normal to feel uncomfortable but don’t get discouraged. Do something you have not done before. When you choose to do something, give it 100% of your energy. If there is an opportunity, go for it, because if you don’t you will never know how you could have learned from it or grown from it. Learn to see the big picture and get to understand how business is run. My advice applies to young men too.
Did you have any mentors during your education and/or career? Have you been a mentor to someone?
My mom isn’t an engineer, but she is a great mentor and motivator. As I said before, my dad encouraged me to pursue STEM. I had very good mentors in my career as well. They were all male because there aren’t many females working in the public transportation industry. I credit my success to them. They helped me get through tough times and made me understand the system. They helped me because they were invested in my success. Personally, I have mentored a few females, as part of the Women’s Transportation Seminar when I was on the Board of Directors of the New Jersey Chapter.
At Hatch, I have a very large group including few females in the vehicles and operations group. I do mentor females from time to time, but not through a regimented mentoring program. It’s more of checking in.
They do come to me to discuss challenges or issues that they would like my advice on, and I like that we have open communication. I like to help them just as my mentors helped me.
What are you most proud of in your career?
I can name few achievements but I’m most proud of the authenticity and empathy I bring to my team. My proudest moments are when I’m able to encourage and influence my team to do their best. That makes me happy.
Do you feel supported at Hatch?
Yes, and the support I like the most is the feedback I get on my assignments, whether good or bad. That helps me improve and self-reflect. The support is tremendous from my superior and my staff and I’m thankful for it.
How do you think the Hatch culture is different from other companies related to diversity and inclusion?
I have only worked for LTK and Hatch, so it is difficult for me to compare. Hatch’s culture on diversity and inclusion is very similar to that of LTK’s. I like that diversity and inclusion are intentionally addressed and included in all of our decision-making.