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For much of her 22-year career at Ford Motor Company, Sheryl Connelly has served as an in-house futurist. While the term initially conjures up images of crystal balls and tarot cards, Connelly is adamant that she does not make a living predicting the future. “Futurism isn’t what people think,” she explains. “My job is to challenge others’ notions about how the world will play out,”

Over the last decade, Connelly, a Michigan native who studied both business and law, has been integral in helping the company transition from an automaker to a mobility company. “I’ve been trying to start a dialogue around the fact that not everyone wants to own a car. My role in the transition is rooted in my contrarian point of view,” she says. “It’s my job to understand what’s behind the change. A car used to stand for independence. Now, a cell phone is what you equate with independence.”


“I'm a visual thinker. SKETCHING helps me STAY ENGAGED at meetings. It's also a tool that helps me TAKE COMPLEX IDEAS and SIMPLIFY them.”

To succeed as a futurist, Connelly says, you need to have a broad point of view. “It’s important to have expertise in different areas. It also helps to be open to ideas and have an insatiable curiosity and imagination.” Connelly thinks women are particularly well suited to the role because they’re good listeners and tend to exhibit empathy. They’re also more comfortable with the unknown. “Men tend to talk in terms of certainty,” she observes. “Women often are more comfortable saying, ‘We’ll never know, so think about scenarios A, B, C and D.’”


“Sometimes, you’re surrounded by people who SEEM MORE COMPETENT. As I got older, I realized that they didn’t KNOW MORE—they just faked it. IT NEVER OCCURED to me to fake it.

In a 2015 article about female futurists published in The Atlantic, the Association of Professional Futurists estimated that about one-third of its members are women, while about 23 percent of the World Future Society’s members identified as female. What this means is that, over time, the field has placed a greater emphasis on mathematical modeling and technology than on social change, family structures, and cultural impacts, according to The Atlantic’s reporting.

“When I heard that there are fewer FEMALE FUTURISTS than male, I was surprised. That wasn't my EXPERIENCE AT FORD.”

This, however, has not been Connelly’s experience at Ford. When she joined the department, it consisted of eight futurists, all of whom were women. Connelly is confident that, as the field grows in the years ahead, there will be more female futurists. But, she points out, “it’s not just about hiring more women. The field needs more diversity in both ethnicity and age. Futurism is about stepping outside the norm.”

Does Connelly want her two teenage daughters, age 15 and 17, to follow in Mom’s footsteps? “As a futurist, I feel they’re too young to decide on a career,” she says. But if they find themselves in a male-dominated industry, “I don’t think they’ll have problems. These girls know themselves and what they’re capable of.”

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