- Mary Barra, GM
- Sandra Bouckley, Chrysler
- Susan Brennan, Ford
- Adriane Brown, Honeywell
- Faye Caballero, Black River Plastics
- Theodora Casasanta, Chrysler
- Annette Clayton, GM
- Cathy Clegg, GM
- Deborah Coleman, Ford
- Jacqui Dedo, Timken
- Amy Farmer, GM
- Nancy Gioia, Ford
- Vanessa Gordon, ASC
- Linda Hasenfratz, Linamar
- Cheryl Jones, Toyota
- Kathleen Ligocki, Tower
- Pamela Mader, GM
- Maureen Midgley, GM
- Linda Miller, Ford
- Cindy Niekamp, BorgWarner
- Cynthia Conn Sidoti, Chrysler
- Rosalinda Torres, Delphi
As plant floor changes, women gain opportunities
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But more than 60 years later there's hardly anything unusual about that image. Women now hold 22 percent of the auto production jobs in America - fast closing in on the 26 percent peak hit during World War II. The percentage of female auto workers jumped 14 points from 1992 to 2003, according the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The nature of the job has changed. The nature of the employer has changed. And so have women's attitudes about careers and opportunity.
One key factor has been the spread of automation and ergonomic awareness. Auto production, once perceived as work too rough and heavy for women, has become an industrial employment equalizer.
Adjustable assembly lines
Today automakers rely on lift-assist tools to move heavy seats, spare tires and doors. Robots insert windshields and engines. And in an effort to save wear and tear on workers' back muscles and shoulders - male or female - auto plants are adopting lightweight storage bins and tools, movable racks and even assembly lines that can be adjusted up or down to accommodate 6-foot males and 5-foot females.
"It's still hard work," says Lars Bjorn, a sociology professor at the University of Michigan-Dearborn who has studied female auto workers. "Assembly line work is stressful, and the only real job satisfaction - male or female - depends on how much control workers have over their job.
"But at least now," he says, "women have more access to the jobs."
The trend is true for women who work as managers in auto plants. At General Motors, three key assembly plants are managed by women: Cathy Clegg manages Fort Wayne (Ind.) Assembly; Amy Farmer runs Lansing (Mich.) Grand River Assembly; and Pamela Mader is in charge of Moraine (Ohio) Assembly.
Sandra Bouckley runs the Chrysler group's Conner Avenue assembly plant in Detroit, which manufactures one of the industry's ultimate muscle cars, the V-10 Dodge Viper. "Now is a great time for women to be getting into the industry. Their opinions will be valued," Bouckley says.
Opportunity is slowly expanding. But that job opportunity is now going to the best candidate, regardless of gender. Women who do their homework and learn the politics and people that influence their jobs will have an edge, says Linda Miller, manufacturing director of Ford Motor Co.'s powertrain operations. Miller was the first woman to be named a plant manager at Ford when she took over the company's Dearborn Engine and Fuel Tank Plant in 1993.
Even if, for now, women still play the minority role in manufacturing, interest and opportunity clearly are increasing. A Canadian study three years ago found that the number of female undergraduate students in engineering programs there had risen to 20 percent, up from just 4 percent in 1975.
"The automakers have made it clear that they want women in manufacturing positions," says Maureen Sullivan Martin, spokeswoman for the Automotive Women's Alliance, a Troy, Mich., organization created in 2001 to encourage women in the industry.
You may e-mail Lindsay Chappell at firstname.lastname@example.org
You can reach Lindsay Chappell at email@example.com.