- Diane Allen, Nissan
- Anne Asensio, GM
- Sue Cischke, Ford
- Pandora Ellison, Ford
- Marcy Fisher, Ford
- Lisa Frary, Autoliv
- Joy Greenway, Visteon
- Elizabeth Griffith, Intier
- Margaret Hackstedde, Chrysler
- Deborah Henderson, ArvinMeritor
- Verena Kloos, BMW Group Designworks
- Anna Kretz, GM
- Grace Lieblein, GM
- Jane Palmieri, Dow Automotive
- Lori Queen, GM
- Barb Samardzich, Ford
- Liz Wetzel, GM
- Mary Ann Wright, Ford
Designing women? They're still hard to find
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And we're not talking 1955. It was 1986.
"There were about five of us. And it's not drastically different now," says Wetzel, 41, GM's first female vehicle chief designer and currently design director, global design brands.Women make up a larger percentage of the work force in automotive engineering and design than they did 20 years ago, say industry executives and analysts. And women are moving into management positions in both fields.
The future is still a concern, especially in design and engineering.
"We keep trying to find women to bring into design. They just aren't that easy to find," Wetzel says. "Design is one of those professions that not a lot of people know about."
That concern is echoed at the college level.
At the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, which has a highly regarded automotive design program, there will be no female auto design graduates next year because there are no women in the senior class.
"We would love to have more enrolling," says Bryon Fitzpatrick, chairman of transportation design at the school. "It seems there are not enough young women that know about the program."
To solve that, Fitzpatrick teamed up with a group of female automotive designers and executives to create a compact disc the college uses to show high school seniors. It contains interviews with designers explaining the opportunities and challenges a career in the auto industry can present.
"We need to trigger more interest," Fitzpatrick says. "And we thought by interviewing these successful women in design, it might make a difference."
The field of engineering seems to be a similar story.
The Society of Automotive Engineers reported last year that only 3 percent of its 80,000 members are women.
"On the outside, engineering is still perceived as a man's world," says Anna Kretz, 54, a vehicle line executive on GM's front-wheel-drive trucks. "When I talk to young people who are considering the field, they say automotive engineering is working in a plant with men. We need to make them realize that once they are in it, there are opportunities to work in various aspects of it."
Some aspects have changed.
In 1972, when Kretz started an engineering job with Buick, she was the only woman in a room with 300 engineers. It would take five more years before another woman would be hired in her department.
Now Kretz has 40 people who report directly to her, and they influence hundreds more. She estimates that half of her engineering staff is female, including Grace Lieblein, the chief engineer on Kretz's program.
"There's more progress to make, but in some ways the business has changed tremendously," Kretz says. "Now you are finding women across every aspect of engineering as opposed to chemical engineering - that was always associated with fabrics and chemicals and the feminine side."
Kretz says the acceptance and proliferation of women in engineering has allowed women to work more reasonable hours.
Women also are influencing design and engineering decisions.
Nissan, Ford, Chrysler and GM have had female designers and engineers working behind the scenes to incorporate design changes that are more appealing to female buyers.
For example, new designs on GM's next generation of trucks and SUVs will include greater visibility, more distance between occupants and airbags and adjustable pedals.
Last year Volvo unveiled a program that saw hundreds of engineers and designers develop the YYC concept vehicle shown at the Geneva auto show. The vehicle is an all-female production from the platform up.
Hans-Olov Olsson, 63, Volvo Car's outgoing president and the incoming chief marketing officer of Ford Motor Co., said that in a male-dominated industry it was about time women created their own project.
"We learned that if you meet women's expectations, you exceed those for men," he said at the Geneva auto show in March.
Inside the major companies, the landscape has changed.
Ford has had female engineers suggest changes on its minivans. And DaimlerChrysler used female engineers to create female-friendly vehicles, recruiting an informal group of female engineers called the Women's Product Advocate Team in 2000.
At Ford, the number of female employees with engineering degrees has more than doubled in the last 15 years, to 2,100. The number of male engineers has increased by about 20 percent, to 11,100.
At GM, women are working in key fields of engineering and design. Mary Sipes is the vehicle line director on GM's full-sized SUVs. Lori Queen runs GM's small-car architecture. And Anne Asensio is GM's executive director of advanced design.
But there's work to do.
Asensio says the number of female designers in the industry is growing but is still not nearly where it should be.
"I don't understand it," Asensio says. "I feel these are great places for women. The area of opportunity is huge."
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