Vice President of Manufacturing and Labor Relations, General Motors
Why did you want to work in the auto industry? I started in the auto industry because I went to GMI, which is now called Kettering University, and it was a great way to pay my own way through school. I would work for six weeks and then go to school for six weeks. My father was in the auto industry, and my grandfather was in the auto industry, so I certainly grew up listening to stories about the auto industry around the dinner table.
First automotive job: GMI co-op position in 1977 at GM's iron foundry in Defiance, Ohio, at age 17. I did everything from working the line to doing time studies in industrial engineering to being a floor supervisor. I worked as many hours as I possibly could because I needed the money.
Proudest professional achievement: Helping GM come through the whole restructuring process from a manufacturing cost standpoint with the UAW. I was the lead negotiator for the company during some very critical years, as VP of labor relations from 2006 to 2009.
Current challenge at work: Getting every person that works for the company fully engaged in helping the company achieve success. That's from getting the people on the line to be ambassadors for our products to helping us drive continuous quality improvements.
Why does the auto industry seem like a difficult environment for female executives? I don't know if it's a difficult environment. I think, in general, society doesn't do a good enough job encouraging young girls to study math and science. There are fewer women because they start off fewer. I do think as more women advance in their careers then that will hopefully encourage more women to consider this as a career. If you see the leadership of the company, and you see it's all white males, you're going to say, "Hmm."
How has the recession affected opportunities and the work environment for women in the industry? The recession has affected the work environment and opportunities for everybody, especially at a company like GM that has been through bankruptcy. Sometimes women tend to be in more of a support role, and some of the support roles seem to be hit disproportionately harder when you're going through something like bankruptcy. So what I try to do is encourage women to go into more mainline jobs, like a plant manager, versus a support job, like a communications job.
On the catcalls: I had an assignment that was pretty boring, and I didn't have a lot to do. The only thing to do was to go walk around the plant. As a woman, if you did that, it was not always the friendliest thing because you'd get guys that would yell catcalls and the "Hey, baby." So I'd take routes that had the fewest people on them. It's so totally different today. How comfortable it is, and how much more diverse it is! It's a pleasure.
What you do to relax: We have a place on a lake here in Michigan to relax and just play outside and read and do puzzles and stuff. We just enjoy hanging out. We like to go to concerts. Detroit actually has a lot to offer.