In the months before Marcy Fisher graduated from high school, her mom would hand her articles and want ads cut out of Detroit-area newspapers. “She’d say to me, ‘Look, here’s what you’re good at—there are jobs in this area called engineering’,” says Fisher.
“It was the early ’80s. We were coming out of a recession, and job availability was a big deal,” she says. “My mom was very practical, thinking about what I could study in college that had a good chance of landing me a job. She really helped me understand what I excelled at, and how that related to a real-world job.” Fisher took her mom’s suggestion, earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in engineering at the University of Michigan and then starting a career at Ford Motor Co.
This spring, the entire country benefited from her mom’s insights. Fisher assumed a lead role when Ford stepped up to produce face shields, respirators and ventilators for healthcare facilities on the front lines of the Covid-19 crisis. She used her engineering prowess, as well as her expertise in working with suppliers. “I got a call from one of our VPs who had been in discussions with Washington,” says Fisher, then director, global body exterior & interior engineering. “As we started thinking about ventilators and respirators, I got the call because the climate control team worked for me—I know about air-handling systems.”
She says the Ford team worked 15 to 18 hours a day, every single day for weeks, to make more than 20 million face shields, coordinate production of reusable gowns, and to figure out and then manufacture air-purifying respirators. “It was massively intensive, and time was the key,” she says. Fisher had personal motivation; her son’s fiancée is an ICU nurse. “I talked to her about how desperate they were for PPE at her hospital, and I could hear the anxiety in her voice. It really grounds you. I knew every single day she was working with Covid patients and then coming home to my son.”
Earlier this month Fisher assumed a new role at Ford, as executive director, global supplier technical assistance. She’ll work to help suppliers ensure that their parts are ready to go to support new product launches. It’s a job she says takes perfect advantage of her background, which includes leading the design team for the 50th anniversary Mustang in 2015. “I really understand the parts, having been responsible for exterior design,” she says. “Combine that with my manufacturing background, and understanding process control, it brings it all back. Because when you’re launching a new vehicle, it’s both a launch for the vehicle and a launch for the parts, too.”
She also takes seriously her role as one of the industry’s leading women executives—twice named to the Automotive News list of the 100 Leading Women in the Automotive Industry. “Within the engineering community at Ford, we have a monthly meeting with all the women who are (higher-level) managers. It’s a series of conversations and some training and tools for being great leaders,” Fisher says.
She says the industry still has work to do, in terms of hiring and promoting women. “We need more women in the industry. We need to understand what women need in a vehicle, what experience they’re looking for,” she says.
“But the thing that’s good now is that it’s more acceptable to talk about unconscious bias and about how women feel in the workplace,” she says. “Ten years ago, no one wanted to hear it.” The next frontier, especially for women in the tech area, she says, is “trying to get away from this perception that you have something extra to prove if you’re a woman. We’re starting to have those conversations.”
Despite the challenges, Fisher says she’d recommend the auto industry to any young woman who’s interested. “The auto industry is one of the coolest things you can do. The products are so exciting, the tech side is really cool and our world is changing with connectivity. It’s a great time to be in the industry,” she says. “There is so much you can do from a career perspective—so much variety, from working in customer experience to designing parts, market research and our ongoing electric transformation.” She says in her 34 years at Ford, “any time I get the itch for new experiences, I’ve been able to accomplish that in the company.”
Fisher says, “I’d tell a young woman to jump in and have some fun. But make sure to take a seat at the table. It’s a physical thing, but also a mental thing. I see it all the time; women have a tendency to underestimate themselves. When you are sitting at the table, know that you deserve that place. Don’t underestimate yourself.”