Women of Ford Part 3: 1990s-2020s
Looking to the Women of the Past to Inspire our Future
At Ford Motor Company, we value diversity and embrace inclusion. Throughout our history we have partnered with great talent, many of whom are women, to help further these tenets. In fact, we have had female employees on our pay roll since our Company’s earliest years. Join us in celebrating the accomplishments of some of these inspiring women.
Expanding on the legacies of the women before them, women employees at Ford have reached new heights in recent decades. The 1990s brought in a new era of success for women at Ford, especially in manufacturing and assembly plants. In 1994, Deborah Coleman was the first female head of a vehicle assembly plant at Ford. Coleman continued working her way up the corporate ladder, becoming Ford's vice president of Global Quality in 2005. At that time, she was one of only two African American women to achieve the level of corporate vice president at Ford.
In 1995, Anne Stevens was promoted to plant manager at Ford’s Enfield Plant in England and became the Company’s first female plant manager in Europe. Stevens would later go on to become the executive vice president of Ford Motor Company and chief operating officer of the Americas in 2006, she was the first female executive vice president in Company history.
Not only were women filling positions of leadership, but the ‘90s were also a pivotal decade for women in design and engineering. In 1997, Susan M. Cischke, vice president for Environmental and Safety Engineering, was the first woman to receive the Engineering Society of Detroit Horace A. Rackham Award for humanitarian achievement. She was also twice named one of Automotive News 100 Leading Women and was chosen as one of Crain's Detroit Business Most Influential Women.
Ford women had influence on many of the Company’s products. The successful look and feel of the 1994 Mustang interior were largely a product of designer Emeline King's eye. King was Ford’s first female African American vehicle designer and she also designed elements of the Probe and Thunderbird. And it was during this time period that the “Windstar Moms” focus group of 30 female engineers was formed to develop the Ford Windstar, a vehicle designed by women for women.
Internationally, Canadian executive Bobbie Gaunt, was named president and chief executive officer of Ford Motor Company of Canada in 1997. Only two years later Gaunt was named a Ford Motor Company vice president and officer. Despite breaking many barriers for women at Ford, Gaunt stated, “I am a president who happens to be a woman, not a woman who happens to be president.”
Women continued to emerge as vital parts of the manufacturing process at Ford in the 21st century. They played integral roles in the production of Ford Motor Company’s most popular vehicles, and rose to the corporate officer ranks, like Birgit Behrendt, who was appointed corporate officer in 2013. Beginning her career at Ford in Cologne, Germany as a commercial apprentice, Behrendt became the highest ranking German national and in 2017, the first ever German national female officer working for Ford of Europe.
Following her 31-year career at Ford, Felicia Fields, a former Ford College Graduate, retired in 2017 from her position as group vice president for Human Resources and Corporate Services. Her outstanding leadership and professional achievements have been recognized by major professional and news organizations such as the American Society of Employers who named her the 2009 Human Resources Executive of the Year.
Women continue to challenge the status quo in new ways, in 2021, after more than 30 years at Ford, Debbie Mielewski became the first woman to be appointed to Technical Fellow, one of only 16 people in the Company to rise to this level of technical leadership. Her team was the first to demonstrate soy-based foam for seating. This pioneered Ford's leadership in industry-first sustainable materials including tree-cellulose, rice hulls, and ocean plastic.
Linda Zhang is the chief engineer for the all-electric F-150 Lightning. She has watched the Lightning take shape every step of the way since development began in 2018. In the nearly 25 years that Zhang has been with Ford, she has gained experience in manufacturing, product development, finance, and corporate strategy. In 2021 she was featured on the cover of TIME Magazine representing the team electrifying the world’s most popular truck.
From the design side, Lucretia Williams is the chief strategist for accessibility, Ford Model e. Williams has been with Ford Motor Company for over 20 years and is a champion of inclusive design thinking and strategy to best serve all customers.
Some of the women in leadership positions at Ford Motor Company today include Kiersten Robinson, general manager, Family Vehicles, and president, Mexico and Canada for Ford Blue; Jennifer Waldo, chief people and employee experience officer; Elena Ford, chief customer experience officer, Ford Blue; and Dianne Craig, president of Lincoln.
Since the earliest years of the Ford Motor Company, pioneering women have paved the way for many others who have contributed to the success of the Company. When a company is engaged in the empowerment and development of women, everyone benefits. With Ford’s rich history of women in its ranks, cultivating talent, and challenging the status quo, the Company continues to build on its legacy going forward in 2023 and beyond.
About Ford Motor Company
Ford Motor Company (NYSE: F) is a global company based in Dearborn, Michigan, that is committed to helping build a better world, where every person is free to move and pursue their dreas. The company’s Ford+ plan for growth and value creation combines existing strengths, new capabilities and always-on relationships with customers to enrich experiences for and deepen the loyalty of those customers. Ford develops and delivers innovative, must-have Ford trucks, sport utility vehicles, commercial vans and cars and Lincoln luxury vehicles, as well as connected services. Additionally, Ford is establishing leadership positions in mobility solutions, including self-driving technology, and provides financial services through Ford Motor Credit Company. Ford employs about 182,000 people worldwide. More information about the company, its products and Ford Credit is available at corporate.ford.com.