A Stellantis Kokomo plant manager was named to one of the automotive industry’s most prestigious lists, joining the ranks of some of the nation’s biggest names — and they’re all women.
Indiana Transmission Plant Manager Deidre “dee Dee” Fultz was named to the “100 Leading Women in the North American Auto Industry” list for 2020 by Automotive News, a list that’s put out every five years. Fultz said she was honored to be selected.
“I’m still humbled by it. It’s surreal, actually. Mary Barra (CEO of General Motors) was a top 100 woman, and it was just crazy to be in that same company,” Fultz said. “The award, I think, was the epitome of my career. It really meant so much to be in the company of such amazing women.”
Fultz joined Stellantis in 1996 after working in the pharmaceutical industry, and she took the reins at Indiana Transmission Plant in Kokomo five years ago, becoming the first woman plant manager in the City of Firsts.
Being a woman in the auto industry presents its own challenges, and Fultz said it’s important for women to be recognized for their achievements in a traditionally male-dominated field.
“It’s important to recognize the women leaders in the automotive industry because it’s a tough industry. It’s not an industry for the weak. We talk about manufacturing in general, and manufacturing in and of itself presents challenges. When you talk about it, you’re talking about predominately men in the field, so I think people get an eye-opener when they see all these powerful women being recognized,” she said.
That kind of news, she said, is what the industry needs.
“When you see these ladies who have reached these pinnacles, it’s impressive, and it makes you feel that maybe some glass ceilings are shattering, things that needed to be broken a long time ago,” Fultz said. “We’re finally valuing diversity with respect to gender at this point.”
Serving in management, Fultz actively has worked over the years to recruit more women to the automotive industry, and more than that, she serves as a role model to those already in the industry. As a plant manager, Fultz feels a responsibility to lift up women, mentor them, find out what their needs are, and give them the confidence to take on more.
An area in which she’d like to see more gender equality is in the board room, but getting there starts with getting more women in business unit leader (BUL) positions in mid-level management. She said she can count on one hand the number of female BULs in the company.
“We have to support them and promote them to mid-level management so they can get the opportunity to get to the executive management on up to that C-suite level,” Fultz said.
Sometimes women count themselves out altogether, thinking that a promotion would keep them from their families due to the responsibility and time required. Fultz said that’s a big misconception still, and she tries to break through to women that they can, in fact, have a good work-life balance.
“A lot of women are scared because they have, and rightly so, the attitude that you have to spend your life in a plant, that in order to get promoted, you have to spend 12 to 15, 16 hours a day,” she said. “And it’s not like that. I think a lot of women do get scared off by saying, ‘I’ll never make it to that level because I’ve got kids. Not only that, but I want to do activities with my kids.’ So I think they defeat themselves before they even give themselves a chance.”
The paradigm needs to change not only in the minds of women but also in the minds of leaders. Some leaders have stuck with the adage that people need to spend a certain number of hours in the plant every day. That’s not key to Fultz; what’s key to good leaders, she said, is productivity. Hours on end in the plant don’t necessarily equate to quality.
With a shift in that mindset, she believes more women will become open to promotions. There are a couple of women right now, Fultz said, who are “extremely talented,” and she would love for them to be open to the next step. But they close themselves off.
That trepidation she sees in women today, she saw in herself years ago.
When she first started in the auto industry, she was a maintenance supervisor at Detroit Axle in Michigan. Her plant manager told her about a position for an area plant manager, and he encouraged her to apply for it. She did, but the very next week, she withdrew her application.
“[My plant manager] asked me, ‘Why did you do that?’ And I said, ‘I just didn’t think I was qualified for it. I’m in maintenance. I don’t know anything about production, and I’m just afraid to go to that next level.’ He said, ‘It’s not what you think about yourself. When people see things inside of you that exhibit leadership qualities and they have confidence in you, then you need to believe it yourself.’ It wasn’t until that very moment that I realized I was my own worst enemy,” she said.
That advice shaped Fultz’s early career and gave her the confidence to take on more, which took her through the ranks to plant manager. In a top leadership role now, Fultz strives to instill that same confidence that was instilled in her early on in other women.
To view the “100 Leading Women in the North American Auto Industry,” visit www.autonews.com/awards/100-leading-women-north-american-auto-industry.