When I first started reviewing automobiles some years ago, I noticed a glaring discrepancy in the number of women in key roles in the industry, let alone women of color who looked liked me. With varying shades of brown from honey-kissed cappuccino to sun-roasted mahogany, we are moving to the forefront.
Of all places, the seed to spotlight these powerful women of color was firmly planted while recently watching Disney’s The Frog and The Princess…again. Just as I did when I first watched it, a tear rolled down my cheek as I looked at Tiana (voiced by Anika Noni Rose), possessing features myself and countless family and friends proudly embrace; truly a historical moment.
Fast forward to present day, as the founder and editor-in-chief of this site, I am steadfast with my commitment to spotlight women who “look like me” making strides and changing the face of this male-dominated industry.
Continuing with historical moments, I am honored to announce Crystal Windham, Chevrolet’s Director of Design for Passenger Cars and Small Crossovers AND the first African-American female Design Director in General Motors history as the inaugural feature in the She Looks Like Me Spotlight.
Not one to take that role lightly, Crystal is fully aware that there is a lot of responsibility that comes with this historic position.
“Yes, I am breaking a barrier or shattering a ceiling, but in this role I have a responsibility to feed that pipeline. What good is it if I don’t have the second, third and fourth coming behind me?” adds Crystal. “And we are working on it.”
Vivian Pickard, President, General Motors Foundation and Director of General Motors Corporate Relations supports Crystal’s commitment to give back. “Crystal and Ed Welburn (General Motor’s Vice-President, Global Design) provide recommendations for scholarships to Detroit Public School students to encourage them to attend the College for Creative Studies (CSS). They are making sure Detroit-based students are the recipients and we know that’s mainly us,” says Pickard. If that wasn’t enough, Crystal also encourages students to consider higher education and careers in art and design through GM Design’s “You Make a Difference” program, and yearlong mentorship program.
Crystal Windham may be small in stature, but her design arsenal makes her a giant amongst her contemporaries. In her position as Director of Design, Crystal’s imprint can be seen through out some of Chevy’s most iconic brands like the Malibu and most recently the All-New 2014 Impala. Blending her influences from post and modern design, Crystal is always looking for inspiration to incorporate in to award-winning interior designs. While Crystal oversees her division with about 40 designers and engineers, she is the first to admit that it is collaborative effect in every design that emerges from the studio. “We are about creating an experience that our customers have never experienced before. You always want to out do the competition,” says Crystal. “In my role, I want to break down those walls and barriers and allow the designer to feel unleashed while allowing the creative juices to really flow.”
Keenly aware of the customers needs, Crystal and her team know the marketplace and cater to both the male and female buyer with design and trim levels. Whether its complimentary and contrasting colors, exotic grains of woods and optimized usage of the real estate of the interior, Crystal and her team have painstakingly tapped into the wants and needs of the consumer. “The forms have to be very flexible or lend themselves well to be adaptable to various types of colors and textures and I have to say our team did a very good job to give each choice a different environment and feel,” beams Crystal.
Crystal is more than just a forward-thinking leader in design; she also comes from a family that has always supported her career choices. Even when they were initially “deflated” by her decision to become an artist in the tenth grade fearing she would be a starving artist, her parents rallied behind her by researching careers that would tap into and cultivate her natural talent for art. “My parents raised my brother and I to achieve whatever we could perceive,” reflects Crystal. “They also met with the school’s art teacher which lead me the College for Creative Studies and a world of art-based careers. They saw in me that I finally found my passion; something that really changed the direction of my life,” says Crystal. “Once I had that support, passion and that drive towards where I wanted to go and confirmation that I did have talent; everything else fell into place.”
As if the design diva did not have enough on her plate, she is also a devoted wife and mother. The whole concept of balancing work life and home life is a fete that Crystal doesn’t take lightly. “I get value out of both. I get value out of having a career that is rewarding to me and I enjoy it. And of course I enjoy my family, my husband and my children. The two integrated [lives] can work. Sometimes you have to shut down work for family and sometimes you have to shut down family [a little] to get the task done at work,” says Crystal. “Its really about making adjustments where needed.”
Crystal Windham, a Detroit native also holds a MBA from the University of Detroit-Mercy.