What are your duties as training leader at GM?
I coordinate and design training curriculum for the plant, but we're not just teaching employees how to do their jobs. We have sessions on problem solving, cultural change, coping with stress, anything that helps our employees balance work and life. We believe that a happier employee makes a better employee.
How did you start at GM?
It was in 1971. I had finished two years of college, and I was working for the Urban League helping to screen applicants. They needed thousands of people and they wanted to make it a diverse work force. I met a man named John Grix, he was in personnel at GM, and he told me I should apply. He said I had "what it takes."
So, you started at the bottom of the ladder?
Oh yes. It was an hourly assembly line job, and I thought I would lose my mind. I had no idea people stood on their feet working like that all day.
And of course, I was in the first wave of females hired -- the first was hired in July 1970. It was rough. People thought we should be staying at home and getting married and leaving the jobs for the men. They didn't like it that we were getting the same amount of pay either.
Later on I became a supervisor and that was a very tough job. My husband was very ill at the time, too. He was a kidney transplant patient. Many times I wanted to quit, but my husband would tell me to put a smile on my face and to never, ever let them see me cry. That helped get me through.
But it looks like things have changed a lot at GM. The general manager is a woman, and many other women, including yourself, are in management positions now.
GM has evolved so much. Herman Maass, who retired recently as general manager, was a strong advocate of putting the right person in the right job, be it male or female. He was also a strong advocate of finding the right female because that diversity made it a better place to work, because we have a different thinking pattern. If you have all men, they think a certain way.
Things have changed a lot with the United Auto Workers too. In the early '70s, the relationship with the UAW was adversarial. Now it's teamwork. Face it, we all need the job.
What gave you the strength to get through those difficult years?
Being an African-American female in a predominantly male industry, it was by faith that I got through, that I could make it. My spirit was not broken because of my faith.
Are you a churchgoer?
I've been going to New Bethel Baptist Church in Youngstown all my life, and I'm still very active. I'm a very spiritual person who understands the importance of religion, and I think the church is where a lot of my leadership skills were developed.
Who are your role models?
I have three: My mom, my father and my aunt. My mom, because she was always a very independent woman and she valued education. She was always taking classes in something.
My father was a quiet, gentle giant, he was first generation born free from slavery. His father was a slave. He taught us to do our best at whatever we decided to do.
And my aunt who, in 1947, was editor of a newspaper in northern Mississippi, The Columbus Sun. She was as tough as nails. She used to sit and tell me I could do anything I wanted to do.
What do you do to unwind?
Right now I'm really involved in the church activities because we're doing an expansion. I'm a workaholic. I spend a lot of time there.
What is your favorite hymn?
"Holy, Holy, Holy," the old anthem. That's my favorite. I love to play it and sing it and hear it.
You said you love to dance. What kind of dance?
I love line dancing, and I just learned to salsa. I'm pretty light on my feet. A gentleman taught it to me at a birthday party and I just can't wait to try it again.
You also mentioned writing.
It's an evolving talent. I write plays and skits for the church, for groups I'm in. I see things and I write. I teach a seminar on change called "Room For Growth," and I like to use skits to help me get my point across.
Is drama an interest, too?
Oh yes. I was with a musical theater group in my past years and used to take my vacations and my weekends to go on tour. It was called Bennie Prichett's Productions. We traveled all over the United States.
Why did you stop?
He moved the theater group to California, so I had to quit. I was married at the time with three children and it didn't pay very well, but it was fun.