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ESSENCE Network: Crystal Windham, Driving Car Innovation Through Diversity

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crystal windham

With her love of art and passion for drawing, Crystal Windham channeled her flair for creativity into the automotive industry. As the first black woman to serve as General Motors Director of Design, she redesigned the Impala, Chevrolet’s flagship sedan. See how this mother and wife uses diversity to her advantage.

Name: Crystal Windham

Age: 41
 


Title: General Motors Director of Design, Chevrolet Interiors

Location: Warren, MI
 


Hometown: Detroit, MI

The gig: I’m an automotive interior designer providing an artistic approach to everything you see or touch inside a vehicle, including textures, layout and electronics. Designing a future vehicle, managing it through development and then to see someone driving down the road is very rewarding.

The journey: I always loved drawing and being creative. While I was a student at the College for Creative Studies in the heart of Detroit, I learned about automotive design. When I discovered I could apply my love of art to the automotive industry, I knew that’s what I wanted to pursue for a career.

Confessions of a Black woman in automotives: I have faced and conquered challenges throughout my life by channeling my creativity. Regardless of the origin of the challenges, I have overcome them by showing my worth. I see diversity as an asset, and I believe my employer does too. I bring a more a diverse perspective to the team and reflect the customer base.

Time-saving tip: Plan ahead with good communication. Also, take the time on each program or project to share lessons learned so you don’t repeat mistakes.

Her networking tip: Be fearless. Socialize by attending industry events and being involved in the community. From going out to lunch with your colleagues, visiting schools, assessing up-and-coming talent, attending conferences and awards events – it’s all important.

Her career highlight: I became GM’s first African American female director in GM’s design history back in 2008. This along with redesigning the Chevrolet Impala, Chevrolet’s flagship sedan, was especially rewarding.

Her smartest advice: Couple your talent with hard work and perseverance. Charge forward when others tell you, ‘you can’t do it.’ Find a mentor to help you focus in on what you are good at, what you bring to the table, and how to capitalize on it. If you love it and you are good at it, it can be rewarding – just like anything.

Her secret superpower: When nothing else seems to work, I’m able to just sit, be still and pray. Her stress relievers: I spend time with my husband and my two kids. My husband and I are also members of one of the best couples’ book club ever, and we love to watch movies.

What might surprise you: I’m trying to be more adventurous. I learned to snowboard this winter, and my daughter talked me into zip lining on a school camping trip.

Tech must-haves: I use the Nike armband, because I think being healthy is really important. I love my iPad and I use the app GroupMe for discussions with my friends. I love technology that can help make my life simpler and safer.

Her theme song: “Walking” by Mary Mary.

Filed Under: Money and Power
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