Pioneering Black woman, who designs interior of Cadillacs, shares her road to success
'Good Job Sis!' Career Spotlight: How Crystal Windham broke into the corporate automotive world through art and technology.
‘Good Job, Sis!’ is a new series where theGrio profiles women at the top of their career game, to learn how they found the jobs of their dreams and continue to shatter glass ceilings.
The road to success has lots of twists and turns, but at least Crystal Windham knows how to ride in style.
Her artistic talent and creative thinking are exactly what led her to become the first African-American woman Director of Interior Design at General Motors in 2008.
While most people think of “interior designers” as style gurus who only beautify homes, Windham does the same for what she calls people’s second homes: cars.
“To design a product that would impact millions of people… it was an awesome feeling,” Windham tells theGrio. “When you see your product going down the road, gliding down the road, just the look… you’re adding beauty to the world.”
That ombre fade on the doors of a Cadillac XT6? Or the decision to put a voice-activated system on a display? That’s all her.
Windham calls the shots with a team of designers, sculptors, and engineers, to make a car feel a certain way. From picking the right technology to choosing the perfect stitching on the seats and crafting a place where people can store items, these are all decisions Windham makes way before cars are ever built.
In a predominantly-male field, Windham has made her mark, with memorable projects like the 206 Chevrolet Malibu and 2014 Chevrolet Impala.
It’s a nontraditional job most kids won’t see advertised during Career Day, but the seeds of Windham’s path were planted during her formidable years growing up in Detroit.
“I found my passion early in the 10th grade after an art teacher told me that I had talent,” recalls Windham. “From there, my parents supported me in finding out how I could take my artistic talent and apply it to other areas.”
She didn’t have to go far away from home to realize her dream. Windham earned a degree in Industrial Design from the College for Creative Studies (CCS), where a professor encouraged her to take her love for drawing and apply it to cars.
“From there on, I’ve never looked back,” says Windham.
Windham also earned an MBA from the University of Detroit-Mercy, and says furthering your education is a smart and strategic move.
“My mother was an educator and insisted my brother and I pursue an MBA, to complement our bachelor’s degrees,” Windham tells theGrio. “Pursuing this goal at University of Detroit Mercy was extra special because it’s rooted in the Detroit community and Christian-based with excellent credentials.”
Windham has also earned praise of her co-workers, who say that in the corporate world, she’s not only helping the company’s bottom line, but also, she is advocating for her community.
“Crystal Windham’s role as an African American female designer at Cadillac is critical to the success of the overall business,” said Michelle Alexander, head of Multicultural Marketing for General Motors.
“As women continue to influence the purchasing decisions in households, it’s important to have a voice at the table, who understands those cultural nuances needed to push the brand forward for future generations.”
This fall, Windham was recognized for her excellence in the field, at the Black Press of America’s 2019 National Leadership Awards Reception during Congressional Black Caucus weekend.
“[It] confirmed there is a bigger purpose and inspired me to keep paving the way for other minorities and women especially in non-traditional fields,” Windham says.
At a time when careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) are booming, but racial diversity is lacking, Windham offers this advice to any Black student or professional trying to break into the field.
“Make sure that your talent is there,” says Windham. “Couple that with the right type of support.”
Lastly, Windham says don’t feel pushed to take shortcuts on your journey.
“Be willing to put in the hard work. Hard work beats talent any day.
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