FCA US LLC has a new first among its Kokomo plants.
Earlier this year, Deedee Fultz took the reins as plant manager at Indiana Transmission Plant II and became the first woman plant manager among the five area plants.
“If you hear glass shattering, that’s the ceiling,” said Fultz, laughing.
Fultz isn’t shy about becoming the first woman to lead a plant in the City of Firsts. In fact, she’s using her position as a platform to recruit more women into the manufacturing profession. Fultz hopes to introduce the field to young women and encourage them to pursue the profession that has long been male-dominated. With more women involved, Fultz believes everyone wins.
“It’s important to have diversity in the field, and I think women provide a different background, a different thought process, and a different mix or a different opinion when decisions have to be made, when projects have to be implemented,” she said.
Fultz, who’s originally from Indianapolis, decided to become an engineer at the suggestion of her brother, who is also an engineer. With high math and science scores, he suggested she would be successful. Having always been mechanically-inclined, Fultz agreed, pursued, and completed a degree in mechanical engineering from IUPUI.
Fultz began her career with Lilly Engineering before starting with FCA US 20 years ago this December. Fultz moved around the plants before landing in Kokomo where she has remained since 2001.
Taking the reins as plant manager of ITPII felt like returning home, said Fultz. When she first came to Kokomo she came here to launch the five-speed, rear-wheel drive, automatic transmission at ITPII. She worked to bring in the machines and quickly became versed in the ins and outs of the processes, something she said is the beauty of being on a launch.
After working there for around eight years, she was promoted to manufacturing manager at Kokomo Transmission Plant. When the position of plant manager became open at ITPII, Fultz stepped in.
“I just had the privilege of coming back as plant manager, which is pretty nice because coming back to a plant that you launched is fulfilling. We launched this plant with a certain culture and philosophy, a team-based philosophy and team-based culture, and it’s nice coming back to this and just seeing the fruits of your labor, if you will,” she said.
Now in her position she hopes to see more diversity. When going through school, Fultz said there were only one or two other females going through the curriculum. But now, decades later, she has noticed when she recruits that women are the majority.
However, what she has found is that not all of the women who pursue the degrees end up in the field.
“I think 60 percent of the population of the people in engineering school are women and with multiple different nationalities and backgrounds and cultures, and the interesting fact is a lot of them actually don’t go into the workforce, which is odd,” she said.
Fultz hypothesized that it could have to do with the nature of the work itself, which remains demanding.
“I think we have a hard time maintaining women because it’s such a demanding field from an hour standpoint and just the time commitment away from your family. I think that’s one of the biggest barriers, if you will,” she said. “Manufacturing is very demanding, but it’s important to have that diversification definitely.”
Fultz gave a nod to schools and their efforts to implement STEM (Science, Technology, Engineer, Math) programs early on. She said those programs are critical to sparking interest in those fields among today’s youth.
As technology continues to evolve, Fultz hopes to shine a new light on today’s processes, which are much different from the “hammer and nail” processes of years ago.
“I think people have this idea of the old days where everything is dirty and you have big machines and presses and you walk into a factory that’s oily and you have a lot of stuff on the floor,” she said. “Well, manufacturing has totally taken a turn opposite of that and a turn for the better.”
With those changes come a need for a higher skill level and higher technological skills. Fultz said that’s her interest from a recruiting standpoint, to help ensure that those interested in joining the field are prepared to enter it.
Looking forward, she hopes to encourage women to come behind her.
“I love and I openly promote and seek opportunities for women in manufacturing, and I am open. My door is open to mentor, to talk, to do anything, especially just to bring more women into the field,” she said.