Susan McTiernan, associate dean for graduate programs at the Quinnipiac University School of Business and Engineering, is available to discuss what Mary Barra’s appointment as CEO of GM means for women in business.
“Mary Barra’s appointment as CEO of GM is an historic moment, not only for the auto industry, which it certainly is, but for the ranks of women who seek leadership roles in corporate hierarchies based on their expertise and accomplishments,” said McTiernan, who formerly served as the principal author of the Financial Women’s Association’s annual report on the status of senior women executives and members of boards of directors of the 100 largest publicly traded companies in the metropolitan New York region.
“Ms. Barra’s case is particularly interesting, given the variety of roles in which she has served at GM, including those as varied as engineering and human resources and the fact that she literally grew up at the company,” McTiernan said. “With an engineering degree, an MBA and her extensive experience within the company, she is recognized as an extraordinarily competent auto executive and someone who has literally led the product renaissance at GM. The real significance of Ms. Barra’s appointment may be that it takes place within an industry that has long been considered a strong bastion of male executive leadership. While tech companies, e.g. Hewlett-Packard, led by Meg Whitman and formerly by Carly Fiorina and Yahoo, led by Marissa Mayer, have shown a more welcoming face to women at the top, the auto industry is fairly well known for not having done so. One strong indicator of this is the percentage of women listed as top management within these companies as opposed to the US more broadly. Across America, slightly more than 14% of most senior executives are women, but this percentage in the auto industry is only about 12%. It is interesting to note that GM leads the three major automakers with respect to women on their board of directors, with four women out of fourteen total members. Ford hosts only two women out of a board of eighteen and Chrysler one woman out of nine. These numbers are worthy of note because they can suggest the openness of an organization to senior female corporate leadership.
“Further significance that is attached to Ms. Barra’s appointment is the reality that half the cars in America are purchased by women, and arguably they influence a good number the other half of purchases. Her rise to the top of the executive order at GM may portend well for the company in this context. At the very least, her appointment is another major milestone in accomplishment for the ongoing glass ceiling challenge faced by women in the United States.”