Mary Barra's promotion is a farewell to the final vestiges of male dominance in the auto industry.
General Motors named Barra the next CEO of the company on Tuesday. On January 15, Barra will not only begin her new role, but she will also make history as the first female CEO of a major auto company.
And for G.M., a woman at the helm might be exactly what the company needs after filing for bankruptcy just four years ago and borrowing $49.5 billion from the U.S. government, as some believe that women make better leaders in times of crisis.
Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund is one of these believers. "Studies show that certain characteristics are predominant in female leaders, like the ability to listen, the desire to form consensus an attention to risk. Which is why I think women are good leaders in times of crisis," said Lagarde in an interview with the Harvard Business Review.
The G.M. board unanimously chose Barra--who has been with the company for 33 years--to succeed Daniel Akerson, who has held the position since 2010. Barra will enter the role with a broad range of experience at G.M. She has held positions as an engineer, a plant manager, the head of corporate human resources, and most recently, as the senior executive responsible for overseeing all of G.M.’s global product development, The New York Times reports.
Although Barra’s ascension is a major step for both her as an individual and women in the workforce, she has never made her gender the focal point of her career. In an interview with The New York Times in November before her appointment, Barra emphasized that today there is not a dearth of high-ranking women in the auto industry.
"I think there are more women in more senior roles than in 1980 when I started. But from my career perspective, I don’t go into a room and take count. I want to be recognized for my contribution and for what I do," Barra said. "There are always things that potentially impact how you are received. And I just don’t focus on it. I don’t focus on what you can’t control."
Akerson--who is retiring earlier than expected due to his wife’s health issues--told The New York Times that Barra was not selected for the position as an attempt to diversify the industry.
"Mary was picked for her talent, not her gender," Akerson said.