Rebecca Bernard
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Mary Barra Sets Example for Women Beyond the Auto Industry

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Mary Barra GM Recalls Nearly 50,000 Vehicles


As one of the writers who covers Chevrolet and General Motors news here at The News Wheel, I read an awful lot about Mary Barra. In case you haven’t heard, Ms. Barra is the CEO of General Motors who got her start as an engineer at a Pontiac plant. CEO is an impressive enough job title, but she is also the first female CEO of a major worldwide automaker.

Soon after Mary Barra became CEO of GM in January of 2014, the ignition switch recall and the scandal surrounding it erupted, and she had to face Senate committees and her company’s customers. She also fielded questions from the press and sat through interviews that questioned whether she was set up to take the fall of the recall by her predecessors, and if she could still be a good wife and mother while maintaining her position as GM’s CEO (good job, Matt Lauer).

Throughout it all, Mary Barra has maintained composure and has continued to lead her company. It seems to be working, as GM’s sales have been on the rise for months, with the first 10 months of 2015 sales up 12.6% from this point last year. Barra herself has been named one of the 100 Leading Women in the Automotive Industry by Automotive News, and Forbes has named her the fifth most powerful woman in the world (she is also the highest CEO on the list).

While all of these facts and figures make her a great CEO, what is it that makes her a good example for women in the industry and beyond? When the opportunity presents itself, Ms. Barra makes sure to help promote STEM education for women around the world, participating in programs sponsored by groups like Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls and creating initiatives within GM itself, like expanding the GM Women’s Retail Network’s scholarship program. She often has interviews published in news sources like Refinery29 that might not be regular reading for auto buffs, but are often visited by young women. Beyond stressing the importance of STEM, she also makes it a point to tell women to push to be the best in their chosen field and to ignore people who want to hold them back due to gender. Several times she has addressed the mindset any woman should have to be successful, and how to combat the negative image of a “bossy” woman while working to the top.

While it’s no secret that the auto word is still dominated by men, seeing Mary Barra succeed in the industry gives me hope for the future of other women who want to help develop the next great technology for cars. Even if a young woman has no interest in cars or engineering, they just need to look at her attitude and career for a great example of how to be the best in any field and become a leader.