Can Mary Barra lead General Motors?

She will take over as CEO of General Motors this month. It’s actually the first time ever that a woman will lead a global automaker. What kind of woman does it take to lead such a male business? Listen to her views on leadership:

The video speaks for itself and shows that she understands not only leadership but the business of making cars.  But will that be enough to stop her  from having the problems most female leaders in large companies come across? Having to be twice as competent as a man and coping with men trying to get rid of them happens frequently to powerful women.

Do you believe Mary Barra has what it takes to lead General Motors? Is what she outlines in the video the kind of leadership it takes to lead the automaker? Will male colleagues in the male dominated sector respect her? Do you believe we will see more women leading automobile companies? Or is it an insurmountable task for a woman to lead a car giant?

Video: FortuneMagazine – You Tube

38 responses

  1. Big question, Catarina! I find that women make excellent leaders because we tend to listen better than men do. Perhaps that will give her an edge. If she is insightful, and knows how to listen to complaints and suggestions, she is more likely to succeed.
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    • Am sure she has the competence to lead General Motors. It's just a question of whether powerful men will let her. All it takes is an effort by a couple of important share holders and her life will become horrendous. The press will get involved and she may have no option but to resign. Simply because she is a woman. A bit of that happened to me when I held a senior management position in Saudi Arabia. Thought it was a Saudi phenomena and that it made sense in such a patriarchal society. Years later I read a book written by a top Swedish female CEO on what happened to her. Until then I had not fully comprehended what happened to me in Saudi. And what's worse, the Swedish woman had a much worse experience in Sweden than I had in Saudi Arabia.

    • Agree with you, Sherryl. Just not sure since even in Sweden top female CEO's have to go through hell. Powerful men seem to do anything to get rid of them. It may be that how litigation works in your country will make it easier for her to survive. Hope so. Read a book a couple of years ago written by a Swedish woman who was the CEO of the top employers association in Sweden. She was subjected to a coordinated effort by powerful men to get rid of her. Even the press was used to write unfavourable articles about her. She finally had enough and resigned. Sincerely hope that does not happen to Mary Barra.

  2. She identified what I think is paramount in leadership…identifying a common goal and making sure that everyone was engaged and aligned. I love that she made no mention of her gender and the problems that may present…. I fell if stop focusing and become gender blind, perhaps the chances for success would increase. I believe that too often women wanted to be "treated" as special, and then complain because too much attention is placed on their gender. I'm pulling for Mary Barra!
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  3. I am so excited about this. It truly does demonstrate the glass ceiling is braking down, or at the very least, cracking at bit. She will face challenging, as anyone would in such a position, but I do believe she is up to the task and look forward to seeing what she does in her new role. :-)
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  4. She can definitely do it. It's great to see so many women reaching the top of huge corporations.

    From what I see in work-places, effective leadership is gender blind. It's all about delivering clear messages, never doubting oneself and being consistent.
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    • Greg, it's really good that young men like you are pro female CEOs. Eventually that will lead to leadership being gender blind. But unfortunately there are still far too many older men out there that work against female leaders.

  5. I have no doubt that Mary Barra can lead General Motors. Could she do any worse than the male CEOs who drove the company to the brink of bankruptcy? However, let's not be naive. She will encounter a lot of insidious resistance from old-timers in the organization. It's not what they will say out loud or do — it's what they won't do or delay doing or say behind her back. Some men will never accept a female leader. Coming from a male-dominated industry, I'm sure she has the talent, the spine and the will to succeed.

  6. It may be more of a question of, do the men who work at GM have what it takes to follow her lead? Heck maybe even the people as a whole. The notion that we have that woman are not as equipped to lead more male dominated companies is insane. We have to look at her credentials, her abilities, her philosophy and her willingness. Men in particular have to step up and follow her instead of sabotaging her.

    I think Barra will do well.
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    • Agree with you completely, Pat. But there are a lot of middle aged and older men that are against female leadership, unfortunately. Seems it might be easier for women in the US than in Europe though, because of the role litigation plays in your country.

  7. She certainly sounds like she has the smarts (and especially relationship smarts) to be a strong leader. Seems like she is aware she will have to work twice as hard a male manager to be convincing. There are women who have been strong leaders – sometimes they get accused of acting like men, whatever that means.
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  8. I don't see a problem here, Catarina. Mary Barra has spent her entire working life in GM and has run divisions as diverse as Engineering, HR, Design and Supply Chain successfully, so clearly understands all the facets of the business.

    My view is that gender is of less importance to people nowadays when deciding whether or not they respect them as leaders – it's more about that leader's understanding of the business and the ability to communicate a clear vision. There's no question that she understands the business and her past leadership roles have shown her to be a successful leader.

    • Absolutely, Guy. But there are still a lot of older powerful men in the business world that are against female leaders. Quite a few of them sits on boards and if there are such men on GM's board she will have a tough time. The good news is that young men are not biased against women so in the future the gender problem will be a thing of the past.

  9. I would like to agree with Sherryl myself, but I do think although we have come a long way, there is still an issue of having to do everything 'backwards & in high heels' (Ginger Rogers). Mary Barra herself appears extremely competent. I hope her leadership will override the sexism that , while lessened has not disappeared. Happy new Year Catarina !
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  10. I think she is as likely to succeed as any man, the thing is, why do we need to ask if she could? Would we ask the question if a man had her credentials? GM has had women in it's senior ranks for a while now, admittedly many of the "firsts" have come in the last ten years, but the culture is obviously ready to shift, besides, given that women are outranking men as car buyers, both in the new and used category they need to shift. :)
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    • Agree with you completely, Debra. But until gender equality has been completely implemented, it's a good question. Even in liberal Sweden it happens that older powerful men outmaneauver women in leading positions, unfortunately.

        • Personally find it almost incomprehensible that gender equality is not yet a fact, Debra. When I moved back to Sweden I realised that nothing had happened since 1986 in this area!! With small exceptions such as that women are now allowed to be dog handlers. Thank God for that:-) It can be worse for a woman in Sweden than in Saudi Arabia. Sounds impossible but it's unfortunately reality.

  11. Women will continue to become leaders of more and more large corporations, and those they come up against will continue to adjust. That's not to say doing so is an easy task. Women do make better leaders if you ask me, but it's too bad men still outnumber them so much in powerful positions.
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  12. It's too bad that we are still assessing leadership by gender. I look forward to the day when this is no longer a relevant factor. Perhaps we have reached the point where she can lead without having to prove herself as a female leader, but rather as just a leader.

  13. Thanks for this great post Catarina/ I think she's got what it takes and may surprise many! She's clearly a good leader and what really comes through is that, unlike many men in such a position, she is wiling to put aside ego and understand that success is not a one man or woman achievement. Success comes from inspiring every member on your team to do their very best. I believe she CAN and WILL do just that!

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