Time for old automakers to make a progressive move with a female CEO

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"The time has come."

Barbra Streisand made that statement at the 2010 Academy Awards before announcing that Kathryn Bigelow had won the Oscar for best director.

Bigelow was the first woman to win the best director award, and I was very moved watching history.

I hope to have that feeling again one day if General Motors names Mary Barra as CEO. That would make her the first woman to run a major global automaker.

Barra, 50, is GM’s global product development chief. Last week, GM CEO Dan Akerson specifically named her as a candidate to succeed him, according to Reuters.

While the 63-year-old Akerson has not announced his exit from GM yet, I commend him for publicly stepping forward to introduce the notion of a woman heading an automaker in this male-dominated industry. Planting a notion is the first step toward acceptance.

Akerson has called Barra “one of the best talents” he has worked with during his career.

Look, talent is talent and gender shouldn’t matter.

But gender does matter, because diversity is a good thing.

Each of us has a unique worldview based on our life experiences. And we experience life based somewhat on our race, ethnicity and gender. If management looks around and sees mostly white men dominating the top of any company, they should embrace new viewpoints to benefit the company.

And imagine the role model Barra could be for the industry as the first female CEO of a major global automaker. There has been a struggle to get young women interested in pursuing traditionally male-dominated fields. If young women see their own potential in a role model such as Barra, those women could provide future talent for the industry.

I am confident GM’s board will choose Akerson’s successor based on merit.

But if all else is equal, in an industry that’s more than 100 years old, a woman running a major automaker is an idea whose time has come.

You can reach Jamie LaReau at jlareau@crain.com. -- Follow Jamie on Twitter

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