Jamie LaReau
Jamie LaReau
Retail / F&I Reporter

GM's Mary Barra is a woman. Get over it

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DETROIT -- I learned some shocking news this morning watching “Today” with Matt Lauer.

General Motors CEO Mary Barra is a woman.

That’s right, she’s even considered the “most powerful woman in the history of the auto industry,” Lauer says. Psst: That might be because she is the only woman in history to hold the top executive position at a major carmaker.

She is also a mom of two, according to Lauer. Wow, this gets even more intriguing.

And because she’s a woman and a mom, she apparently might give a company a “softer face.” By that, I can only assume Lauer means that I no longer have to gaze out the window in my Detroit office at the hard, cold steel towers of GM’s world headquarters thinking, “Those are hard, cold steel towers. Now, I shall see a soft, loving bosom with open arms.”

A mom and a CEO?

Lauer knocked it out of the park with such hardball questions to Barra as, can she be a mom and a CEO or was she selected as CEO because her motherly womanliness softens the company’s image.

Don’t get me wrong, these are perfectly reasonable questions -- for 1957, as my editor noted.

In fact, imagine it is 1957 and some high-profile male reporter asks Ford Motor Co. CEO Henry Ford II how he balances diaper duty with world domination. What? You can’t picture it? Neither can I, because it never was asked and likely never will be asked to a top male executive.

To be fair, Lauer did ask some tough questions. He did a reasonably thorough interview even if he did let Barra get away with a few weak answers.

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Defending his questions

But after Lauer was lambasted on social media for the interview, he posted on Facebook a defense for his “mom” question saying, “I wanted to share some thoughts around one of the questions that has started an important conversation.”

He said he referenced a Forbes article in which Barra talked about the challenge of balancing work life and home life. In the article, she said, “My kids told me the one job they are going to hold me accountable for is mom.”

Lauer wrote on Facebook: “She had just accepted the job as the first female CEO of a major American automotive company, and in the article she said that she felt horrible when she missed her son’s junior prom. It’s an issue almost any parent including myself can relate to.”

He went on, saying that if a man had publicly said something similar after accepting a high-level job, Lauer would have asked him the same thing.

Most qualified

Look, I commend GM for being the first automaker to name a woman as CEO. I hope her success will inspire other automakers to shatter their glass ceilings.

But she got the job because she was the most qualified person being considered for it, gender be damned. So can the media start treating her like a person and drop the sexist questions and monikers?

I don’t hear Sergio Marchionne being labeled, “The most powerful Canadian-Italian in the history of the auto industry,” before an interviewer ponders how his exotic ethnic heritage spices up Chrysler’s image.

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

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