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Forget the glass ceiling: GM CEO Mary Barra has broken through sheet metal

December 12, 2013 Blog 1 min read

What an exciting time for the auto industry! Since General Motors (GM) announced that Mary Barra will succeed Dan Akerson as the auto industry’s first female CEO, there’s been much celebration. And deservedly so. We often hear about women at organizations like Yahoo and Facebook, but to have someone who grew up in a blue-collar area take over one of the largest auto makers in the world—it just feels different somehow.

By selecting Barra, GM has set an example to the rest of the principally male-dominated industry that women are capable and deserving leaders. When a company of GM’s caliber takes such a significant, historical step, people notice.

And notice they should—because there continues to be a gender gap in leadership in most companies around the world, including professional service companies like Plante Moran. More than 50 percent of our entry-level staff are women, yet they don’t occupy nearly 50 percent of leadership positions. That’s why, nearly two years ago, we formed Women in Leadership, an initiative designed to achieve best-in-class attraction, retention, development, and advancement of women leaders.  We’re doing our best to close the gender gap by recognizing talent, developing it, and working to open up leadership opportunities for women.

Dan Akerson is also working to close that gap. He recognized Barra’s potential, helped develop that potential, and served as her advocate when it came time to suggest a successor to GM’s board of directors. As a recent column pointed out, “We need more Dan Akersons to open the leadership locker room doors to talented women.”

It reminds me of a quote from Warren Buffet. He said that America has forged its success using merely the male half of the country’s talent. “The closer that America comes to fully employing the talents of all its citizens, the greater its output of goods and services will be,” says Buffet. “We’ve seen what can be accomplished when we use 50 percent of our human capacity. If you visualize what 100 percent can do, you’ll join me as an unbridled optimist about America’s future.”

This appointment is great news not only for Barra and GM but for Detroit and our entire Midwest footprint. The tide continues to turn. I’m excited to be a part of it.

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