GM's Mary Barra a glass breaker

If the future is female, as the slogan says, then the future has come to General Motors. In the five years since Mary Barra, 57, was appointed the first female chief executive of a major automaker, she has made the role of leader. Among her potential successors is at least one also a woman. And depending on the decisions to be made later this month, GM's board could only be the third in the whole S&P 500 to have a women's number.

Seekers of gender balance and corporate diversity see Barra's tenure with cautious optimism. She has the highest profile in a small but growing class of female CEOs, starting on April 1[ads1]5 by Best Buys Corie Barry.

The glass ceiling is still a reality; Women run only about 5 percent of large companies. It is also the glass clip, the phenomenon in which women are being drained to lead only those companies that are already busy.

Even in a stable environment, it is often faster to remove a female leader at the first sign of turbulence. Maybe it can be called the glass gold.

Nevertheless, Barra – along with Barry, Lynn Good at Duke Energy, Gail Boudreaux at Anthem Inc. and the women running defense firms Lockheed Martin, Northrup Gruman and General Dynamics – can create the critical mass needed to pull other women to the top of the business ladder and support them when they get there.

"Being CEO is a tremendously challenging and lonely position," said Connie Matsui, director of the biotech company Halozyme Therapeutics Inc., one of the few companies with a female executive and a female director. "For some women in an emergency, I just ask if they have enough of a network. There is another kind of community that can be developed to help these women continue."

The automotive industry is still overwhelmingly male. But Barra has sat down and GM, for other reasons. She has been willing to make unpopular choices, idle places and cut white powerhouses to shift focus to future technology, even though the company is still profitable. GM's acquisition of autonomous start-up Cruise Automation in 2015 looks better during the day. And while she is consistently criticized by President Donald Trump, the company's employees respect her, said Rebecca Lindland, a Detroit Authorization Analyst and founder of

  This image was provided by Mary Barra, General Motors chairman and chief executive officer, showing a camouflaged next-generation Chevrolet Corvette Thursday, April 11, 2019 in New York. "data sizes =" (min width: 980px) 539px, (min width: 600px) 600px, width: 320px) 90vw, 480px

Photo by Todd Plitt, GM, via The Associated Press

This photo was Provided by Mary Barra, General Motors Chairman and CEO, shows a camouflaged next generation Chevrolet Corvette on Thursday, April 11, 2019, in New York.

Wall Street has been like sanguine. A majority of the 28 analysts following the company consider it a purchase, and only 1 recommended sales of GM shares, according to Bloomberg data.

Rod Lache, institutional Investor's highest ranked US auto analyst for six years, signaled his confidence in January. "To the extent that the investment in a company largely invests in the company's management team, this company stands out," he said at the Wolfe Research Conference in Detroit.

Six of GM's 13 business executives are women; Among the remaining seven men, three hit the mandatory retirement age of 72, including Director Tim Solso. The Board may extend its terms or choose to replace them. Depending on what they decide, it can flip to a women's number for the first time.

GM would not comment on the future of any board members in front of the next proxy, who will disclose slate. The company usually submits its power of attorney at the end of April, before a June annual meeting and the formal vote to elect a new group of directors.

  General Motors CEO Mary Barra chats at the Detroit Car Show at the Garden Theater in Midtown on Jan. 13, 2019. "data sizes =" (min width: 980px) 539px, (min width: 600px) 600px, (min width: 320px) 90vw, 480px

Photo by Tanya Moutzalias, MLive. com

General Motors CEO Mary Barra chats at Detroit's car show at the Garden Theater in Midtown on January 13, 2019.

Women still account for less than 25 percent of board members in major companies. Michelle Ryan, a professor of the University of Exeter who designated the term "glass cliff," says the boards dominated by men may be more willing to give other chances or the benefits of doubt to other men's leaders. Among 64 CEOs who released S & P 500 companies under pressure from 2010 to 2018, 13 percent were women, more than doubling their share in the broader CEO's population, according to Spencer Stuart's data.

The power dynamics can change as more women join Business Management, said Axogen Inc. CEO Karen Zaderej. Her otherwise entire male board, Amy McBride-Wendell, became senior director last year. Zaderej says she has another woman at the table, and in a leading role has helped strengthen her position on some issues in the company, focusing on nerve repair and protection.

But it's more than solidarity, says Zaderej. As with a car, over 80 percent of healthcare decisions are taken by women. When the board discussed whether Axogen should consider business related to breast reconstruction after cancer treatment, the duo could give a wider picture of women's view of the subject. The boards are "realizing that you really need to have that woman's voice in the board to make sure you think about your business from a consumer perspective," Zaderej said.

Only Viacom and CBS have a majority of women directors among the companies in the S & P 500. Best Buy will join the short list when Barry is appointed in June. But half a dozen are evenly divided, while about 25 are a woman who is shy of parity or even majority.

"I really think we are on the verge of another springboard level," said Anne Doyle, a former Ford leader and author of "I discover that Mary Barra was one of the very first in the next wave to really break those really big, top global CEO positions. "

  Mary Barra, General Motors chairman and CEO, announces a public-private partnership to invest in several miles of highway cable barriers on August 28, 2017. "data sizes =" (min width: 980px) 539px, (min width: 980px) 539px, (min width: 600px) 600px, (min width: 320px) 90vw, 480px

Photo by Tanya Moutzalias,

Mary Barra, General Motors chairman and CEO, announces a public-private partnership to invest in several miles of highways for cable cars August 28, 2017.

It was Barra's former chief Dan Akerson who predicted a woman's rise to run a large car manufacturer. "As one day it will be a Detroit tree run by a car gal. I actually think so," said Akerson in a 2013 speech to members of Inforum, a nonprofit in Michigan advocating women's progress in the c suite. . Barra was then GM's chief product officer.

And then Barra became CEO? "You could have beaten me with a feather," said Terry Barclay, CEO of Inforum. "I didn't think I'd live to see it happen."

. …

History of Jeff Green with contributions from David Welch.

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