Barra is the first woman to be appointed to the position of CEO for a major automaker. However, she isn’t just an inspiration to women because she is set to lead a multinational corporation. She’s also an inspiration because she’s worked hard to rise through the ranks and obtain her current position. Barra started small and has now achieved big things, something that Pennsylvania Women Work encourages all women to do.
When she was 18 years old, Barra started at GM as part of the company’s student internship program, where she had the humble task of inspecting fender panels on the factory floor. When she achieved her Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering from General Motors Institute, now Kettering University, she became the manager of the Detroit/Hamtramck Assembly plant. With her team-oriented approach to solving problems and her driven nature, Barra excelled at GM. She has served the company for 33 years and worked in every aspect of the business from human resources to manufacturing engineering. Through the company’s fellowship program, she obtained a Master’s degree in Business Administration from Stanford University. Most recently, before being named the next CEO, she was Vice President of Global Product Development. This diversity of experience gives her unique insight into GM’s company culture and operations. She is also a wife and the mother of two children.
Her rise to the top is certainly impressive, especially in an industry with such a macho image, but leadership in businesses of all sectors is slowly beginning to open up to women. However, according to a report by the nonprofit Catalyst, women still only hold 11.2 percent of executive positions in the in the manufacturing-durable goods sector, which includes the auto industry. This is hardly gender parity! Other companies should certainly follow GM’s lead and appoint qualified women to top positions.
But even in a business world that doesn’t always view women as likely leaders, individuals like Barra, who have the gumption and the perseverance to do their jobs well, can rise through the ranks to become movers and shakers. Her journey from intern to CEO captures the spirit of Pennsylvania Women Work, and she is an example of the initiative and resourcefulness that we try to instill into all of our New Choices participants. Women everywhere can be inspired by Barra’s accomplishments and tenacity, and they can be encouraged to achieve their highest aspirations.