As of today, when General Motors announced that Mary Barra would become CEO in January, a woman is for the first time in U.S. history in the driver’s seat of a major U.S. car company. This is really good news for a lot of reasons.
For one thing, Barra’s talents have long been recognized. The 51-year-old businesswoman has worked for General Motors since joining the now-defunct Pontiac division in 1980 with her electrical engineering and management degree from General Motors Institute. By 2011, she had worked her way up to executive vice president with responsibility for GM’s global product development, purchasing and supply chain. In this position, she’s made some of GM’s most important product decisions as it has struggled to retake the number one position in global automobile sales and manufacturing from Toyota.
Barra was put in charge of human resources after the U.S. government rescued the company in the depths of the great recession in 2009. In that position, Barra had to shed employees and trim benefits as part of the government’s rescue package. On Monday, the U.S. government sold the last of its $49.5 billion investment in the company that had become known as “Government Motors.” GM filed for bankruptcy protection as part of the government’s deal, but became a public company once again in 2010.
Barra’s technical background should please those who worry that the U.S. isn’t producing enough female graduates in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Barra holds a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and earned an MBA from Stanford University, which she attended thanks to a grant from General Motors. Forbes named Barra the 35th most powerful executive in its most recent ranking. In many ways, General Motors was her destiny. She grew up not far from the company’s Detroit headquarters and her father was a career die maker at G.M. Barr also hasn’t had to sacrifice her career to raise a family. She’s risen to the top while raising two children.
Most importantly, putting Barra at the top adds another industry to the growing list of those where women have broken the glass ceiling and are making the decisions that can make or break a company. The technology sector has Marissa Mayer, the 38-year-old former Google executive, who took over at Yahoo last year. One analyst wondered whether she’s “superhuman.” Since becoming CEO, Mayer has taken a number of bold steps, ranging from purchasing the social media company tumblr and restyling Yahoo mail to cancelling the telecommuting option for all employees. Meanwhile, Yahoo’s shares have risen 125 percent since she took over in July 2012, which is significantly better than Google’s 77 percent gain over that period. Fortune magazine recently awarded her an unprecedented “triple crown:” she’s the only executive the magazine has named a business person of the year, one of the most powerful women, and one of its 40 people under 40 years old to watch.
Women have led companies in business machines, consumer beverages, and defense for years. Ursula M. Burns is in her fifth year as head of Xerox while Virginia M. Rometty has led IBM since 2012. Both women have spent their careers at their respective companies and both earned engineering degrees. EBay pioneer Meg Whitman has been CEO of Hewlett Packard since 2011, while Indra K. Nooyi has headed PepsiCo since 2006 and Marillyn Hewson became CEO of the defense company Lockheed Martin earlier this year. Sara Blakely and Tory Burch are self-made billionaires who have launched empires in the fashion world. Of course, there’s Oprah Winfrey, another self-made billionaire, who stands unparalleled in the breadth of her success in media, fashion, and publishing.
There’s another thing that makes Barra stand out. Her management style is likely to be very different from that of all the men who have led the company since William Durant founded General Motors in September 1908.
One of her predecessors is the now-retired executive Bob Lutz, who ran GM’s design division for year. As noted in a recent profile, “GM executives and outside analysts say Barra’s approach is diametrically different, one that relies on team-building and seeks consensus. She holds ‘hall meetings’ to solicit advice on project direction. She challenges engineers and designers to rethink their assumptions. Lutz’s motto was “Often wrong, never in doubt.” Barra’s might be: “Let’s all figure this out together.”
As more and more research shows that companies that are led by women tend to do better financially than those with fewer women in charge, it’s a good sign for America’s number one automaker that they’ve put Mary Barra in charge. With this appointment, General Motors may once again become the world’s number one car and truck seller.
CHARLOTTE Merry Christmas spoken here.
That could have been the slogan at Sarah Palin’s book-signing on Friday at the Billy Graham Library. As she greeted admirers, surrounded by the lights, trees and decorations, her message came across loud and clear.
“She’s gorgeous,” someone said, after she appeared to loud applause from the crowd. And she was, dressed in black pants and a black patterned lace top glasses on, hair up and pen ready.
Many of those waiting in line wore a pin that read “It’s OK to Wish Me a Merry Christmas,” carrying through the theme of Palin’s book “Good Tidings and Great Joy: Protecting the Heart of Christmas,” which sees the freedom to express the Christian values of the season under siege.
While some, including me, may believe stampede-triggering Thanksgiving Day sales more of a threat to those values than an innocently expressed greeting of “Happy Holidays,” the latter is indeed a problem, according to some in Friday’s enthusiastic crowd. (There were 68 cars in line for Palin’s scheduled 10 a.m. appearance when a library representative arrived at 7 a.m., she said.)
“Absolutely,” said Tammy Vander Zee, 43 and a mother of two. “I work for a large corporation and I’m afraid to say it” -- Merry Christmas that is. She said she admired how outspoken Palin is, and how she’s met being pro-life with her advocacy for special needs children, especially after having a son, Trig, who has Down syndrome. “She lives out her beliefs,” Vander Zee said of Palin. “That’s amazing in a political person these days.”
Whether or not you agree with Palin and her uncompromising views on what is wrong and right in America, she speaks for a lot of Americans who feel a little forgotten and a lot disrespected.
“I do not like the way she’s been treated,” said Susan Thomas, 61, of Charlotte, by the media or her opponents. “The way they spin her comments, like she’s stupid,” added Vander Zee. “She’s not remotely stupid.” Jenner Wall, 50, in sales and marketing in Charlotte, said she likes that a conservative woman can speak out. “She’s intelligent, and she stands behind what she says.” As a tour operator, Wall had visited Wasilla, Palin’s Alaska home town, and couldn’t wait to tell her so.
What is undeniable is that Palin speaks not only for them but to them. At the long table piled high with books, she smiled, reached out, shook hands and conversed with everyone. Despite a sign warning off posed pictures, she took plenty of those, as well.
Palin gave a special greeting to a few, such as 22-year-old Charlie Walling. It was the third time he had met Palin, who sends him a Christmas card and Alaska calendar each year. “She’s awesome and has a great family,” said Walling, a community college student who has Down syndrome. When he asked Palin out for lunch, she told she’d loved to go, but had to travel to Louisiana.
Charlie’s mother, Stephanie Walling, who just moved with her family to Charlotte from Florida, said they first met Palin when Trig was a baby and have tried to stay in contact. “Our connection is through both having children with Down syndrome,” she said. “She’s a real advocate for special needs kids and adults.”
Those who would sit around a television roundtable, poking holes in Palin’s misstatements on what is contained in the Affordable Care Act or her opinions on President Obama’s intentions might miss a larger point. Her opponents will go away before she does. Just ask Martin Bashir, the former MSNBC host who lost his show and left the network after directing crude comments her way. Each attack just makes her supporters love her more.
Franklin Graham, Billy Graham’s son and head of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, took Palin on a tour of the library, through its exhibits chronicling the elder Graham’s journey, before the book signing. The two are friends, and last month, she attended a 95th birthday celebration for the ailing Billy Graham in Asheville, N.C. Franklin Graham hovered for a while during Palin’s one-on-one chats at the signing, but he wisely left the spotlight to her.
Her next stop with Graham on Friday was the Charlotte processing center for Operation Christmas Child, the charity for Franklin Graham’s Samaritan’s Purse that ships shoe boxes packed with gifts to children around the world.
Though Operation Christmas Child has been criticized for its evangelistic mission, that’s what drew Denise Brown of Hartville, Ohio, to it. Her church joined another in Ohio to collect and fill 1,400 shoe boxes, and she and her husband had traveled to Charlotte to help pack boxes at the processing center. Brown, who said she had worked at a pre-school and had taken in foster children, said the charity “had a double blessing -- to provide things for children in need and also to share the Gospel.”
One line on Friday waited for Palin. Brown and her husband, David, stood in another for admission to the Billy Graham Library, which has been drawing evening visitors for its Christmas program, with carriage rides, carols and a live Nativity scene.
While those in both lines freely celebrate Christmas their way, many of them also find familiar solace in the message of Sarah Palin’s book, that this particular holiday despite the fact it has survived a lot more than a chorus of “Season’s Greetings” -- needs protecting.
You could say that Palin is preaching to the choir. But it’s one that is raising its voice, especially at this time of year. Frederick Jones was certainly happy to be there. After meeting Palin, the 73-year-old from Belmont, N.C., said, “She was great.” Jones, who said he admired that “she stands for Jesus Christ,” couldn’t stop smiling when he added, “I’d like to take her home in my suitcase if I had a chance.”
Did Pope Francis know what he was getting into when he spoke from his heart and from the heart of Roman Catholic doctrine? At the very least, if the pontiff didn’t know who Rush Limbaugh was before, he sure does now.
In his recent apostolic exhortation “The Joy of the Gospel,” Pope Francis wrote, “Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacra lized workings of the prevailing economic system.” Meanwhile, he added, “the excluded are still waiting.”
It was enough to set off Limbaugh, who on his show called “Evangelii Gaudium,” the papal statement, “pure Marxism.” Before this latest flap, Sarah Palin had made, then backed away from remarks that she was taken aback by some of the pope’s earlier “liberal” words. You would have thought they had never listened to similar support of social and economic justice from his immediate predecessors, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, words that charged the faithful, as Pope Francis wrote, “to touch human misery, to touch the suffering flesh of others.”
But the emphasis Pope Francis places on these issues, backed up by his modest personal style -- modest by pope standards -- has startled those who believed Catholicism begins and ends with opposition to abortion. The religion is big enough to accommodate many approaches and emotions. Pope Francis’ defense of unborn children is still as strong; it also includes his belief that “we have done little to adequately accompany women in very difficult situations, where abortion appears as a quick solution to their profound anguish, especially when the life developing within them is the result of rape or a situation of extreme poverty.”
The impulse to boil everything down to a liberal vs. conservative, for-or-against sound bite is ill suited to theological discourse. Sometimes the pope sounds more like Catholic politician U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), except when Ryan is in his fiscal conservative, Ayn Rand-admiring mode. Other times, he’s more Barack Obama, except when the president is affirming abortion rights.
Pope Francis and the teachings of the Catholic Church resist partisan battles, even as they become mired in them.
President Obama got the chance to sound more pope-like on Wednesday in his remarks on income inequality. He acknowledged the public’s frustration over a Republican-led government shutdown and his administration’s poor implementation of the Affordable Care Act. He then made his own case that “a dangerous and growing inequality and lack of upward mobility” has jeopardized middle-class America’s basic bargain “that if you work hard, you have a chance to get ahead.”
Perhaps church leaders should not be held above the fray, though it’s a bit unseemly when they become just another subject of a radio rant. While the pope may not be calling into an AM-talk fest to tell his side, he is wary of the danger of simplistic praise or condemnation of what he and all religions stand for.
“Intellectuals and serious journalists frequently descend to crude and superficial generalizations in speaking of the shortcomings of religion, and often prove incapable of realizing that not all believers or religious leaders are the same. Some politicians take advantage of this confusion to justify acts of discrimination. At other times, contempt is shown for writings which reflect religious convictions, overlooking the fact that religious classics can prove meaningful in every age; they have an enduring power to open new horizons, to stimulate thought, to expand the mind and the heart.”
So critics should first take in his words and consider them. The message will endure long after accusations of who is and is not selling Marxism.
In athletics, the scale of good and bad press conferences ranges from “Wow, we just won the [insert name of contest here]!” to “I take drugs to enhance my performance.” Summoning the press to discuss allegations of sexual assault skews toward the latter category.
So why did Florida State Attorney Willie Meggs’ announcement not to pursue charges against Jameis Winston have the feel of a victory celebration?
After months of investigating a claim by a 19-year-old Florida State University student that the school’s quarterback sexually assaulted her on Dec. 7, 2012, Meggs declared that there wasn’t enough evidence to go forward with the case. An attorney for Winston, who also is a front runner for this year’s Heisman Trophy, said the sexual encounter in an off-campus apartment was consensual.
Although Meggs announced his decision with a straight face, further questions about the investigation gave way to more jocular answers and chuckles from both sides of the microphones.
“Was there a sexual assault?” a reporter asked earnestly.
“That’s kind of why we’re here,” Meggs said, then laughed before adding, “You ask kind of convoluted questions.”
At another point, Meggs was asked if his decision was rushed in order to wrap up the case before Monday’s deadline for the Heisman voting.
“When are they doing that?” he asked, drawing laughter from reporters and other officials present. “Whenever they were doing it, there was no pressure.”
With the long-awaited decision now over, Winston and FSU are moving on to Saturday’s game against Duke in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game. Meanwhile, the attorney for the alleged victim said in a statement that the woman and her family “appreciate the State Attorney’s efforts.”
But others who watched Thursday announcement were critical of the tone.
Shirtless bros doing the tomahawk chop outside a press conference about a rape investigation? Have we offended everyone yet?
— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) December 5, 2013
As former prosecutor & advocate for rape victims I’m disgusted at the frivolity of Meggs press conference announcing no charges on Winston.
— Claire McCaskill (@clairecmc) December 5, 2013
I have no clue what actually happened, my point is that the press conference should be conducted as if both the woman & Winston were present
— Sam Ponder (@samsteeleponder) December 5, 2013
Excluding the parties involved, no one knows exactly what happened that night. To joke about that uncertainty is like laughing at a punchline before you’ve heard the setup. When an impartial party like Meggs is brought in to assess a possible crime, both sides should be treated with fairness and respect. In this case it appears that one side was shorted.
Why haven’t we ever had a woman president?
Marianne Schnall’s 8-year-old daughter, Lotus, asked that simple question back in 2008 during a family conversation about the country’s first African-American president.
The answer, though, wasn’t simple, and it took Schnall, the founder and executive director of the Web site feminist.com, on a journey that led to writing the book, “What Will It Take to Make a Woman President?” published in November by Seal Press.
It’s a “catchy” title, Schnall admitted, but it’s the tagline that tells the rest of the story: “Conversations about women, leadership and power.”
The book is a collection of interviews -- or conversations, really -- that Schnall had with politicians, public officials, thought leaders, writers, artists and activists, including Nancy Pelosi, Nicholas Kristof, Gloria Steinem, Sheryl Sandberg, Maya Angelou, Olympia Snowe, Joy Behar and Melissa Etheridge. She also tried to include a variety of perspectives from men and women, Republicans and Democrats, and to cross racial and generational lines.
The issue goes beyond a female in the Oval Office; the United States ranks 77th on an international list of women’s participation in national government.
Schnall asked each person the same question Lotus had asked her: Why haven’t we had a woman president?
“Everybody had a different take on it, but some common, unifying themes did emerge,” Schnall said. “One was the fact that we don’t encourage women and girls to see themselves as leaders or to pursue leadership positions, and because that’s how they see themselves, that’s how men and boys see them.”
“It starts with young girls are not taught to want to lead,” Jessica Valenti, author and founder of feministing.com, said in the book. “Wanting to lead and wanting to be powerful and wanting to be in leadership positions are seen as negative qualities in women that are really crushed from an early age in our culture.”
And it does start early. Jennifer Siebel Newsom, a filmmaker, actress and wife of California’s lieutenant governor, told Schnall how her daughter, at the age of 3 1/2,when asked if she wanted to be president someday, said, “No, only boys can be president.”
Many of those Schnall spoke with blamed the influence of the media on how girls begin to perceive themselves. ”There was talk about the changes we need in our media, not only the messages that girls and women are consuming about themselves, but the messages that affect how men view women,” Schnall said.
In the book, Pat Mitchell, president and CEO of the Paley Center for Media, asked,”When are we going to start to take the power that we have as consumers of media and demand that it be different?”
There’s also the issue of how the media cover female politicians. “Everybody can remember the very sexist, derogatory comments that were made about Hillary Clinton during her campaign or even are made about leaders like Nancy Pelosi,” Schnall said. “That impacts how women view themselves and how men view women leaders.”
Another challenge faced by female politicians mirrors the balancing act for all working mothers. Republican political strategist Ana Navarro was blunt in her explanation of the gender gap in elected offices and high-level corporate America: “Because, until very recently, women have been the ones that bore the brunt of family and home responsibilities.”
Combining career and family can be done, of course. Mary Fallin, a Republican and the first female governor of Oklahoma, told Schnall about being a single mom taking care of her bedridden mother during part of the 12 years she served as lieutenant governor.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who proposed expansion of the Family Leave Act this fall and is the mother of two young sons, said in the book “that there is a way that you can be part of the decision-making fabric of this country and still be a good mother.”
Families will also benefit from “the transformation of our culture for men and boys, too,” Schnall said, by rethinking gender roles so men who want to take more responsibility at home have that option rather than “work crazy hours.”
As Gloria Steinem told Schnall, “Boys can be babysitters, too.” The hard-and-fast rules, the generalizations, all need to be thrown out so individuals can make the choices that are right for them and their families.
The “conundrum of the likability issue” was brought up by Sheryl Sandberg, author of “Lean In” and chief operating officer of Facebook. As women become more successful, they’re less liked, yet that doesn’t happen with men.
The need for campaign finance reform was also cited. “If you have less money and more civility,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said, “you will have more women [in politics].”
Although Hillary Clinton’s name is a common thread throughout the book as the most likely woman to become president in the near future, those interviewed talk about the need to create “farm teams” -- a pipeline of women coming up through the ranks of local offices, state legislatures and governorships.
“Shoe leather” and now social media can help win elections for “offices like city council and school board and state representative and mayor in smaller size communities,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) in the book, which serve as stepping stones for higher offices. She said she “knocked on 11,432 doors” in her first race for the state legislature.
Schnall sees her book as the first step in ongoing conversations about the encouragement of girls and young women to become leaders and to consider political careers. A number of programs and even high school and college curriculums aim to inspire girls and young women to develop leadership qualities.
“The most immediate things we can do,” Schnall said, “is to be aware as parents of the messages our daughters -- and our sons -- receive.”
But she’s already impressed with the younger generation. “My daughters are so much more centered and have so much more self-esteem and a sense of who they are than I had at their age,”Schnall said. “Just by looking at the younger generation, I feel like we’ve made strides.”
She emphasizes that the issue of a woman president -- and having more women in leadership roles in both government and corporate life -- goes beyond gender equality.
“Ultimately, what’s important to me is that this isn’t looked at as a women’s issue, which it definitely has been in the past,” Schnall said. “It’s more than just an issue of equality -- it really is about whether we are a democracy. It’s not about whether women are better than men. It’s about who will best represent our country.”