Another Reason To Cheer GM's New CEO Mary Barra

Jan 10 2014, 3:42pm CST | by

Another Reason To Cheer GM's New CEO Mary Barra

Amidst all the celebration over General Motors’ appointment of its first female CEO, Mary Barra, I’m impressed and excited by something else: The fact that Barra comes to this lofty position after 33 years with the company.

To me Barra’s ascent represents a victory for old-fashioned reciprocity between companies and workers.  As journalist Louis Uchitelle reminds us in The Disposable American, employers and workers once built “lasting attachments” with each other, seeing them as mutually beneficial. Not so in the 21st-century. In today’s rapacious environment companies either hop or threaten to relocate in search of tax-free zones. Workers respond to company capriciousness.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average American worker spends about 4.6 years at a company just a few months shy of qualifying for a match in the company retirement plan. The latest survey from Future Workplace indicates job-hopping is the new normal especially among Millennials, who average 15 to 20 jobs over the course of their working lives whereas Boomers of Barra’s vintage, born between 1957 and 1964, average just over 11 jobs, according to the BLS.

That said, it bears noting that one of the key factors prompting Millennial job hopping is the yearning for a good cultural fit, according to Net Impact’s Talent Report for 2012. In other words, job hopping doesn’t reflect a lack of interest in stability. Rather, it reflects the importance Millennials place on having a meaningful relationship with their company.

That’s something Barra has in spades. The daughter of a die maker, who put in 40 years with GM, Barra essentially came of age at GM. She began her own relationship with the automaker at age 18 as a co-op student enrolled in the engineering program at the General Motors Institute, now Kettering University. (GM later sent her to Stanford to earn an MBA.) Over her decades with the company, she worked in a wide range of functions including engineering, communications, and human resources.

As president of the women’s network at the Chicago university where I work, I of course find it especially heartening that the veteran leader who now heads GM is a woman. While reciprocity is gender-neutral—valuable across the board—it is especially important for women who have historically been far less likely to ascend to leadership ranks. I have seen first-hand the impact of extending reciprocity to other women building their careers, creating pathways for them to become more visible to each other as well as management. I know from personal experience that cultivating women leaders yields long-term returns.

Mary Barra’s ascent to the pinnacle of GM is a refreshing reminder that reciprocity is alive and well in at least some corners of corporate America. She is not simply the first woman to head GM. She is also a woman with more than three decades at the company—an accomplishment that, to my mind, is just as worth celebrating.

Joy Boggs is president of the Women’s Network at DePaul University in Chicago, where she works in the Office of the General Counsel. She is currently a Public Voices Fellow with the OpEd Project.

Source: Forbes Auto

 
 

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