Mary Barra: Meet the Woman Changing the Auto Industry’s Boys’ Club

January 16 - Sarah Ashlock

FIRST THOUGHT: What’s Your Driving Style?

Have you heard that quote by comedian George Carlin where he talks about how when you drive, you think everyone going slower than you is an “idiot” and everyone going faster than you is a “maniac?” We determine what’s normal based on how we are or how we act. Think about it: That means that someone else on the road thinks we’re an idiot or maniac.

You’ve been in this situation if you’ve ever been in a relationship: Your man devours his food like a Geico caveman and you’re repulsed because you’d never do that. In the same vein, he thinks the lackadaisical way you eat is asinine. You might be a slick Bugatti or you might be an electric scooter, and either is OK.


Speaking of cars, in 2018, the top 20 motor vehicle companies and auto part businesses in the Fortune Global 500 had a dismal 8 percent of women in executive levels. This is nuts, considering the contributions women have made to this industry over the years. The first car heater was invented in 1893 by Margaret Wilcox in Chicago, and Mary Anderson created manual windshield wipers a decade later in Alabama. After Bertha Benz took the first long distance trip in a motor vehicle, she designed brake pads that would help them function better.

WOMAN TO WATCH: Mary Barra, Chairman & CEO of General Motors

Today’s Woman to Watch, Mary Barra, joins the list of women making history in the auto industry as the first female CEO of major global automaker General Motors. Mary has a lot of influence over the company. She’s also the recipient of some fierce criticism and concerns, as is often the case when you’re a big, big deal.

As a result of flagging sales, GM plans to close several plants and to stop making several low-selling brands. This isn’t the first—and certainly won’t be the last—time that an automaker has to flow with the changing tides, but Mary’s used to it. She started at GM nearly four decades ago while participating in the General Motors Institute, and later earned degrees in Electrical Engineering and Business Administration.

At 18, she inspected hoods and fender panels of the Pontiac Grand Prix and now, well, now she’s the first woman to run one of the United States’ “Big Three” automakers. Mary has addressed the future of the automotive industry by developing cars that share the same parts, as well as encouraging collaboration between departments. Not only that, but some employees note that she will conduct town hall meetings to solicit feedback, opting for projects backed by consensus.

Mary’s journey from factory floor to corner office has given her powerful beliefs. One of those beliefs might sound naïve, but it comes from experience: She believes people want to contribute, that they want to do a good job. They’re innately driven if given the support and tools to encourage them.

One piece of advice Mary gives women is to not give into fear. Don’t let your mind spiral and make assumptions about what the future might hold in terms of your career. Mary’s willingness to embrace new ideas might be why GM’s setting on a new path. In 2017, the company announced that a focus would be placed on electric vehicles, and it plans to release models by 2023.

Mary’s plan to run a smaller and more profitable automaker is a risk she’s brave enough to take, but when you’re the first female CEO of one of the country’s most influential companies, your risks are bound to pay off.


You don’t make a cool $22 million and not have a few noteworthy quotes. So to close today’s story, I’ll leave you with one by Mary Barra:

"Not everything needs changing. Some things need protecting. And that can be just as important, challenging and rewarding as changing the world."

Get On The Dot in your inbox each day.
Copyright 2018 © On The Dot Woman - All Rights Reserved Privacy Policy