This is the story of a talented individual who put in years of hard work and eventually made it to the top. A person who began a career in the automobile industry at the young age of 18, and who, as the decades passed, was promoted from engineer to plant manager, then to head of corporate HR, and then to a senior executive position. This person’s very significant contributions to the company were recognized and appreciated, and as a result, this employee was finally named CEO. The company and the media all hailed the choice as being the best possible decision, due to the person’s vast experience and considerable skills.

This story could be about anyone. It’s the typical American success story about someone working their way to the top. We’ve heard it time and time again, with only minor variations each time. So why is this particular story, about this particular person, so significant?

Because it’s about a woman.

And because that fact didn’t play a role in the decision to make her CEO.

Now, there are plenty of women CEOs today, in just about every industry – such as, for instance, the founders of Plaid, Shivaun Palmer and Sarah Zink, or the founder of the company I work for (The Marketing Zen Group), Shama Kabani. But the automobile industry was one of the last holdouts, where the glass ceiling still seemed to be firmly in place.

That’s why it was stunning to hear the news that Mary Barra had been named CEO of General Motors last week.

Confronted with the very first female CEO of an American auto company, a cynical person could be forgiven for suspecting that this had something to do with filling diversity quotas, or that it might be a calculated bid for more positive publicity.

But nothing could be further from the truth. Barra was chosen as CEO because she was the best candidate for the job. And yes, it really was as simple and ordinary as that.

In a very ordinary candidate selection process, her qualifications were compared with those of the other applicants, and hers were found to be best suited for the position. And so she was hired.

The reason that this selection is so extraordinary is that it was the most ordinary thing in the world. She was not chosen because she is a woman. She was chosen based purely on her qualifications, just as any man would be. She was not discriminated against, nor was she given any preferential treatment. She simply competed with men on equal terms, and won.

That is the reason that this news is so ground-breaking. That is why the press is in a frenzy, spouting story after story about this newly minted CEO. A woman was chosen as CEO of GM, and it wasn’t a big deal.

So what does this mean? Is the glass ceiling well and truly shattered, once and for all? Not quite. But this is a remarkable indicator that long-held attitudes really have changed, and that women in positions of power are no longer the novelty they once were. Thanks to Mary Barra, it’s clear that hard work and dedication can lead to great rewards – regardless of gender.


Do you appreciate hearing real stories like this from real women? There’s strength and support in numbers —join Plaid for Women to connect with real women just like you!