Can Mary Barra be a CEO and a Parent? Of Course She Can

This morning on the Today Show, Matt Lauer asked Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors, about whether she can do her job and be a mother, and I could not believe my ears.

Never mind that she graduated with a degree in electrical engineering then proceeded to get a Masters in Business Administration from Stanford. That she serves on the General Dynamics Board of Directors, as Vice Chair of the Kennedy Center’s Corporate Fund Board, or that she is a member of the Stanford Graduate School of Business Advisory Council and the Kettering University Board of Trustees. That she has been with GM since 1980, and has worked herself straight up the corporate ladder. She has a uterus, so let’s ask her about whether she can handle the pressures of her job and being a parent.

How sad it is that the media can still choose to ask questions that perpetuate the century-old stereotype that women are somehow less able than men to be successful both in and out of the home. That women who shatter the glass ceiling are doing so at the sacrifice of their children. To make matters worse, he mentioned her being a parent more than once. As if being a parent is some sort of corporate handicap.

Sure, for any working parent there will be moments and days when there is an emotional tug-of-war between home and work. Does it mean that a female CEO is any less able to do her job than a male CEO? Hardly. Parenthood is an incredible learning experience. If anything, it has made me personally even more aware and even more competent.

Besides, women are not the only ones who feel that tug. Perpetuating this stereotype does no justice to men either. It implies that men cannot be both effective leaders and effective parents, and that those in positions of power have drawn a line, choosing their careers over their families. What a disservice that is to men, to their companies, and to their children.

We women are a multifaceted bunch. We can excel at more than one task at a time. We can do our jobs and raise well-adjusted, confident, happy children. We can be parents and use our intellectual abilities. We can be effective leaders in the workplace and at home. We can raise our daughters to be effective leaders too, and raise our sons to respect their sisters as equals. We can, because we are awesome like that. The world is a stronger, more productive place because of us. Instead of questioning that, you should commend it.

Of course, this is not just about Matt Lauer’s poor choice of questions for Mary Barra. This is also about the types of questions posed to the likes of Marissa Mayer and to Hillary Clinton. This is about all the parents who tell their daughters that they can be anything they want to be when they grow up, and who mean it.

If we are being honest, perhaps somehow we women are also perpetuating the stereotype by judging more than we encourage, by sometimes bringing one another down more than building one another up. We are more than capable of making choices that serve us, our families, and our careers. We can decide whether we want to stand tall, to lean, or to jump with both feet. And no matter what choices we make, we will rock them because we are women, not in spite of it.

We will continue to shatter glass ceilings. We will continue to create our own paths. We will continue to be successful both in and out of the home. So you can keep on asking us about it, or you can simply get used to it.

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Comments

  1. I find that highly offensive. I can’t imagine him asking a man the same question.

  2. I agree women are able to excel at many tasks. I see men doing it now too, never before has there been a time when men are so involved with cleaning and children (not my husband for the former, hahaha). Wait, that’s not funny. ;)

  3. You can never be right with stereotypes. I believe everyone can enjoy success on their own terms – what works for them. As men and women, we can have a life that encircles what we love and those we love. It requires discipline, but it can be done, regardless of gender, or any other standard. We are all children of God, and therefore, creators!

  4. Wow, that is kind of offensive. This is the first I’ve heard of it, but wow.

  5. Why is it always an argument, or at the very least a big discussion, when a woman or minority comes into power? I can’t wait for the day when it’s not big news.

  6. Maria Oller says:

    I was shocked when I saw this trending on twitter yesterday as a latina, a mom and someone who worked 10 or more hours until 3 years ago I’m pretty offended I have 2 wonderful teenagers and I was there whenever they needed me

  7. Such a shame that discussions like these are a reality. Can we really have it all? My husband has a very time-consuming high-pressure job and he is able to do that bc I am home with the kids. If I was the working mom with his job, I would need him to be there more for the kids and or have a nanny/daycare. Something has to give. I understand both side – wish I had the answer!

    • I am all for that, Lindsey. Together you and your husband have made that decision based on your family, your finances and your preferences. That is terrific! I think the issue (at least for me) is about how he questioned that as a mother she might not be able to do both, when men never seem to get questions along those lines. It saddens me that somehow her ability to parent her children is in doubt because she is in a position of power in the workplace, and vice versa. It is such a double-dtandard.

  8. I agree that it is a highly offensive question, but I do have to wonder how much time she actually spends with her kids given that she obviously has worked extremely hard to get to where she is today. I quit working outside the home because I was tired of daycare seeing more of my kids during the week than I did. I felt my kids were suffering. I realize not every family situation is the same and maybe Mary Barra has it together way more than I ever did while I was working :) Maybe the struggle between being a successful business woman and being there when your family needs you was the intent of Matt Lauer’s question, even if he worded it poorly.

    • I absolutely agree with you that it was worded poorly. Plus, there was no mention of other factors such as whether her husband has a career outside of the home, the ages of her children, or how far away her home is from her office. (Though I am sure that her job also requires her to travel quite a bit.) Not that those things are necessarily our business, but they could make quite a difference for any working parent.

  9. I’m glad other people spoke out about this. Maybe if it was worded different it wouldn’t have sounded so offensive but still what a weird question to ask!

  10. This is great. I’m lucky to have a husband who thinks that I can DO IT ALL. I think we need more people in the world who are just believers instead of “wondering” if it can be done.

  11. What a great role model!!!!!!!

  12. Helene Cohen Bludman says:

    Pretty unbelievable after all these years that women’s ability to compete in the work place is still questioned. Have we made any progress at all?

  13. Love LOVE this post. Agreed 100%. Sad to know there are still people out there who think having a uterus impedes one’s ability to do a certain type of job – esp. if they’ve already been doing it for YEARS without problems.

  14. That question is offensive. I hope someone calls him out on that…that stereotype needs to be changed.

  15. It’s sad that the question was asked in this day. Women are more than capable.

  16. What’s there to debate or argue?? There is no point asking such questions?? Why can’t anyone handle the responsibility of a parent and a high post job at the same time??

  17. While I do think there is still a great imbalance when women receive these questions and men do not… I look at it differently. Anyone who observes their own mother, truly observe and appreciate what their spouse does as a mother, etc… can recognize that being a mom is HARD work and more than a full time job in and of itself. So to me it seems reasonable to ask if someone who is a CEO can really juggle both when they both are such incredibly time-consuming and demanding. But, you hear so often of the stereotype about men who “live at the office” and neglect their families at home, so while there may not be the proper structure in place at the moment. Obviously people should ask men the same question!

  18. Being a mom requires us to effectively run a business inhome as well as in the work place.

  19. That is really so depressing that we still ask these questions today. Boo Matt Lauer. Unbelievable. Thank goodness strong and successful working moms everywhere continue to prove just what a ridiculous thing that was to ask her.

  20. I’ve lost so much respect for Matt Lauer. He should know better than to ask such an offensive question and perpetuate the stereotypes.

  21. I am not shocked that Matt Lauer did that . He’s not someone I watch. I stopped watching him when he treated Ann Curry so badly. The sad thing is he will be allowed to get a way it. Fired is something that channel that I don’t watch needs to do.

  22. I would take that as an insult! She worked hard for that degree and deserves as much respect as any man.

  23. I didn’t see the interview myself, but it sounds like it was asked for shock value. It’s insulting, condescending and it sounds like he’s projecting his own views by even asking the question.

  24. I did not see the interview and often wonder where some folks get their questions

  25. Of course women can handle being a parent and a CEO-many times mothers already have the necessary skills in place that it takes to even be a CEO

  26. wow! Ignorance really. It’s so sad that people think woman are incapable when in fact we are so strong!

  27. Yes, they probably wouldn’t have asked that question to a man, right?

  28. so disappointed in matt lauer. awful question to ask anyone! offensive and really just ignorant!

  29. Gotta wonder WHY society still can not accept a strong woman!!! We have come a long way – but we still have so far to go! It is really sad that Matt felt that was a good interview question. :(

  30. Well gee! Wonder what kind of a dad he is? That is just so stupid… YES I said stupid… to have that kind of attitude any more.

  31. That was such a stupid question to ask. I’m really shocked that he would even open his mouth to ask that. I’m sure he’s probably kicking himself right now.

  32. I saw that and was so shocked by that question myself! Journalists are rude and will ask anything to get attention but I bet it would have never occurred to him to ask a man that question!

  33. What a crummy question to ask. Honestly, you said it in one of the comments above. Work life balances are personal decisions made between members of the family. Anything is possible. Anything. It is frustrating that she is asked in a way to explain herself. And the worst part about it is that it would NEVER have been asked of a man. Frustrating – shouldn’t even be a talking point in an interview such as this one.

  34. I love that so many people tweeted him out for that dumb question. I hope he realizes what a faux pas that was. It was a good interview but for that.

  35. nice blog… userful information

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