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GM's new female chief executive adds to slow closing of CEO gender gap

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GM's new female chief executive adds to slow closing of CEO gender gap
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Boosters of more female bosses are hailing the appointment of a woman to the top job at General Motors.

Mary Barra is the first woman chief executive of a major carmaker.

Currently an executive vice president, she has been at GM for her whole career, starting as an engineering intern in 1980. Her father was also a long-time GM employee.

Retiring CEO Dan Akerson said Barra was “not picked because of her gender or political correctness”, but because she’s a “gifted executive”.

She said: “I’ve worked at General Motors for 33 years and I’ve always known it’s a great company. The men and women of General Motors are so dedicated and I truly believe we have the best team on the field. So it’s an honour for me to be able to lead this team.”

Former GM executive Lynn Myers, one of the first women in Detroit to run a car division before her 2004 retirement, said even though Barra has worked for the automaker so long she is not part of the the old regime: “This is not business as usual at GM. It’s not like the past. Mary is not afraid to shake the bushes.”

A Wall Street investment banker who has worked with GM for decades called her: “A pretty modern thinker in terms of how to compete in today’s world.”

The issue of Barra’s gender, she is the first woman CEO in a century-old industry that has been dominated by men, is mentioned frequently, but usually dismissed as the deciding factor in her promotion to GM’s top job.

“These ‘firsts’ of women CEOs are no longer newsworthy,” said Bonnie Baha, portfolio manager at DoubleLine Capital. “The focus should be on her qualifications, which appear to be uniquely suited to running GM.”

Barra takes over at GM – a company with annual revenue the equivalent of 110 billion euros – in January, just after her 52nd birthday.

Those who have broken through the so-called glass ceiling include Hewlett-Packard’s Margaret Whitman and IBM’s Virginia Rometty.

Barra will become the 23rd woman running a company in the top five hundred firms in the US. That is just over double the total of 10 years ago.

The number of women in senior management roles is rising, but equality campaigners say too slowly.