on GM’s New CEO

A few days ago, I made a comment during a panel discussion that “sometimes the focus was too much on women and not enough focus on cognitive diversity” (which I’ve written about, here). I got challenged by a fellow conference participant that I was simply not getting it, that I was NOT a feminist, and… that I was being “politically correct”.

Oh, geez.

Now let me tell you… I get accused of a lot of things. But, I rarely get accused of — i.e. never, in fact, except this once — that I am “politically correct”.

The research is what pulls this point of view. That if 10/10 people in a group are women, the group/team/organization all have the same failures that an all- men team does. ALL of anything simply isn’t right. But the other thing I’ve come to realize is that the “women” thing has an evolving thing based on your angle on it. At first, you see women succeeding and you’re thankful for a role model. Then you find a bunch of women together and you realize what it feels like to not be the outcast — to feel “normal” as a successful women in business. Later you realize the real issue to create fundamental change has less to with gender but more about including all voices — to allow many to be seen. I remember reading a great story of a bunch of kids playing at a children’s birthday party. In one situation, a gaggle of girls set the rules of the game playing, and chose something the boys consistently failed at. The girls then picked on the boys, creating outcasts, and failures. The girls very much enjoyed this — it felt good to be right and on “the winning side” more than it felt good to include the other kids, and to create a fair game everyone could win at. (Why we continue to play at games only one side wins at is a worthwhile question.) This seems to be the human condition. If it’s a win-lose scenario, I’d much rather win than lose, to be in majority rather than the minority. The story illustrates a truth: Sameness is not the path forward; so, for me, this is not about women OR men.

But I didn’t get a chance to make that point to this person making fun of me that day. I got told in the most derogatory way possible… that I was being “politically correct”.

To which I can only say:

Kathleen Warner (former COO of Startup America) once said to me that she would abolish the adjective “woman” if she could because it’s the least descriptive thing said about most women. This is not anti-feminism. It is to say, please notice all of me, not just my ovaries. I am more than my ovaries. I am many things, a set of history and experiences, visions and hopes that make up my onlyness. Please see me — or any of us — for who they are. Not with an adjective that describes 51% of the population. That’s actually quite generic.

I’m building on her idea in this recent post done at Time Ideas re: GM’s new CEO role:

Who could have imagined a woman being named CEO of a manufacturing-industry company? Today, for the first time in its 100-plus-year history, GM announced that Mary Barra would be the new CEO. Almost every headline you’ll see on the news will use the descriptor woman even though that refers to 51% of the population. And in truth, being a woman is the least interesting thing about her. Her most recent role was to run the $15 billion product-development division. After her 30-year career within the company, you could dub her the chief product officer. Her pedigree is flawless with a B.S. in electrical engineering and an M.B.A. from Stanford. She represents a very different type of leader, not just because she’s a woman, but because she wants to reinvent the firm. GM used to have a 10-page dress code. Who abolished it? Mary Barra. At the time, Barra said that “the key to unlocking innovation at GM is to trust the people to do the very best they can.”

But instead of honoring her design prowess, cultural turnaround, her long arc of commitment, or even her inherent geekiness, the focus will be on her gender.

Women drive cars. Women buy cars. Women sell cars. Ergo women run car companies. I dream of the day when her name and ideas make news, not the fact that she is a woman.

(Thanks to Tom Peters for contributing to this piece, too. Go to post to see his money quote.)

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