Interviews, Watercooler

CEO Spotlight: Great Advice From GM’s Mary Barra

GM Mary Barra

General Motors has been a giant in the auto industry for more than one hundred years so the company understands that choosing a CEO is not a decision to be taken lightly. A great business leader needs to be strong, dedicated, and sincerely care about the company and its employees. Given that criteria, it’s no surprise that in 2013, GM announced Mary Barra would become its new CEO, making her the first female CEO of any of the world’s major automakers.

Since then, Barra has also become the company’s chairwoman and earned a highly respectable CEO approval rating of 88 percent on In honor of Women’s History Month, the Glassdoor team took the opportunity to pick the brain of this historic female leader.

Here are Barra’s thoughts and advice on some hot leadership topics in the professional world:

Actions speak louder than words

Consistency is key if you want to be a trusted leader. For Barra, the best way to accomplish that is to make sure all her values and words are supported by her actions:

I follow the words of Theodore Roosevelt: “Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.” There’s no shortcut to earning respect. Your relationship with your team is like any other relationship — you can’t build it the moment you need it. You build it over time. It starts when you make it very clear what your values are and articulate a clear vision for the organization. It gets stronger when you live those values every day and deliver results. If your values are little more than words on a page, they won’t mean much to you or the people on your team. But when you do what you say you are going to do — in both results and behaviors — that’s when you begin to build trust and earn respect.

Finding, and hiring, great female talent

It’s no secret that there is a shortage of female employees in leadership roles, especially in STEM related industries. Barra understands that there’s no quick fix, but by continually focusing on finding the right people for her team, she’s confident more diversity can be achieved:

Underrepresentation isn’t an issue you fix overnight by parachuting people in. That’s a recipe for failure. It’s important to build a strong pipeline of candidates, while also recruiting exceptional new hires. When you promote or hire women (or any demographic) who have earned the opportunity — who are the best trained, best qualified, and best prepared people for the job — then you not only address the problem, you make the whole team stronger. That’s one reason I’m such a strong advocate for STEM education, especially for middle-school girls.

Standing up for what you’re worth as an employee

In order to close the gender wage gap, Barra encourages women to take the matter into their own hands. But for female employees still experiencing salary discrimination, the solution is a positive and rational approach:

I’ve been very fortunate. I’ve been able to approach each new assignment purely as a professional, and I’ve been compensated on that basis. I’m encouraged that more and more women are being treated this way. At the same time, I know that wage discrimination still exists and far too many women are not fairly compensated. If this is true for you, discuss it with your manager. Be positive. Document your achievements and experience. Talk about how you can move the organization forward and ask for opportunities to show what you can do. If more money is not an option at the moment, ask for other forms of compensation as an interim step, like assignments that broaden your skills or high-profile projects that allow you to work with senior management. In the end, focus on being the best at what you do. That’s the most effective way to advance your career.

Taking over the helm of an automotive giant is no easy task. But thanks to Barra’s dedication and focus on accountability, she makes it look easy.

What are some other pieces of advice for female leaders? Share in the comments below!