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September 20, 2016 4:07 PM EDT

General Motors quietly became the first major industrial company to have gender parity on its board of directors, Forbes reported.

The automaker’s shareholders elected Jane Mendillo, the chief executive officer of the company that manages Harvard University’s endowment, to its board of directors this June, splitting its 12-member board evenly between men and women.

“We simply believe in putting the best people available on our BoD, for the needs of the company and BoD composition,” a GM spokesperson told Motto in an email. “This wasn’t a ‘managed’ outcome to the 50-50 split as much as it was a thorough vetting of candidates.”

It’s a milestone for the auto industry, which has a well-documented problem with elevating women to leadership positions. The auto industry, according to a Jan. 2016 Government Accountability Office report, ranks as one of the bottom five industries when it comes to representation of women on boards, averaging about 11%.

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But GM has made public strides to promote women within its ranks in recent years, naming Mary Barra its first female CEO (and the first CEO of a major automaker) in 2014 and elevating women into other management roles.

GM isn’t the first company to have a board with an even gender split, though it’s arguably one of the biggest names to do so. Two other S&P 500 companies — student loan corporation Navient and utility company American Water Works Company — have more women than men on their boards. Only two other S&P 500 companies also have a 50/50 split on their boards: broadcast company Tegna and the parent company for fashion brand Michael Kors, according to data released last week by Equilar.

But these success stories are still the minority: women only hold 16% of S&P 500 board seats, according to that 2016 Government Accountability Office report, and 24 companies on the Fortune 500 still don’t have a single female board members in 2016.



Write to Samantha Cooney at

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