My first job was at a grocery store, where I learned about commitment to work. My father had an almost 40-year career at General Motors, and he encouraged me to pursue STEM. My mother taught me, Whatever you’re going to do, do it well. My parents were raised during the Great Depression—they had a strong work ethic and believed in the American Dream.
People have a perception of the auto industry as being a traditional organization, but 20 years ago, there were leaders encouraging women to take challenging assignments. I have never felt that there was a glass ceiling at General Motors. Research has shown that women will look at a new role and say, “Well, I can do these five things, but there are two areas where I don’t have experience, so maybe I shouldn’t nominate myself.” Men seem to say, “Hey, I can do five of the seven, I should definitely put myself forward!” I’m extremely proud of how many women we have in significant roles at General Motors, and it’s work that started decades ago by developing a pipeline of people who were encouraged, mentored and given “stretch” assignments.
Women can put too much pressure on themselves, especially during transitions like having children. Sometimes you need to move into a different role, but it can be a building block for your career.
Barra joined General Motors when she was 18 and has been its CEO since 2014.