Good news for working women on International Human Rights Day

Today marks the 65th year of International Human Rights Day, which celebrates the establishment of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

A brief from Human Rights Watch highlights the good and bad current human rights news, such as the introduction of a Congressional bill for a national paid family leave insurance program in the U.S. and possible rollback of measures affording more rights to women in Afghanistan. Sadly, incidents of government crack-downs on Human Rights Day events are also occurring. President Obama’s handshake with Raul Castro is also receiving plenty of attention and speculation, although most reports suggest that because it was not pre-meditated, the act was purely coincidental.

In much more uplifting news, Mary Barra, former Vice President of Global Product Development at General Motors, has been appointed as the company’s new CEO, making her the first female CEO in the auto industry. The variety of announcements regarding Barra’s new role are generally positive, though interesting in their varied approaches. BBC World News hails her appointment as a “landmark“, with an apology citing the amount of articles about how noteworthy it is for women to break through barriers. BBC World News Radio interviewed an excited employee who thought that she would never see a woman CEO in the auto industry, but was nevertheless impressed by Barra’s qualifications, especially her experience in manufacturing. An article in Fortune begins with calling previous CEO Dan Akerson a “conscientious housekeeper”, describing his preparations for leaving GM. Have we evolved to the point where “housekeeper” has a gender neutral association instead of an overwhelmingly female association ? If not, I’m not sure what the author is implying, but I won’t let it mar the overall positive reception Barra has received so far, which she completely deserves as a highly experienced and qualified professional at GM. She began as a student intern in 1980 and worked her way up to head of global product development, purchasing, and supply chain. A detailed profile on Forbes explores Barra’s challenges and successes at GM and her astute problem solving ability, which contributed to her CEO appointment.

Another notable quote from Fortune reveals what would seem to be GM’s forward thinking leadership:
“Akerson has said he favors an internal candidate to succeed him and that it was ‘inevitable’ that a woman would run GM someday — which clears the way for senior vice president Mary Barra. GM’s highest ranking woman.”

In a company statement, Barra stated:

“’With an amazing portfolio of cars and trucks and the strongest financial performance in our recent history, this is an exciting time at today’s GM,’” said Barra. “’I’m honored to lead the best team in the business and to keep our momentum at full speed.’”

Maybe Barra can also ensure that momentum is kept up to destroy the auto industry’s “steel ceiling.”

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