This week TIME released their annual "Person of the Year" edition, an award given to Pope Francis for 2013. Since the announcement there has been a lot of buzz about the number of female awardees since TIME started this tradition in 1927, 89 years ago. Sadly you can count the number of female award winners on both hands.
Every year a person is given the namesake "Person of the Year" by, for good or bad, most affecting the news and our lives. Past winners include almost every president, international political figures, and business figureheads—but these are seldom every women. The women that have won usually made the cut due to their status by marriage (Madame Chiang Kai-Sheck shared her "Man and Wife of the Year" award in 1937 with her husband) or by hereditary (Elizabeth II in 1952). "American Women" as a whole also won the award in 1975 but that felt a little patronizing.
To address the backlash TIME has been receiving about being behind in the times by not recognizing the efforts of individual women around the world, Radihika Jones, Deputing Managing Editor of TIME, published an article to address the gender imbalance of the magazine's Person of the Year award. Her statements, however truthful and blunt, are a harsh reminder of what women are up against:
"It seems like too few women, over the course of nearly nine decades. But it’s a fair reminder that for much of TIME’s history, women seldom held the kinds of positions of power that would set them up for Person of the Year status. But we still haven’t seen a female President, nor are our corporate ranks exactly overflowing with female CEOs—two job categories that often feed the Person of the Year machine. As long as those imbalances exist in the real world, it would be wishful thinking to try to balance them on an annual cover of a magazine."Love it or hate it—it's the truth.
I find this statement especially interesting considered the timing. Jones published this article one day after General Motors named Mary Barra as its new CEO succeeding Dan Akerson. This change in leadership makes her the first woman CEO in automotive.
In September I had the pleasure of hearing Akerson, then Chairman and CEO of GM, speak about the gender imbalance in automotive at the 2013 Michigan Automotive Summit—an event that change my perception of the industry. Akerson admitted:
"Right now they're car guys. Someday one of the Detroit Big 3 will be run by a non-car gal."I think a lot of us saw this as foreshadowing to Barra's rise, she was already one of the highest ranking women in the industry, but I was surprised by how quickly this statement became a reality!
Mary Barra's accomplishment should be giving other 2014 Person of the Year contenders a run for their money. But is it enough to claim the title?
The selection of Barra to lead GM seems to be part of what may be a trend of women being put into leadership roles in industries long seen as dominated by men. Last year,Yahoo named a woman as president and CEO. Also, women have been named in recent years to run General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin, IBM, and Hewlett-Packard.
None of these women have been named Person of the Year. So why would Mary Barra be any different?
Barra is leading one of the top automakers. This makes her the highest ranking women in an industry that has been regarded as the largest and oldest global consumer market.
Her promotion came one day after GM announced their government bailout had ended as the U.S. Treasury Department sold its final shares of GM stock, which had been their saving grace during the country's financial crisis. This marked a turning point for company as GM closed the door on one of its darkest hours. Barra is now leading a strong line up of vehicles with successful global platforms. Despite being highly profitable once again, GM still facing issues including troubles including poor sales in Europe and the less than predicted success of the Chevy Volt.
As a woman in automotive I hope only for the best and for her success. Barra is bound to make global news for one reason or another. It could be for her forward thinking leadership and continual turn around and success of the global automotive giant or it could be for her failed efforts to keep the momentum post-bailout. Both of these, and any other outcome, the media will surely attribute to being a woman. She will make news—for better or for worse—and ultimately that is what TIME is looking for.