Editorial: Lead like a girl

Brought to you by The Oakland Post

Brought to you by The Oakland Post

Over the past three weeks, the final candidates for the next president of Oakland University have taken turns in the open forum hot seat, standing in front of audiences and answering questions in order to prove themselves worthy of Golden Grizzly leadership. They have been grilled on everything from their qualifications to their experiences to their visions for the university. Some were even asked more personal questions, such as what their spouses would do were they to receive an offer for the presidency. None, however, were questioned on if they were up for the position because of their gender. None were asked if they could handle the job while juggling being a parent.

But why would they? What does paternity or chromosomal composition have to do with leading an institution? About as much as the candidates’ eye colors or favorite flavor of ice cream: nothing.

So why, then, this past week, was it socially acceptable for NBC Today’s Matt Lauer to ask General Motors CEO Mary Barra if she felt that she got to her esteemed position because she was a woman, to “present a softer face and softer image for the company” as it goes through its recall crisis, or if she felt she would be able to handle being both a CEO and a mother?

Lauer later defended himself, stating that he was only trying to follow up on Barra’s work-life balance after she had mentioned her son in a Forbes article, saying that “it’s an issue almost every parent, including myself can relate to… if a man had publicly said something similar after accepting a high-level job, I would have asked him exactly the same thing.”

The truth of the matter, though, as demonstrated in the presidential forums, is that men are not asked these questions. All three of Oakland University’s presidential candidates, too, have families. However, they are white males. Their leadership is not doubted, the agenda behind their appointment left unquestioned.

Being the first female CEO of General Motors, or any Big Three auto company, for that matter, Mary Barra is under close watch as she shatters through the automotive glass ceiling. Barra’s response to Lauer’s questioning on her gender leading to her appointment as CEO? “That is absolutely not true. You know, I believe I was selected for this job based on my qualifications.” Bravo, Mary Barra.

Recently, Proctor and Gamble’s Always brand has launched a new campaign titled “Like a Girl.” In the campaign video, women, men, boys and girls are asked to demonstrate what it means to run, hit, or throw “like a girl.” Throughout the three minute clip, it becomes apparent that “like a girl” has developed a derogatory connotation of weakness, that being “like a girl” is a negative thing, damaging the self-esteem and image of all women. The clip then urges the audience to change the meaning of the phrase to something more empowering.

In a country and an age where women still make 77 cents to every dollar men earn in the same job; are seen, even in CEO positions, as family caregivers; and thought of as less simply for being feminine; it is vital that women in high positions like Mary Barra work to change the culture and society’s mindset by merely representing what it is to truly be “like a girl”: leading a Fortune 500 company out of a crisis and increasing sales by 13% from the previous year, all while combatting the scrutiny of those who question if she’s just around to present a “softer image” by standing up for herself.

We at the Oakland Post would like to congratulate Mary Barra on defending her right to lead and encourage all women to do the same: to speak like a girl, earn like a girl, and lead like a girl.

After all, changing an age-old societal mindset will take the work of everyone, male, female, old, young, like a girl and not.

The time is now to step up, OU. The time is now to be like a girl.