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GM just became only automaker with board of directors that's majority women

Jamie L. LaReau, Detroit Free Press on

Published in Automotive News

DETROIT — General Motors is adding two high-profile executives to its board of directors and expanding its commitment to diversity in the process.

Meg Whitman, the former CEO of Hewlett Packard Enterprise, and Mark Tatum, deputy commissioner and COO of the National Basketball Association, are joining GM's board effective Thursday, GM said.

With the election of Whitman, 64, and Tatum, 51, GM now has 13 directors, seven of whom are women, making GM the only automaker with more than half its board comprised of women, according to website 50/50 Women on Boards, which tracks the gender composition of corporate boards in the Russell 3000 Index.

Of the women on GM's board, one identifies as Hispanic, one as African American and one as Asian/African American, said GM spokesman Jim Cain.

In fact, even tech giants Apple and Facebook are behind GM on gender diversity on their board of directors. Only Amazon comes closest with 50% of its board members being women, according to The Org, a publication that says its mission is to make organizations more transparent.

“This is very much an effort at diversity," said Marick Masters, professor of business at Wayne State University. "Obviously, these people bring high qualifications to the table. But the more GM can move to have a diverse profile at the board level, the better off they are. It signals their commitment to that goal for the workforce.”

 

'A milestone'

GM is one of only 154 companies nationwide that has a gender-balanced board, meaning half, one more, or one less than half of corporate board seats are occupied by women, according to 50/50 Women on Boards.

GM has also been a leader in diversity, having been the first Fortune 500 company to seat an African American director on the board, the Rev. Leon Sullivan, in 1971, Cain said. GM was the first automaker to elect the first woman, Catherine B. Cleary, to its board in 1972, whereas Ford Motor Co.'s first female director was elected in 1976; Honda’s in 2014.

Diversity and different perspectives on a board of directors is critical for profits, said Harley Shaiken, a business professor at the University of California, Berkeley.

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