Matt Lauer has faced quite a bit of backlash since he interviewed GM CEO Mary Barra yesterday. Ironic since she’s the one leading the company that’s had to recall millions of cars after years of bad business practices, injuries and deaths.
During the interview, Lauer asked, “Given the pressures of this job at General Motors, can you do both well?”
Barra’s response was fine: “You know, I think I can. I have a great team, we’re on the right path. … I have a wonderful family, a supportive husband and I’m pretty proud of the way my kids are supporting me in this.”
But the fact that it was even asked has upset many people who think the question was sexist. A ThinkProgress writer points out that Lauer himself has traveled the world for his job despite having three kids at home. When was the last time you recall a male executive being asked this question?
Lauer’s defense is that he was referencing an article in which she talked about her children. But why did he even bring that up? With a limited amount of time allotted in her segment and all of the issues her company has had to deal with alongside the Congressional interrogations she’s faced, the question just seems ill-timed and irrelevant, no matter the motivation.
“It’s an issue almost any 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,” he wrote on his Facebook page. I don’t believe that. But moreover, the question would’ve been equally dumb.
Lauer also asked whether Barra got the job because, in addition to being highly qualified, she’s a mom and a woman and GM officials knew the company was in for a tough time. “As a woman and a mom you could [present] a softer face and softer image for this company as it goes through this horrible episode.
That question is an excellent one. There are stats that show evidence of a “glass cliff” in which women are elevated to high positions at troubled companies, and in some cases only for their careers to be totaled as a result. Some speculate that this is what happened to Barra. Here’s a question that acknowledges that Barra is one of the few female execs out there without resorting to the mom trope. It touches on the issue without veering into unnecessary territory. This interview came at a time when being a mom simply wasn’t the most significant thing on Barra’s resume.