In December, General Motors (GM) named its first female CEO, Mary Barra. Barra is also the first woman to run a global car company. She is also a mother to two children.
In an live interview on the Today Show on Thursday morning, host Matt Lauer questioned whether that meant she could do a good job at both running the company and being a good mother:
LAUER: You’re a mom, I mentioned, two kids. You said in an interview not long ago that your kids told you they’re going to hold you accountable for one job and that is being a mom.
LAUER: Given the pressures of this job at General Motors, can you do both well?
Lauer himself is a father of three children, but that hasn’t stopped him from doing his job, which has included, among other things, traveling to 50 locations for the “Where In The World Is Matt Lauer” segment, or standing in for Bob Costas to host the Sochi olympics in Russia.
And as Justin Hyde of Yahoo, who has covered the automotive industry for 15 years, noted, “All previous GM CEOs that I’ve known had children,” yet “I can recall only a couple of occasions where they were ever asked how they balanced the roles of father and executive; it was more often them who brought it up in small talk about what was going on in their lives outside the company.”
Women are frequently questioned on whether they can balance high-profile roles with family life, while the question is rarely posed to men. Sarah Palin, who has five children, was criticized over this, while President Obama has two young daughters that did not often come up on the campaign trail. Hillary Clinton is already being asked whether she can be a grandmother and president if she runs, but Mitt Romney was never made to answer for the same.
These questions are based on the idea that working mothers endanger their children’s development by being away from them during the work day. But that’s an outdated idea that has never been backed up by research. Today more than 70 percent of mothers with young children work, and nearly half of mothers work full time.
This is no reason to panic over whether they can also raise their children well. Fathers are doing much more childcare than they used to, for one thing. But even so, research has consistently found, since as far back as the 1950s up until today, that working mothers don’t harm their children. Meanwhile, being a mother can make an employee better at her job.
Matt Lauer responded to the criticism of the segment on Facebook, saying, “If a man had publicly said something similar after accepting a high-level job, I would have asked him exactly the same thing.”