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What an old GM dress code says about Mary Barra’s leadership style



Good morning, Broadsheet readers! Morgan Stanley’s former global head of diversity is suing the bank, almost of half of black women in the U.S. say work is where they’re most likely to face racism, and we get a closer look at Mary Barra’s leadership style. Have a productive Wednesday.

– The mind of Mary Barra. If you’re looking for some insight into what makes GM CEO Mary Barra tick, I’d recommend a nugget tucked halfway into Fortune‘s latest Leadership Next podcast.

It comes up in a conversation between our colleagues Ellen McGirt and Geoff Colvin. Geoff, who’s covered Barra and GM for years, tells Ellen about an incident early in Barra’s career, when she was tasked with leading the auto giant’s human resources. When she stepped into the role, she discovered that GM had a 10-page dress code. Well, Barra knew that was “ridiculous,” says Geoff. “She quickly replaced it with a two-word dress code, ‘dress appropriately.’”

That straightforward, no-nonsense approach to leading the company through problems big and small has come to characterize Barra’s run as CEO. And it’s on display in her response to the killing of George Floyd, which Ellen asks her about on the podcast.

Barra talks about the letter she wrote to her company, in which she says she is “both impatient and disgusted by the fact that as a nation, we seem to be placated by the passive discussion of ‘why’… Let’s stop asking ‘why’ and start asking ‘what.’ What are we going to do?”

One of the first steps in answering that question: The company has created an “inclusion advisory board” to guide its actions, with the aim of making GM “the most inclusive company in the world.”

An aim and a board are not an answer—but they are a starting point. To hear more about Barra’s plans, listen to the full podcast here.

Kristen Bellstrom

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