General Motors CEO Mary Barra. The World Economic Forum estimates that it may take 80 years, at the current rate, for women to reach parity in leadership at companies across the globe.
DETROIT — Ford Motor Co.’s promotion of veteran executive Joy Falotico as the first woman to lead its credit unit puts the company a step closer to gender parity with General Motors Co. among the U.S. automakers’ inner circles.
Falotico is among seven women in Ford’s 44-member top executive group led by CEO Mark Fields. In June, five of GM’s 21 corporate officers were women, including CEO Mary Barra, according to its website. Ford’s 14-member board has two female members while six of GM’s 12 directors are women.
“Joy’s promotion into this position is an outstanding step, and it’s definitely a signal to employees, shareholders and anybody watching of Ford’s willingness to develop and promote top, top women,” said Anne Doyle, author of “Powering Up! How America’s Women Achievers Become Leaders” and a former Ford communications executive. “But in the context of that, I would say Ford has a long way to go. There’s no question that Ford is in General Motors’ rearview mirror. I hope Mark Fields is not content to stay there.”
Gender parity is a growing focus among activists and investors as the pace of women’s progress slows. The World Economic Forum estimates that it may take 80 years, at the current rate, for women to reach parity in leadership at companies across the globe. Women captured less than 3 percent of new CEO positions last year, the lowest since 2011, according to a PwC study of 2,500 global public companies released in April.
“Ford is committed to hiring the best and brightest leaders, while continually expanding the diversity of our entire team,” said Bradley Carroll, a Ford spokesman.
Ford Motor Credit Co. Chairman and CEO Bernard Silverstone will retire after 37-year career there. COO Joy Falotico, a 27-year veteran, will be his successor.
Falotico, 49, will replace Bernard Silverstone, 60, who is retiring as Ford Motor Credit Co.’s chairman and chief executive officer as of Oct. 1, the company said in a statement Tuesday. The unit, which had pretax profit of $2.1 billion last year, has forecast receivables of as much as $139 billion this year, giving it the size of a major bank.
Falotico’s appointment is part of a push for more diversity in Ford’s leadership under Fields. She joined Ford Credit in 1989 and has risen through the ranks, including running the unit’s North American business and global marketing. Most recently, she was chief operating officer, leading its global business, as well as marketing, sales, business center and insurance operations.
“Mark has dramatically changed the complexion of leadership, demographically with the number of women he has in management,” Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, a senior associate dean of Yale University’s School of Management, said in an interview. “He also has really improved his mix of insiders and outsiders he’s brought into the company.”
Falotico was also named a group vice president of the automotive parent. Ford declined to make her available for an interview.
Globally, 26 percent of Ford’s salaried workforce and 18 percent of managers were women, the automaker said. For GM, 18 percent of the permanent workforce are women, as are 18 percent of managers, according to a regulatory filing this year.
Ford is about to lose the services of a prominent female executive, Barb Samardzich, 57, who is retiring Oct. 1 as chief operating officer of European operations. During her 26 years at Ford, she helped develop the 2005 Mustang and engineer the fuel-efficient EcoBoost engine line that has become a top seller. Samardzich, who is not counted among Ford’s corporate officers, recently spoke of the need for more women in the auto industry.
“Within this mix sits the most stubborn challenge for women: the chronic shortage of women in engineering,” Samardzich said in a keynote address to the Autocar Great British Women in the Car Industry awards last month. “It is up to all of us in this room to showcase the talents we have, to break through the glass ceiling.”