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

June 17, 2020, 12:36 PM UTC

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
kristen.bellstrom@fortune.com
@kayelbee

ALSO IN THE HEADLINES

-She's suing. Marilyn Booker spent 26 years at Morgan Stanley, first as global head of diversity and later in wealth management, before being fired in December. She is now suing the bank for racial discrimination and retaliation; according the NYT, "she believes she was fired because she pushed too hard to get senior executives in that division to embrace her plan to restructure a program for training black financial advisers." She tells the Times: “My story is the same story as those of many black people on Wall Street. Our fate has been tied to the goodness of whatever white person is in charge.” (A spokesman for the bank says it rejects Booker's allegations.) New York Times

-A safe pick? President Trump has nominated Nancy Beck to lead the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which is responsible for reviewing safety information and collecting injury reports for a massive range of consumer products. But NPR reports that some scientists and public health experts are pushing back, saying that Beck, who currently leads chemical and pesticide regulation at the EPA, "has not adequately protected the public from toxic chemicals and pollution over the course of her career." NPR

- Step in the right direction. In the wake of the police killing of Rayshard Brooks, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has announced new rules for officers' use of force. Among the reforms: Deescalation techniques will be required before the use of deadly force, and officers will be “duty bound to intercede” when they see other officers employing excessive applications of force. (One might wonder why such rules weren't already in place.) New York Times

- Racism at work. A new Essence poll of black women in America finds that nearly half of respondents report that the workplace is where they most frequently experience racism. Forty-five percent of black women said they have faced racism while applying to a job and 44% while being considered for a promotion or for equal pay. Essence 

MOVERS AND SHAKERS: Apple diversity chief Christie Smith is leaving the company. Her exit comes as tech firms reckon with racism, though Apple says her departure was planned months ago. Laura Chambers, formerly of Airbnb, has been named CEO of breast pump maker Willow.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

- RIP, Nur Omar Mohamed. Rep. Ilhan Omar's father has died due to complications from the coronavirus. Omar was raised by her father and grandfather after her mother died when she was an infant; she and her dad came to the U.S. as refugees from Somalia's civil war in 1995. Politico

- Simone Biles, plaintiff. Simone Biles, the U.S.'s most decorated gymnast, identified herself on Monday as a plaintiff in an ongoing civil case involving USA Gymnastics and the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee. In signing onto the case, Biles joins 140 other victims of former team doctor Larry Nassar, including Aly Raisman, McKayla Maroney, Kyla Ross, Jordyn Wieber and Jamie Dantzscher. Still actively competing and training for the 2021 Tokyo Games, Biles is in the unique position of suing the same bodies that sanction her sport. ESPN

- Know her name. Sarah Hegazi, who is a lesbian, was one of dozens of Egyptians arrested for waving rainbow flags at a Cairo music festival in 2017. (Homosexuality is not technically illegal in Egypt, but police often use the country's anti-"debauchery" laws to prosecute gay people.) The arrest set off a downward spiral in Hegazi's life, ultimately leading to her suicide last week. New York Times

ON MY RADAR

The subtle significance of Nadiya’s Time to Eat The Ringer

Melinda Gates and MacKenzie Bezos unveil $30M gender equality initiative Geek Wire

7 months pregnant and furloughed The Cut

PARTING WORDS

"This has to be more than about just wearing a T-shirt. It’s about, how can we create real change this time, real change that actually sticks."

-WNBA MVP Breanna Stewart, on going beyond posturing to change systematic racism