General Motors Appoints Its First Female CFO

The number of women in leadership positions is scarce in the corporate world, but the auto industry just welcomed another.

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TRIPPLAAR KRISTOFFER/SIPA—Sipa USA via AP

General Motors appointed its first female chief financial officer last week. Dhivya Suryadeva, 39, will take over the position on Sept. 1, replacing Chuck Stevens, who worked for 40 years as the company’s CFO and is now retiring. 

“Any time that a woman gets to a position like this is cause for celebration,” said Anna Beninger, senior director of research at Catalyst, a non-profit that tracks women’s progress in leadership positions, in an interview with The Drive.

Across the board, only 5 percent of those occupying senior-level positions are women, according to Catalyst's research. And the number of women in senior positions has only increased by 1 percent in the last decade, Beninger noted. Unless there is extreme systematic change, that small number isn't likely to substantially increase, Beninger said.

Suryadevara was vice president of corporate finance since July of 2017 and was a key player in GM’s divestiture of Opel, its acquisition of Cruise, its investment in Lyft, and Softbank’s investment in GM Cruise, according to Forbes.

“Dhivya’s experience and leadership in several key roles throughout our financial operations positions her well to build on the strong business results we’ve delivered over the last several years,” Mary Barra, GM’s chief executive officer, said in a statement.

Suryadevara was selected by Barra, who broke barriers herself when she became the first female chief executive in the auto industry.

According to Beninger, although this is a milestone, there are still leaps and bounds that need be made so that women are accurately represented in leadership. About 47 percent of the U.S. labor force is made up of women, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

“We have to engage men effectively in identifying and promoting women in their organizations,” said Beninger. “So that they can advocate for them and find talent.”