The TODAY show's Matt Lauer interviewed General Motors CEO Mary Barra last Thursday, and he didn't hold back on the tough questions—asking the car company's chief about whether there will be additional recalls, whether there was "something criminal going on" at the company, if there was a cover-up involving the ignition switch issue, if cost-cutting played a role, and what it was like for her to talk to grieving family members who lost loved ones due to the problem. Ouch.
But it was a different, more personal, question from the interview that's still making news. See the partial transcript, posted by Time.com's Charlotte Alter:
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. BARRA: Correct. (smiling.) LAUER: Given the pressures of this job at General Motors, can you do both well? BARRA: You know, I think I can. I have a great team, we're on the right path...I have a wonderful family, a supportive husband and I'm pretty proud of the way my kids are supporting me in this.
Alter ended her post with this: "How's this for a question: Can Matt Lauer be a good dad and host the Today Show? Let's discuss."
Hear, hear. As a working mom (and a journalist myself), I'm simply tired of this question being asked when a high-powered CEO who happens to also be a mom does an interview. Aren't we past this yet? (Sadly, it appears we're not.) Lauer took to Facebook to defend the question, writing:
"Thanks for all of the comments and feedback around our interview with GM CEO Mary Barra this morning. I wanted to share some thoughts around one of the questions that has started an important conversation. As part of the interview, I referenced this Forbes article where Barra talked about the challenge of balancing work life and home life. She said, "My kids told me the one job they are going to hold me accountable for is mom." She had just accepted the job as the first female CEO of a major American automotive company, and in the article she said that she felt horrible when she missed her son's junior prom. It's an issue almost any parent including myself can relate to. If a man had publicly said something similar after accepting a high-level job, I would have asked him exactly the same thing. A couple weeks ago, we did a series on "Modern Dads" and the challenges of fatherhood today. Work-life balance was one of our focuses. It's an important topic, one that I'm familiar with personally, and I hope we can continue the discussion.
But plenty of commenters called bs on that explanation, including the author of the Forbes article Lauer referenced, Joann Muller, who wrote that she "never felt compelled to ask if a 'mom' could handle being CEO, because I already knew the answer."
Sorry, Matt, but I just don't believe you would have asked a man this question. In fact, I think you've probably had ample opportunity to do so in your years as a journalist, yet I've never seen that headline come out of one of your interviews. (And I trust that it would, indeed, be a headline: Newsflash! Male CEO Asked if He Can Be a Good Dad and Run a Company at the Same Time!")
It's true that Barra herself has brought up the work-life balance issue—but frankly, given the seriousness of the issues facing GM right now, how is her personal life even relevant? How Barra performs in the job of CEO of a huge, public multinational company—one that makes products that can potentially affect the lives of every single person on the road—is certainly my business. But how she's doing in the job of mom? That's hers.
Work-Life Balance in America