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Feb. 5 (Bloomberg) — When General Motors announced in December that Mary Barra would become its first female chief executive officer, few people expected anything other than good publicity for the company. Yet shortly after President Obama recognized the milestone during his State of the Union address last week, the positive press turned sour: within days, outlets spanning the political spectrum from Think Progress to Fox Business were questioning the apparent discrepancy between Barra’s pay ($4.4 million) and that of her male predecessor, Dan Akerson ($9 million).

In response, the company has now issued a statement saying arguing that “discussion of pay inequality between Barra and her predecessor is premature and flawed,” adding that she might get extra long-term compensation after the company’s annual meeting. But it also put forward an implication that seems likely to accelerate the controversy: it cited Akerson’s simultaneous service as chairman of the board and his “previous experience” in the statement’s clarification of his earnings. Considering that Barra has worked at GM for more than 30 years and Akerson had no auto industry experience before becoming CEO, it’s not immediately obvious what “previous experience” the PR people are talking about.

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