Youngest Fortune 500 CEO… What say you about Marissa Mayer?

Marissa Mayer
Marissa Mayer, CEO, Yahoo


I’m sure that women around the world cheered when Marissa Mayer was appointed CEO of Yahoo. Add one to the short list of women at the top. But what does this appointment mean to women like you and me, and will this help us in the long run?  I’m sure a lot of people will be watching her closely and scrutinizing her every move, including me.  Yes, I’ll even be paying attention to what she’s wearing, but hopefully I won’t read about it in the headlines.

Marissa is a 37-year old, former senior leader at Google. According to the Internet, (naturally everything found on the Internet is true!) she had quite a career at her previous company.  One of the original employees, and worth $300 million according to one source, she did well for herself. But what reportedly happened over the last few years seems to tell an all too familiar story. It seems that the golden child may have been passed over for promotions and not given the plum assignments she had previously enjoyed. While this perspective isn’t common across all the articles I read, her career trajectory seems to have changed over the past few years. For someone as smart, as focused and as determined as Marissa seems to be, did this water the seeds of discontent that had been planted at Google?

If Yahoo weren’t in so much trouble, would they have hired a woman? There’s a concept called the ‘glass cliff’ where women are given posts that have a high risk of failure. On the extreme side of this concept is the opinion that if the woman fails, well, no great loss. But the sad reality is that Marissa will need to be a great leader to turn the company around, just as any man would need to be. Whether she fails or succeeds, let’s not say it’s because of her gender. She was, after all, the first female engineer at Google and holds degrees (yes, plural) from Stanford.

What about the fact that Marissa is pregnant? I’m looking forward to seeing how much media attention will be focused on Marissa’s belly, assuming, of course, it will be in the photo and not on the cutting room floor. It will do the world good to see a senior leader pregnant and still able to perform. Let’s just hope her health holds up and there are no complications.

But the fact that her pregnancy wasn’t made public until she was almost 6 months along says a lot and it still raises questions about how a woman is viewed who is about to have a baby. Did the folks at Google predict that this woman who was still in her childbearing years, and newly married (2009), would be a high flight risk? Did it contribute in any way to her supposed being passed by for promotions? What about maternity leave? She says she’ll only take a few weeks and will work throughout her leave. (As working Moms chuckle and roll their eyes, remember ladies that this is Marissa’s first child and she may not know any better.) Was Yahoo actively encouraging Marissa to take more than a couple weeks off after giving birth? Marissa says the Yahoo Board demonstrated evolved thinking in hiring a pregnant CEO. I find that hard to believe when she’s not even taking the paltry 6-week entitlement, which sends a loud, and unwelcome, message as far as I’m concerned.

Where I feel Marissa doesn’t really represent the typical working Mom is in having to deal with the ‘second-shift’ issues. I doubt Marissa will have to deal with a sink full of dirty dishes and a laundry basket overflowing onto her bathroom floor and a family asking what’s for dinner before she even gets her shoes off. I also don’t see her 120-hour workweek being interrupted by the ‘daycare dash,’ as I imagine her being surrounded by a trove of eager helpers. I do believe that she’ll eventually reduce her 120-hour workweek to 80 or 90 hours, but I think she’ll do so because she wants to, not because she has to. She’ll decide what she’s willing to sacrifice as it relates to raising her son soon enough.  Let’s face it, all women (especially new Moms) have a 120-hour workweek. The only difference between Marissa and us is what we’re spending that time doing.

I would be remiss if I didn’t address the rumours that Marissa has a leadership style reminiscent of the tyrant side of Steve Jobs. If this is true, it begs the question about whether Marissa is a successful leader because of a masculine-aggressive leadership style. If she didn’t have this gritty side to her, would she have been as successful? If I could offer Marissa some advice, I’d tell her to read the biographies of two women; Carly Fiorina whose grittiness got her ousted (my personal opinion) and Katherine Graham, whose grittiness tempered with humility, made her great. Some sources say that Marissa’s leadership style has “matured” from the days when her executive coach wouldn’t work with her. Let’s hope that’s true.

Photo credit: TechCrunch Disrupt NYC 2012

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One response to “Youngest Fortune 500 CEO… What say you about Marissa Mayer?”

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