Yahoo CEO and motherhood


By Maureen Aylward

Marissa Mayer, who was recently named Yahoo’s CEO, is expecting her first child in October. The appointment has brought up again the issue of motherhood and professional careers. We asked our Zintro experts to lean into the issue and shed some light on it.

Charlotte Tomic, a public relations consultant, says that motherhood and business is a perennial issue because the reality for many women is that unless they want to advance in their career, they must be workaholics who can show they can work the hours necessary to be true leaders in a company. “This is true of lawyers trying to become partners or businesswomen trying to become CEOs. The reality, however, is that many women defer having children to advance their careers and then realize that they waited too long to have children. On the other hand, women who are financially well-off can hire nannies to take care of their babies, a luxury most other women can not afford,” she says. “The separation anxiety experienced by both classes of women from their babies is difficult but necessary if a woman wants to show her willingness to do whatever it takes to become successful.”

Jim Craig, an expert in sustainability strategy, says that Mayer is an ideal choice for the role, being an accomplished software engineer who has held various high level positions at Google. “But, the ‘problem’ with Mayer isn’t that she is a woman, the problem is that Mayer is about to make that wonderful transition from womanhood to motherhood. And that is the issue Mayer is facing,” says Craig. “In an age when there is supposed to be equality in the workplace, when woman can get to the top jobs, were the glass ceiling has at been removed, Mayer faces the seemingly impossible task of being a mother in charge of a multibillion dollar corporation. Why should this be a problem? It would seem that despite there being more women in top jobs there is still a dark, hidden and insidious form of discrimination taking place.”

Craig cites a Stanford study on the impacts of motherhood and careers. Participants received two CVs for a management consultant position, identical in every way, except one listed membership of a Parent Teachers Association (PTA). According to the participants the mother was 79 percent less likely to be hired, 100 percent less likely to be promoted, and be offered a salary $11,000 less.

“To deal with global issues such as climate change, poverty, and ecosystem destruction we need very different, very collaborative, and enlightened thinking. If we use the reaction to the hiring of Marissa Mayer as a barometer of how close we are to this new way of doing business, I think it’s fair to say, we are a long way off,” says Craig.

Brent Norris, a systems thinker and sustainability expert, thinks that Mayer stands out in a room of standouts. “She is vibrant with the ability of a politician to attract your innermost trust. Mayer will drive her Stanford, Walmart, and Google experiences through board meetings and pep rallies. For me, Mayer’s appointment represents a sincere risk on Yahoo’s behalf and one that will be welcomed by everyone, but it will be challenged and securitized greatly by shareholders that have tolerated Yahoo’s recent issues,” he says.

What do you think?

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