I still remember what I was doing and where I was four years ago, when I heard the news that Marissa Mayer had been named CEO of Yahoo.
She was just 37 at the time, a Google executive, an engineer with no experience as a CEO but a sharp eye for detail, design and usability. She was also pregnant.
A young, pregnant woman was named CEO of a pioneering tech company. What a role model, I thought. What a statement to send to young women in tech and women with leadership aspirations. Could her appointment be the start of a shift in how we consider merit and suitability for a job? That it’s not all about tenure and availability, and gender and age? That it’s actually about potential?
I remember writing about her first year in the job and her incredible work ethic, and productivity — making it all happen with a young baby at home. Wow, she could really have it all!
Following Verizon’s announcement it will acquire Yahoo for almost $5 billion, there’s a lot of talk about Mayer’s legacy as the last CEO of one of the world’s first major internet companies.
Part of that legacy will be the ‘gender charged reporting’ regarding her time in the role. That’s a term Mayer herself used in an interview with the Financial Times. “I’ve tried to be gender blind and believe tech is a gender neutral zone but do think there has been gender-charged reporting,” she said.
There are things that only women leaders have to deal with, like articles on their appearance, she said.
Gender-charged reporting started the day Mayer was appointed — especially when she announced she was five months pregnant and sparked heated discussions about how much time a woman should take off after having a baby. Mayer took two weeks for her first child, and a month following the birth of her twins.
Mayer’s been one of the most scrutinised CEOs in history. Is it because she’s a woman? Was it because she’s been leading an iconic company? Is it because she’s ‘glamourous’, and did participate in photo shoots and lengthy magazine articles in the media? Is it because during her time in the top job she made 53 Internet company acquisitions? Was it because she had three kids in four years, and managed to — shock horror — take very little time out of the office following their births?
All these things contributed to the scrutiny. And a lot of it came down to her gender, and many of us — men and women included — having an opinion, and plenty of curiosity, about whether she could really “have it all”. Surely she’d get caught out, somewhere along the line.
If Mayer’s terminated from Yahoo she could take a more than $50 million severance package, on top of the $162 million in stock and salary awards she’s received over the last four years, according to CNN Money. While some question her success in the top job (and others note that she was also tasked with taking on one of the most difficult business turnarounds in tech history, a line-up of CEOs had failed before her), she proved the path to CEO does not have to be traditional after all.
She’s only 41, we can expect to be hearing a lot more from Mayer in the future.