Marissa Mayer’s pregnancy has received more attention than the appointment that put Mayer in the international media spotlight in the first place.
Which is a little sad when you consider how much Mayer’s brought to Google as the search giant’s first female software engineer.
At just 37, Mayer takes the helm of a Fortune 500 company at a time when only 16.1% of Fortune 500 board members are women. Her appointment as Yahoo! CEO and its associated media hype should have provided an opportunity to showcase the benefits of diversity in business, given it highlights her success at Google.
Women are highly underrepresented in Silicon Valley, and there’s little growth in the pipeline: women account for less than 20% of American’s computer science and engineering graduates. Australia can offer little help in this regard with the numbers even more dire here. In 2009, just 13.5% of computer science bachelor graduates under the age of 25 are woman, according to Graduate Careers Australia.
And yet despite the small number of female software engineers, women have contributed greatly to the design and functionality of some of Silicon Valley’s most visible and successful products. Mayer headed up the company’s search team for most of her tenure at Google – the white, classic background is one of her direct contributions. More recently, she’s been in charge of Google’s location and maps services, and described as a “tireless champion of our users”, according to according to Google CEO Larry Page.
Over at Facebook, which has come under fire for not appointing a single woman to its board until Sheryl Sandberg took up a post recently, it was the women in the development team who were largely responsible for certain features such as the news feed and photo viewer.
Perhaps women can bring a certain touch to the user experience — as Time magazine recently scribed, “it may be mostly guys who are building this stuff, but women know what to do with it”. The very fact women make up for the more than half of all interactions made online today should be enough cause for tech companies to realize the business case for diversity.
Clearly, we need to see more women graduating with engineering and computer science degrees. Young girls need to be inspired. It would help if women like Mayer could be identified for what they’ve achieved in their fields of endeavor, rather than the choices they make regarding how they manage their pregnancy.
After all, what if Google had never hired Mayer? We could very well be interacting with the search giant in different ways. And, just maybe, Yahoo! would have nabbed her instead: and be in a very different position today.