Let Marissa Mayer Do Her Job

In case you've lost track, she's the CEO of Yahoo. Not Working Women Inc.

"People are looking at you as a role model as well, looking at you as an example," Savannah Guthrie told Marissa Mayer on the Today Show. "Has that been difficult to deal with?"

Looking slightly flustered, Mayer repeated a response she had given to a previous question about her age: "Again, I haven’t spent a lot of time looking at it or even thinking about it. I’ve really been focusing on the products and what we need to do."

It's understandable that Guthrie took an opportunity to ask that rare bird, the female CEO of a large tech company, questions about her unusual situation. But it's also understandable why Mayer consistently returns boiler-plate responses to such inquiries. Responding to them could send her down a rabbit hole that runs deep:

What's her opinion of stay-at-home mothers?

What's she doing about the income disparity between women and men?

Should paid maternity leave be mandatory?

How is she supporting women in the developing world?

Will she be lobbying for this bill that creates better work conditions for women this year?

And when can we expect her book about women in the workplace and the subsequent dates on a speaking tour?

Mayer's male peers at big technology companies—Larry Page, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates—aren't bothered with this line of questioning. ("Mr. Jobs, is it difficult to be seen as a role model for men?" Sounds wrong, doesn't it?) And it's not just because they're men. It's because they're busy running companies.

Theirs aren't even ailing companies. Marissa Mayer has taken control of a struggling Internet giant in an attempt to turn it around. Neither she, nor any human, has the time and energy to be both the CEO of Yahoo and the CEO of Women Inc. Being a feminist warrior is clearly not the gig she chose. "I certainly believe in equal rights," she explained in an interview with PBS last February. "I believe that women are just as capable, if not more so in a lot of different dimensions, but I don’t think I have the militant drive and the chip on the shoulder that comes with that. I think it’s too bad, but I do think feminism has become sort of a negative word. There are amazing opportunities all over the world for women, and I think that there is more good that comes from positive energy of that than negative energy."

Despite her hesitation to champion the feminist cause, Mayer’s decisions have been consistently discussed not on the basis of whether they are appropriate for a CEO, but whether they offend her role as a representative for working women everywhere.

Her short maternity leave stirred up a national debate. "Marissa Mayer—A Man in Women’s Clothing?" asked one mommy blog (really) after the CEO asked her employees to come into the office. "When a working mother is standing behind this, you know we are a long way from a culture that will honor the thankless sacrifices that women too often make," a Yahoo employee told All Things D.

The business case for bringing employees together in a physical space—the same case that led Steve Jobs (who had four children, by the way) to design his offices in a way that encourages cross-department mingling and led Google’s CFO Patrick Pichette (also a parent) to say the company had as few telecommuters as possible—was all but lost in the discussion.

There are talented people, both women and men, who have taken on the tasks of motivating girls to greatness and developing better workplaces for working parents. I am glad they have. Marissa Mayer has chosen to take on the momentous task of saving one of the largest technology companies in the world from irrelevance. If she can turn Yahoo around—making decisions not only as a woman but as a CEO navigating the business world as it exists today—that will be quite enough.

Yes, Mayer is the youngest CEO of a Fortune 500 company in America. Yes, she’s one of the only women I can name when I’m listing leaders at large technology companies (Holla, Sheryl Sandberg). And Yes, she’s taken on the unenviable task of turning Yahoo around with a newborn baby at her hip. But young women do not look up to Mayer because she has somehow adopted them as her cause, which she seems reluctant to do. Like her employees, they respect Mayer because she is good at her job.

Let's let her do it.

[Image: Flickr user Adam Tinworth]

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52 Comments

  • Chuck Blakeman

    Marissa Mayer is not being scrutinized by most of us for anything other than bad leadership. Pulling everyone back into the day care center to be looked after like a bunch of children who need a fence to keep them from running into the street is simply a failure of leadership on Mayer's part.

    Rather than put in place a system that requires people to be self-managed adult contributors to the company, she took the easy, Industrial Age rout of hanging a time clock on the wall and polishing up the old brass whistle to let everyone know when they should start and stop being extensions of the machine.

    Putting together a system that requires people to be Stakeholders (adults) instead of children (employees) takes leadership, and the chutzpah to move the children along so the adults won't have to do their work for them. Instead Mayer went to the fetal position, and did the comfortable Industrial Age thing.

    Management makes people lazy. Expect more of them as Stakeholders and they will raise their game or leave. The Nine to Five “car in the parking lot” mindset is the root of many of the dumbest practices in business. Mayer's over-management has just guaranteed that she will end up with more children who need to be kept from messing up the carpet, and even fewer responsible adults who could help her pull Yahoo out of the abyss. It's a self-fulfilling prophesy now - she has made them all into permanently lazy children with this edict.

  • Abejorrofly

    I agree with a previous note. This is the time for disruptive companies. It is not a women issue, it is a result driven economy and I hope she can demonstrate that she can turn Yahoo around and at the same time be the mom she needs to be. This is why women are admirable human beings.

  • sastruga

    I disagree that male or female CEOs should not be bothered with the commitments they have with their staff and with society in general.  It's called good leadership.  From what I have seen, Bill Gates and others seem  to put a good deal of time and energy into strong leadership.  Further, any news reporter is going to ask questions that are relevant to the issue at hand.  I was disappointed that all she had for the Today Show were boiler plate responses to such obvious questions.  I felt like she had something to hide. 

  • Blah

    why the @#$% would Mayer champion a feminist cause any more that Bezos would champion a male issue, like premature balding...this article is a reflection of today's youth - dumb, dumber and dumbestest....

  • Joe

    You're the CEO of an "internet" company and you ban essentially "using the internet"  for employees.  What does THAT say about the companies belief in its own product?

    Do you think the CEO of General Motors would ever edit employees to ride a horse to work?

    Do you think the CEO of Eli Lilly tell employees to use alternative medicine?

    Do you think the CEO of American Airlines would tell employees to take the bus?

    THAT is the gravity of Mayor did - and the stupid reporters JUST DON'T GET IT.

    DO A STORY ON THAT and you'll have a REAL story.

  • Sarah Kessler

    These analogies would make a lot of sense if Marissa Mayer had banned her employees from using the Internet.

  • Richard Steiner

    Why should she be allowed to do her job if she won't let her employees do theirs as her company had previously agreed?

  • Hubbert

    Consider managing people by actual results, not just punching a clock. that way Yahoo gets the best possible talent, and more hours of that talent. Not just the talent within commuting distance.. Kindergarten HR.

  • Gary MacDougall

    Every company that I ever worked for that succeeded or did well, never worried about hours or the time in which people did their jobs. Why? Because everybody was on the same page and were hired because they were responsible and proactive.  

    Every company that I worked for that failed, the common theme was "trust". Nobody trusted management and nobody trusted each other.

    This move, although probably a good one fiscally, as she'll have a 10% or better staff reduction, will not save the company. It will create a trust issue for the employees who do remain on, and then the "cancer" will break out and it within.

    They'll be dead in 18 months.

  • James

    She's chosen money and status over looking after her infant.  And now makes a decision to make it harder for working moms.  Bravo

  • agdouglas

    But she hasn't! She's ding what rich women have always done- hired help. Remember, though, that she made her own money. She has also had a nursery built at her office

  • Tyler Fastcompany Gray

    Wouldn't you? Makes more sense than $131k worth of area rugs, $35k fo a gold-plated toilet (Merrill Lynch's John Thain), Peter Thiel's libertarian island, or that huge, live-in office Obama has (THAT WE PAID FOR). 

  • WomenLEAD

    Yahoo needs a seasoned mature and innovative leader that is in touch with her people. Making a black and white policy about not telecommuting will have implications on Yahoo's morale and people's productivity. The assumption behind the decision " all telecommuters are slackers" is insulting to those that telecommute and are truly committed to the company. Her anti-feminist stance is another data point that points to her immaturity.Feminist do not have a chip on their shoulder! They are committed to equal rights for women and closing the gender gap. It is a shame that one of the most powerful women in the US has such a narrow view about women's rights and can not see the implications of her black and white decisions about working in the office.
    When the ship is sinking you certainly do not want to invalidate and insult the people rowing hard- they will find another boat
    Ilene Fischer
    CRO/Founder 
    WomenLEAD, Inc
    www.womenleadinc.com

  • Adina Nystrom

    You list Steve Jobs and other male CEO who have children, I doubt if they are responsible for those kids. According to his biography, Steve Jobs was too busy with Apple and Pixar for his 4 children. CEOs also have the means to hire people to do the things the rest of us have to manage on top of our kids and jobs. Yahoo's problem is probably due to a lack of accountability, they should find the real problem and fix that.

  • agdouglas

    Okay, so according to you, Adina Nystrom, a woman CEO has to be responsible not only for her kids, in a way that a man doesn't, but also be responsible towards all womankind, as a man also doesn't?

  • Wize Adz

    Swish -- that's the sound of the point going over your head.  He was condemning Jobs and other male CEOs for being a bad dads, in order to do cool stuff at Apple (and wherever else). At least that's how I read "not responsible for those kids", from my default frame of reference as a 30-something committed working dad. Being "responsible for those kids" is what fatherhood is all about.

    Also, as a committed dad, I can and will trade career advancement for family over the next couple of decades of my work-life, and I'm happy to do so because I value my family. If I worked somewhere like Yahoo, that tradeoff would probably involve finding a more flexible and lower-paying job. Yahoo employees are now in the position of having the deal with respect to work and family unilaterally changed, and now have to consider their personal values against the tradeoffs of working there.