Why Are We Still Putting Marissa Mayer in a Fish Bowl?

The recent media focus on Anne Marie Slaughters article, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All”, and the appointment of Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer shows the great strides yet to be made on truly leveraging and accepting the immense talents of powerful executive women in America.

On the radio show in which I was being interviewed, regarding “Women’s Advancement in Corporate America”, the WGBH radio show host, Kara Miller, talked about the fact that some speculate Marissa Mayer may have been chosen as the CEO because no one else really wanted this job.  It startled me that people are still thinking this way.  I had hoped our country was beyond this, of doubting the capability of bright women with a strong track record to take on deeply challenging business situations.

Marissa Mayer is already being doubted because of her expectant baby – with people asking the tired old question of “can a woman with a baby, who chooses to accept a high-powered position, really take it on?” I know we have enough data to show unequivocally that these women can take it on.  Yet the questions and doubts continue.  On top of that, the inference that Yahoo may have had to “settle” to hire someone like Marissa Mayer, because the more qualified candidates didn’t want this job, is downright insulting, to the Board of Yahoo, the CEO search committee and of course to Marissa Mayer.  We who know this business, knows, that there is a very long line of highly talented people who would salivate at the possibility of being the CEO of Yahoo –wanting to rise up to the challenge, yearning the experience, getting such an experience on the resume.

If a 37-year old male vice president, who had been with Google since the early days, was chosen to be the next Yahoo CEO, what questions and comments would be asked?  Surely not the questions being asked of Marissa Mayer.  In fact, many would posit that this new CEO would have had to be a true star, to be considered as a CEO at such a young age.  Many would comment on his bravery and courage to take on such a challenging business situation.  They would focus purely on his capabilities and the challenges Yahoo faces.  There would be no scrutiny of his personal life and whether that would affect his performance.  There would be no deriding comments about being the leftover choice, because there were no better ones out there.

Let’s allow Marissa Mayer to start at the starting line, like most male CEOs who are chosen.  Let’s not give her a disadvantaged start.

From the standpoint of an executive coach, I would say to Marissa Mayer – own your power as an executive.  Do what you need to do, to be most effective in your job.  Embrace the fact that you are having a new baby and accommodate your life in a way that allows you to be your best, in all realms.  Dare to break the existing rules for CEOs.  Make a baby room and have your nanny there, if having your baby there, at times, allows you to be your best (goodness, companies see the advantages of people bringing their beloved pets to work).  Create a CEO configuration that best fits your needs and desires, regardless of the expectations of others.  You are in the lead.  Take it on!