The importance of what Marissa Mayer, the newly minted president and CEO of Yahoo, has pulled off this week merits a soundtrack.
I think right about now she deserves to indulge in a little celebratory dancing to “I am Woman, Hear Me Roar.” And I’m betting it would be way less cringe-worthy (and more appropriate) than when the girls from Sex and the City performed it in that pathetic movie sequel a few years ago.
Not only did Mayer score a big win for women working to breech the boardroom (and an engineering geek at that), but on the very same day the news broke, she also announced that she is expecting her first child, a son, in October.
That’s right, ladies, we officially have our very first pregnant CEO of a Fortune 500 company.
Those of you with a little baby bump going on, feel free to do a little bump-bump with another preggers friend. While we’re at it, women sporting “the pooch” and/or “the scar,” have at it as well.
Of course, the news that the new CEO was also expecting would merely be a nice footnote in the story if this were a man we were talking about. Whether or not it should be, undeniably this is big news, and an even bigger moment for women. No pressure, Marissa.
The news was already expectant with possibility before the announcement of her pregnancy because Mayer’s recruitment to Yahoo is considered a major coup for a company that has been in rescue mode for several years now, under a succession of (male) CEOs.
Mayer, one of the original and enduring architects of Google’s rise and dominance, has established herself as an ascending tech industry player to contend with, and many expressed shock that she could be lured away.
Additionally, her appointment is notable because at 37 she’s relatively young to assume the role, regardless of gender.
My first reaction to the news: “Atta girl!” Followed by another song running through my head by Pat Benetar, “Hit Me with Your Best Shot.” Considering the challenge, I thought, “Girl, put up your dukes and get down to it.”
I’ll also be honest here and say that considering her age, I also thought that this career move possibly meant she was foregoing having children. Because while she’s considered a “young” CEO, in obstetric terms she is considered “geriatric.”
Before those fingers start flying in outrage, I know, I know! I’m disappointed in that line of thinking too. And, I also know there are plenty of women who have healthy babies (and work) into their 40s. I’m actually still considering being one of them. But the fact is that when you hit 35, doctors start adjusting their expectations (and yours) about your reproductive potential and outcomes.
Mayer quickly answered anyone who might speculate on whether she could "have it all" with a quick right hook when she piggybacked her pregnancy announcement on the job news, praising the Yahoo board’s “evolved thinking.”
I’m not sure what song fits right there, but I’m sure if there is one, Beyonce probably wrote it.
Mayer also told Fortune magazine that she expected her maternity leave to be a “few weeks,” and she will “work throughout it.”
I started laughing a little bit reading that. Because, having a baby, for most women, is hardly a deliverable you can just check off your life list and move on. Woman, your hips, and your life will never be the same.
Which is not to say that you can’t be a great executive and a great mother—I know a few— and especially when you are a woman with the resources to have the help you will need to do both as Mayer does.
I’m hoping, as Lisa Belkin pointed out in the Huffington Post this week, that Mayer comes to realize how important her next steps are to women who want to be both, but who are fighting in an environment that still makes Mayer highly exceptional in even being given the opportunity under such circumstances.
I also hope she doesn’t approach the job “just like a man,” but as the woman and new mother-to-be she is, to hopefully make it better for those who are reaching for the same goal.
But, I think Mayer just might get that, in the sense that making the move out from under the golden halo of Google at precisely this moment is what she needed to do to continue being a Fortune 500 CEO while also a mother.
There are suggestions that Mayer might not have been as front and center at Google as she may have wanted. Reality is that having children probably would have exacerbated that. Making the leap to CEO and having small children is arguably a tougher sell. Do it before they have a chance to put you in “the mommy column.”
I once listened to a senior male executive in one of my former companies caution our management group, men and women alike, to be cautious about their succession planning and the women they had in those plans, “because you just don’t know when she’ll decide it’s time to be a mommy.”
When you have the chance to make the move, make the move—baby bump and all.
Yahoo is a huge gamble to be sure, and a company that Mayer might not be able to turn around. But she is the CEO—she got the ring. She’s now able to swim in an entirely new pond, with a huge amount of visibility and opportunity. I hope she uses it well.
She will be walking a tightrope, pregnant and in heels. Cue Aretha: R-E-S-P-E-C-T.