The meaning of Marissa Mayer: How Yahoo’s new CEO has already shifted the tide

Marissa Mayer

Do you remember where you were when you heard Marissa Mayer was named the CEO of Yahoo?

I do. I was at work. I saw something vague about it on Twitter: I gathered Marissa Mayer was at Yahoo now. I clicked the link.  The next few seconds, in my memory, play out like slow motion, like a dream state. I saw the word “CEO”. I read the full sentence. I had to read it two more times before I believed it.

Marissa Mayer is the new CEO of Yahoo.

It occurred to me, several hours later, that this would be a moment I’d remember  my whole life. Where I was, how I felt, when I learned Marissa Mayer was the new CEO of Yahoo.

I felt as if the tide had finally shifted.

“I want to work at Yahoo!”

Several hours later, the news emerged that Mayer is pregnant, due in October with a boy. She’d informed Yahoo’s board of her pregnancy in late June, just a week after they’d approached her about the job. They hired her regardless and moved their September board meeting, scheduled to be in New York, to Mayer’s hometown of Sunnyvale.

My next thought caught me by surprise: “I want to work at Yahoo.”

I’m sure I’m not the only woman who’s thought that since the announcement.

In hiring a 37-year-old pregnant woman as CEO, Yahoo is sending a message loud and clear: We want the best and brightest female minds in tech, and we are committed to making Yahoo a company whose culture attracts you, retains you and promotes you. You could be CEO of this company some day.

Women follow women

 We read a lot lately about investors putting pressure on large corporations to place women in their C-suites and on their boards. It’s easy to read that and feel like it’s the next phase of a bra-burning feminist agenda, but a company’s investors want that company to succeed. They have skin in this game, and they’d never ask a company to litter its management with token ineffective women.

They want to see the companies do better. They know including women helps companies do better.

A slew of recent research shows that C-suites with women on them outperform all-male teams, and that women are more effective leaders than men.

Investors want to get women into upper management, and into all levels of a company, because it makes the company perform better.

And where one brilliant woman finds success and recognition, others will follow.

So perhaps Marissa Mayer (with a hat-tip to Yahoo’s board) has already begun turning the company around. The best female talent in tech and digital – talent that would otherwise go to Google, Facebook or Twitter — will now be taking a much harder look at Yahoo. If Yahoo can leverage Mayer’s new leadership to recruit them, that alone could help right this ship.

Sasha Pasulka is the VP of Marketing at Salad Labs and a digital strategist at Red Magnet Media. You can follow her on Twitter @sashrocks. Read more of her GeekWire posts here.

  • guest

    “Investors want to get women into upper management, and into all levels of a company, because it makes the company perform better.”

    Source? Investors have very little say in the day to day management of public companies. Yahoo is a great example of that. It took years for shareholders to finally get Jerry Yang ousted. But I’m pretty sure most couldn’t care less what the sex is of the person at the helm. They only care about their demonstrated effectiveness.

  • Pat

    The genitals an employee possesses are not relevant to xyr performance in xyr job. We expect to see positive financial results from Yahoo!’s top management regardless of the CEO’s ability and willingness to bear a child.

  • guest

    I’m having a hard time understanding this piece and what you were trying to say. For example, the tide had finally shifted? Did you forget that Yahoo already had a female CEO, Carol Bartz? Apparently her gender-specific leadership advantages and a mixed-gender C-suite didn’t do much when it came to results. There are also numerous other current/past female CEO’s in technology, including Meg Whitman, Ursula Burns, Carly Fiorina (shudder), etc. So what tide did Mayer’s appointment turn?

    This article comes across as strangely inaccurate at best and reverse sexism at worst.

    • z0phi3l

      I have to agree, it seems that some vested groups are dedicated to making this out to be more than it really is, that a well qualified individual was asked to run a company in hopes of righting a sinking ship

  • themanwecalldave

    I’m a guy so maybe I just can’t relate. But I doubt this was an affirmative action hire and would be disappointed if it was. The article says Yahoo is sending a message “we want the brightest female minds in tech”. I hope not. I hope it’s “we want the brightest minds in tech” (and we don’t care about your gender or family situation). I wonder what Mrs. Mayer would think of articles that focus only on her gender rather than her smarts or accomplishments.

  • jillkennedy

    I think this is a great hire and best of luck to Marissa as a mother and CEO. I would call YHOO stock a screaming buy.
    http://mankabros.com/blogs/onmedea/2012/07/16/yahoo-finally-does-something-right/

    • Sooraj

      You’re one of those Wall Street walkers who screwed up the US Economy, no?

    • frank

      If you actually believe that, maybe you should go back and study their charts for the last decade, a bump is a bump, not a cup with handle.

  • Adam Kramer

    I think the big “shift” is hiring a young female who is currently pregnant. Given that pregnancy and continued work seem to be an either-or proposition for many women, hiring a woman to be your top leader during her pregnancy is pretty awesome.

  • Guest2

    Sorry, so let me make sure I get this straight. She’s going to be the fourth turnaround CEO for a company that hasn’t had a direction in a long, long time, and 3 months into the job and she’s going to have a baby? Who’s going to take care of the baby? Nannies? Her husband? The reality is she’s going to start a job and then have to take a month off. It isn’t the end of the world but let’s be honest about it, it isn’t exactly ideal either.

    While I’m at it, if this ridiculous article had been written substituting the word “male” for “female” there would be a rain of condemnation pouring down upon the author. it is prejudice, biased, and massively generalized.

    Really, Geekwire, this isn’t up to your standards.

  • SallyTech

    Pretty clear from the posts here that guys in tech STILL don’t understand…

    • Chris

      It’s more clear that some women here (including the author of this article) don’t understand that a CEO’s qualifications are more important than their gender. All this article does is focus completely on her gender and ability to bear offspring (using questionable “research” as support) without any mention at all of what her actual qualifications are to turn Yahoo around. Please let’s just stop all this gender-based divisiveness and focus on how qualified she is to do the job for Yahoo.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=589937186 Elwyn Chow

        Furthermore, I was disappointed that this article was a cause célèbre without news that Yahoo has improved its fortunes, gained company redirection or any qualitative achievement.

    • Peter H

      You’re right, I at least don’t understand.

      What is the difference — in terms of shifting the tide — between Marissa Mayer and Carol Bartz? Bartz started her career with a BS in Comp Sci, so she is “an engineer like us.” Bartz had a notable career at Autodesk … becoming a female tech CEO 20 years before Mayer did.

      Bartz became CEO of Yahoo 2 years before Mayer did. There were no breathless articles in these pages then about any shifting tides.

      What is the difference in tide-shifting between these two women? The only difference I can see is Mayer is considerably more glamorous than Bartz .. this weekend for instance we have a picture of her in WSJ in a fabulous black and pink gown entering the white house.

      Is Mayer’s fabulousness the source of the shifting tide here? If not, what else? If you ladies are getting worked up about her fabulousness, isn’t that exactly what you want us to not judge women on?

      You are right .. the men here just do not understand.

  • aba

    I find it odd that this article focuses on the gender of the new CEO, not so much her qualifications, and how having a female in charge is going to make things different.

    Why no mention of Carol Bartz? She was CEO just ten months ago.

  • http://twitter.com/susansigl Susan Sigl

    All of the below and yes, a woman CEO of a public tech company it’s still unusual enough to get people excited.

  • http://twitter.com/davidandessi david neil smith

    Jorma Ollila, ex-Nokia CEO & the darling of Wall Street from 1993-2002, took months of paid paternity leave when he had one of his three children. This appointment esp. with the timing of her child, from this persepective, is an excellent development for the tech world.

  • LH

    I
    hope Yahoo! is saying, “We want the best and
    brightest female minds in tech…” Yes, it’s exciting, I agree, but does Marissa Mayer want to be thought of as a super-smart female engineer? Or a super-smart engineer? I’m opting for the latter.

  • @stempm

    Not just any female, but a regular girl like you and me that went to school, started as an engineer, worked in the trenches, contributed her best and did not sacrifice her family or femininity… Having that recognized and promoted in a very public forum is truly inspiring!

  • justvisiting

    “Investors want to get women into upper management, and into all levels of a company, because it makes the company perform better.”

    Worked so well for Hewlett-Packard and Carly Fiorini, didn’t it?

    Congrats to her, good luck to Yahoo, and hopefully some day we’ll reach a point when the gender (or race) of a newly announced CEO just doesn’t matter.

  • disappointing

    Sasha is completely wrong here. Yahoo’s board is not sending any message whatsoever in hiring Marissa Mayer. Doing so would be irresponsible. When Sasha writes that she’ll remember where she was when Mayer was named CEO, it doesn’t show how smart or aware she is — it shows how young and unaware she is.

    I’m a bit shocked that she is so unaware that she doesn’t know that Yahoo very recently had a different female CEO, the highly respected Carol Bartz, formerly CEO of AutoDesk. In hiring Mayer, just as when they hired Bartz, Yahoo is simply trying to hire the person they think will succeed. They didn’t go looking for a woman. Or a man. And women didn’t flood to Yahoo when Bartz became CEO, so why will they do it now?

    Yes, it’s nice to see that they didn’t think her pregnancy disqualified her. That form of discrimination has been slow to change (it happens to men who take paternity leave too). But, honestly, the rest of this article is all crap. Not worthy of GeekWire.

  • WRS

    I have to admit I read this post (not article) as much for the comments as the content. Content: not so much. But Comments, this is the real heart of the matter. And I find myself, as a woman in her early 40′s, mostly agreeing with the men on this.

    Ok, let’s admit that picture of Mayer isn’t hurting the newsworthiness. Young, bright, accomplished, and cute. I’ll say it: I don’t think this story would have gotten as much attention across the media spectrum if she didn’t look so darned cute. Is that fair? Of course not, but I’ll bet you Yahoo isn’t complaining about the coverage one bit. Now when many people think of Yahoo, they will conjure the Rebecca Sunshine girl-next-door image and it’s a positive association. Good start.

    Don’t get me wrong, modeling is powerful. We need examples of women in myriad careers to inspire girls and women alike. I remember watching Joan Benoit win the marathon, Sally Ride on the space shuttle, and Sandra Day O’Connor be appointed to the US Supreme Court. I received impressions from those events but it didn’t mean I wanted to be an astronaut.

    There is a lot of work to be done to bring Yahoo back into the land if the living.
    I look forward to following Yahoo’s progress.
    I also look forward to a time when this isn’t a news story on every channel.

    • tryingtocalmdown

      you are absolutely right that Mayer’s “cuteness” and youth have made this a bigger story had it been, say, Meg Whitman.

  • kris

    totally nonsense

  • http://www.facebook.com/jgclauss Jason Gerard Clauss

    Who cares what plumbing she has. Anyone who thinks “We don’t have enough men” or “We don’t have enough women” is a fool. Judge the candidate by their performance.

  • world’s greatest orator

    Is this article a put-on? Onion-worthy

  • Eugen

    Messenger for Android now has whole screen ads.They must be doing SO well under this Marissa.

    • Sooraj

      Is that you, iFan?

      • Eugen

        I don’t have any Apple device. I had an iMac before but I gave it to my mother.

        I doubt the iOS version of Messenger doesn’t have the whole screen ads … on Android at least you can filter them out easily.

        I admit, recently they did some work on Messenger, now they save your messages and you can search your message history. It took them 10 years to do that … :)

  • Sooraj

    Could you write any worse articles? Please talk about what “Yahoo!’s new CEO” is doing for the company to prove your “feminist” agenda.

  • http://twitter.com/bnspak Ben Spak

    “I want to work at Yahoo!” The same thought occurred to me! lol I thought I was going crazy.

  • Chuck

    Go ahead feminists, burn your bra’s all you like… just don’t complain when we all start staring at your boobs.. ;)

  • tryingtocalmdown

    Gee Sasha, you must be in marketing because that article is some serious fluff. Maybe Yahoo finally realized they better get someone from the competition (Google) that was kicking Yahoo’s rear end all over SV. That board has been a poster child for board lameness.

    All I can see different at Yahoo is their fawning love for Pres. Obama in all their political coverage. Other than that, not much yet. I certainly wish Mayer well but this breathless “women in tech” spin is a bit much.

  • Alex L

    The message Yahoo is sending is one of desperation.

  • http://twitter.com/knakao Kevin Nakao

    I think many of the comments miss the point of this article. Yahoo may not have selected Marissa because she was a female, but the fact is they did. So although it may not have been making an “affirmative” decision, they did with an open and unbiased mind — something many felt was not possible. The election of Barack Obama gave me a lot of hope about a color-blind future — and like Sasha —Marissa’s appointment shows one more example of the potential for females to break the glass ceiling and ascend to the CEO role. She wasn’t the first female, but possibly a business hero that Sasha looked up to and that’s what turned the tide.