There is no lack of commentary, some of it amazingly outdated, going on these days regarding Marissa Mayer’s appointment to CEO of Yahoo!. While my personal opinion is, “Who in this universe would WANT that job?” it is worth taking notice of some of the challenges to traditional women leadership roles that has already occurred.
For one thing, it is clear that Mayer has smashed through the Glass Ceiling…that invisible but real barrier to women’s entry into top leadership positions (or in some organizations, any leadership position). Prior to joining Yahoo!, Mayer grew her career at Google to include multiple executive positions and serves also on the board of directors of several organizations including Wal-Mart, San Francisco Museum of Art and Cooper-Hewitt.
In one of the more amazing challenges to the status quo of women leaders, on the same day her appointment to Yahoo was announced, Mayer also revealed that she has a baby due on October 7. Perhaps my favorite part of the story, this announcement challenges every bone-headed manager out there that wants to know if an employee is going to be pregnant before deciding whether she deserves a promotion. She has caught a lot of flak about this, which I’m sure she expected. Don’t tell me the woman doesn’t have guts. Good for her!
Another question, brought to my attention by one of my readers, is whether or not Mayer is now facing the Glass Cliff. This lesser known concept, proposed in 2004 by researchers in the U.K. states that once women break through the Glass Ceiling, they are more likely than men to occupy positions of high risk and therefore have a higher risk of failure. Part of this is also because, if men screw the company up, it appears that stakeholders are more open to a woman taking their place.
The difference here is that Yahoo has had female leadership before, without much success (see my September 7, 2011 post). Further, Scott Thompson was dismissed, not because of operational failure but because of a perceived lack of integrity. That said, I think Mayer is facing an uphill battle but with almost no downside for her. If she saves the company, she’s a hero. If she doesn’t save the company, she will have elevated her career with the visibility of her new role.
Don’t forget that, while Mayer may not have had CEO level experience before, she has had a ton of leadership experience in senior positions. Not only that, but the woman knows the Internet. Perhaps using Twitter wasn’t the best way for a new CEO to announce such a life changing event as having a baby, but then again, perhaps that’s the world in which we live. And if Yahoo can be saved, I’m thinking Mayer might just be the rebellious, freethinker that’s needed to re-energize the outdated culture and organization that is Yahoo!.