Yahoo's Marissa Mayer is her sister's keeper, but doesn't want to be

Tasked with turning around a failing tech company, Yahoo's Marisa Mayer doesn't have time to be the Photo: Laurent Gillieron/Keystone, Associated Press

WASHINGTON, DC, March 6, 2013 - Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer opened up a parent war last week when the new first time mom threw out the company’s remote work policy and ordered all employees to work only from the office, beginning in June.

 “To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side,” an internal memo acquired by All Things D read. “That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices.

The former veteran of Google got even more blowback when reports leaked that Mayer had a private nursery built inside her office so she could bring her son to work with her, an accommodation and privilege that the other parents at Yahoo! did not have. Immediately, cries of hypocrisy were heard from the blogsphere and women and parents’ rights groups.

But oh the fair weather friends.

Only months before, Mayer was openly lauded for getting hired to turn a struggling company around while she was already 6-months pregnant.

From that point on, Mayer watch was on! Her pregnancy and successes were solidified on the radar of millions, all rooting her on and watching her every move. 

Technology companies, with a disproportionate number of top executives under 40 and the increasing presence of women, are finding ways to accommodate childbirth and young kids, a 2012 Bloomberg article on the announcement stated.

Yahoo headquarters

 

In 2011, the labor force included almost 61% of women with kids under 3 and 56% of women with children under 1, according to Catalyst, an organization that tracks women’s advancement in the workplace, which cited statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

On top of that, Mayer  already faced the eyeballs of expectations, being the fifth CEO the flailing company hired in five years. Talk about pressure.

But no soon after delivering, pro-baby critics berated her for returning to work merely two weeks after delivering her child in September 30. They argued she set unrealistic expectations for other new moms out there who should be spending their time bonding after delivery.  Never mind the fact that the United States is one of few industrialized nations to not offer paid maternity leave and worse than 16 other high-income nations. The Family Medical Leave Act only requires an employer to hold a woman’s job for twelve weeks after delivery, but does not require that she be paid for that time off.  Currently, only 60 percent of women have access to paid leave.  Some may even have elected to take a job at Yahoo! because of its once flexible work-at-home policies.

But Mayer is unlike other CEOs. She is a minority. She is one of 42 female CEOs, 4.2%, of fortune 500 and 1000 companies. So Mayer is held to a different standard and cannot lavish in the luxury of expecting something like time with her newborn son. [note sarcasm]

She had the task of fulfilling her promise to return $3 Billion to shareholders from the sale of Yahoo! assets. And she has been having mucho success. Within six months of taking the reins, Yahoo saw growth and a turn around in morale at the company. 

And those who understand business get her tenacity and eagerness to cut the slackers and trim the fat to continue that success.

Her recent perceived anti-family decisions got some backing. She got plenty of support from members of the tech community of both gender. IT World’s Kristin Burnham looked at whether collaboration was to blame requiring the hard fast rule to maximize productivity and that over time, it could return once she is able to weed out the slackers. Greg Moore of the Denver Post said a content-focused company required in-person presence for bouncing off ideas and delivering feedback.

As a woman, Mayer has become a blatant example of how success breeds higher requirements. The same could be said of President Barack Obama.  I wrote a piece in 2011,  Black Politicians and their Invisible Backpacks, which spoke about the fact that African Americans who reach the pinnacle of success are not permitted to rest on their laurels and simply “exist”  like their cohorts. They must constantly excel, and meet the expectations of those they share the same heritage with. They have to satisfy their demands as well.  After all, they are constantly reminded that they are standing on the shoulders of their ancestors who helped bridge the possibility for their ascension.

Similarly, for Mayer.  She is her sister’s keepers.  Her success is their success, whether she likes it or not.  Her decisions on running Yahoo! could have wide spread implications and provide a framework for how women are treated in the workplace.

In this unique way, minorities and women who reach the tippy top are disadvantaged by their success.

By breaking through barriers succeeding beyond odds, they are saddled with additional expectations.

It is an axiomatic flip in paradigm to those who bemoan being reverse-discrimination victims to unfair affirmative action programs that help elevate traditionally underrepresented groups.

Are they really the victims to following in the already carefully laid footsteps of their forefathers and CEOs who resembled them down to the polished shoes and closely shaven beard?

This example can be seen in the venture capital scenario where angel and private equity funders feel comfortable investing in those who have achieved success in the past. When the universe looks only a certain way, those who don’t fit into the mold have a higher hurdle to prove they are worthy of the funding or in Mayer’s case, the hire.

Mayer simply does not have time to be a test case for all the parents in the world.  Now, more than ever, with the entire world now monitoring her progress, Mayer has the extra burden of succeeding.

It may be a stretch, but it would be very challenging to find a male CEO who has been set up to falter as much as Mayer has, certainly not the three men that preceded her in her current position.

No sir!


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Jeneba Ghatt
Jeneba Jalloh Ghatt is a former journalist turned lawyer turned citizen journalist. Currently, she manages her boutique communications law firm, where she has represented small businesses and nationally-recognized civil and consumer rights organizations before the United States Supreme Court, federal courts and the FCC. She also covers the White House and US Congress for the online news site Politic365.com while authoring her own influential blog JenebaSpeaks.com which is frequently accessed by top policy makers and think tanks, and the investment community. JenebaSpeaks.com focuses on the intersection of politics and technology and reports on policies and rules in the communications and tech sector.
 
Before opening her law firm, The Ghatt Law Group, which was the first communications firm owned by women and minorities, Jeneba regulated Comcast and Starpower as the Assistant General Counsel for the District of Columbia's Office of Cable Television and Telecommunications, and at one point was the only communications regulatory attorney in the entire city. She is founding member and policy chair for a new trade association, the National Association of Multicultural Digital Entrepreneurs and provides advice and counsel to new businesses in the tech industry, particularly small businesses owned by women and minorities.

Born in Sierra Leone, West Africa, but raised in the United States by her Catholic mom and Muslim dad, she started her college career creating web content for one of the earliest websites in history while working part time for the University of Maryland's Office of Technology. Following her graduation from the Catholic University of America, Columbus School of Law, she founded and co-wrote one of the earliest blogs and since then has gone on to found and author six different widely read and influential blogs. She was one of only 22 writers and bloggers to attend the first White House summit for African American media.
 
She holds a Certificate in Communications Law Studies from Catholic; a Juris Doctor from there as well, and a Master of Law in advocacy degree from the Georgetown University Law Center where she first taught and lectured as a Staff Attorney and Graduate fellow at that law school's Institute for Public Representation. She later went on to teach Media Law at the University of Maryland at College Park and guest lecture at Yale Law School and Penn State University, College of Telecommunications. She is well skilled and versed with social media and manages several Twitter, Facebook, Linked In accounts and groups.
 
She sits on the board of several non profits and trade associations.

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