Let’s Hear it for Ms. Mayer

Posted Tuesday, October 16th, 2012 at 7:19 am

One of the biggest names in science, tech, engineering and mathematics (STEM). One of the biggest names in modern American business. One of the biggest newsmakers of the year — Forbes magazine said: “Her move to the top spot at Yahoo was one of the most hyped appointments of 2012.”

Marissa Mayer is breaking all kinds of boundaries, some of which aren’t even gendered. The youngest CEO of a Fortune 500 company, for example. She was also the youngest person ever listed on Fortune‘s annual list of America’s 50 most powerful women in business. Back in the STEM world, she was the first female engineer at Google (and employee number 20).

As Yahoo!’s new CEO, she’s in a nearly no-lose situation. On the one hand, everyone knows Yahoo!’s been chowing through CEOs like they were going out of style. If the board fires her 18 months from now, she’ll still have lasted at least twice as long as any of the previous three CEOs! If she has to resort to desperate measures, so what? For example, many observers (like Marc Andreesen) think saving Yahoo! will require laying off over half its employees. So if she can do it by only chopping a third, she’ll be way ahead of the game.

To be honest, even if she fails, people will still just say, “Hey, she had an impossible task. Nobody could have succeeded; she did a damn good job with what she had.” And if she somehow does succeed? Well, then she’ll have worked a miracle, and she’ll absolutely deserve the high praise I’m sure she’ll receive!

That’s a very nice situation to be in.

But finally, there’s one big door Ms. Mayer has just broken down: The first Fortune 500 CEO ever to be pregnant and give birth while still holding office. And one of the best signs of just how thoroughly she’s flattened that door is the reaction — or, more, the utter non-reaction — by some people, as pointed out by the New York Times:

Some people who study women in business were reluctant to discuss Ms. Mayer’s pregnancy, saying that it was irrelevant to her ability to run Yahoo and that the children of male chief executives were not news. (emphasis added)

Now, that’s what progress looks like!

Marissa Mayer isn’t just an inspiration, and an example that geeks really can rise to prominence in business. She’s also someone who’s done all that while younger than I am — which makes her not just an inspiration, but a living, pointed question: Why haven’t I accomplished more?

And that’s the best kind of inspiration.

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