Yesterday, Yahoo announced the appointment of Marissa Mayer as its new CEO and she became the first ever pregnant CEO of a Fortune 500 tech company. Yahoo’s decision to look past Mayer’s pregnancy reflects a big shift in the way corporate Boards and executives think about work-life management.
There is no question that Mayer will do great things for Yahoo. She was hired as Google’s first female engineer and the company’s 20th employee in 1999 and is responsible for some of the search giant’s most iconic innovations, looks and products. Mayer has earned a CEO spot. Yahoo’s Board saw her as a key component in leading the way forward, and the fact that she is pregnant was simply not relevant.
Those of us in the women’s leadership space have been championing this idea for a very, very long time: That a qualified woman is just as able to do a given job as an equally qualified man. Women should not been seen as less able to do a job just because they may want to become pregnant and have a family. A proven leader at work will figure out how to manage her home life and family responsibilities.
I like to think the Yahoo Board trusts Mayer’s ability to manage her work and family lives in ways that will allow her to meet her responsibilities to both. Perhaps that is one of the most important messages we can take away from Mayer’s appointment — businesses need to recognize that employees are not just workers who exist from 9 to 5, but whole people with families and needs outside of the workplace. Slowly but surely, businesses are shifting their cultures to be more aware and supportive of the needs of employees in and out of the workplace.
It’s just in time, because male and female Millennials, many of whom are college students and young professionals, say they don’t want to assume leadership roles at work because of the difficulties in taking on extra responsibilities while staying present as a parent and spouse. Retaining and advancing women in the workforce is a business imperative; those organizations with more women in leadership roles are more profitable. However, there is an entire generation of employees saying they won’t work in the same ways their parents work. If that’s not a business imperative, I don’t know what is.
Executives and board members in the business world need to take note of yesterday’s news. Yahoo’s board said loud and clear that to drive their business forward they need someone with an unmatched skill-set and creative thinking. That woman is Marissa Mayer, and she happens to be pregnant. The board’s first concern was Mayer’s talents, and the second her gender. Mayer will not be pregnant forever, nor will she have a newborn forever. The board has shown their trust in her ability to make Yahoo a better company and to manage her personal life.
At the Center for Women and Business, we’re working to find ways businesses can better attract, retain, and advance women. We need to find ways to diversify business at all levels, but especially in leadership and C-suite roles. If you’re a professional, man or woman, with ideas about how we can begin to restructure the workplace to set women up for advancement, join our online Idea Exchange. This online forum will provide a space for employees to share their views and will enable business leaders to hear from employees.