Yahoo’s New Ice Queen Leader
The 21st century has been a great time for the advancement of women in society. We now have more women in senior corporate positions than ever before. We have seen Hillary Clinton serve as the United States Secretary of State and we now look upon Christine Lagarde, serving as the head of the International Monetary Fund. Despite the many leadership roles women now hold, the media still cannot accept the thought of professionally successful females and continues to control their femininity. Recently, this can be seen by the media’s portrayal of Yahoo! CEO, Marissa Mayer, as an insensible ice queen. Mayer’s tech career began back in 1999, when she joined Google as the first female engineer and the 20th overall employee. Over her years at Google, she worked her way up in the ranks and played crucial roles in the development of Google’s core operations. Prior to her resignation from Google and appointment to CEO of Yahoo!, Mayer served as vice president for several products. During this time period, Mayer received much attention and critique from the media. A good portion of the media’s coverage casts a negative light on Mayer’s reputation at Google. She has been called, “Google’s icy, hypercompetitive search chief,” and, “the blonde cyborg who runs Google’s search engine.” Even more notably, a Business Insider article ridicules her professional capabilities, saying she, “will work harder than anyone and is smarter than 99 percent of the people…[but] doesn’t understand managing any other way than intimidation or humiliation.” Before explaining how this commentary portrays Mayer as an ice queen, it is important to fully understand the term. An ice queen is merciless, disconnected, and aggressive. It’s the type of woman that has no consideration for others’ personal needs, putting their job ahead of all else. While the above quotes do not directly accuse Mayer of these traits, they are most definitely implied. When calling Mayer a cyborg, the author depicts Mayer to be a robotic workaholic that is distanced from other humans and coworkers. She is viewed to be an unnatural freak. Furthermore, claiming she knows no other way to manage than via intimidation and humiliation shows Mayer’s apparent aggression and ruthlessness.
All of the negative media commentary mentioned thus far is from at least 17 months ago, when she still worked at Google. One would think that Yahoo!’s appointment of her to CEO would confirm her professional abilities and silence her critiques. However, just the opposite is true, especially after her controversial decision to eliminate Yahoo!’s work-from-home policy. This move affected hundreds of employees and sparked outrage on the internet. Take this boston.com article for example. Just at first glance, the title (“Marissa Mayer Is Snobbish, One-Dimensional, and Out of Touch”) makes the author’s disgust of Mayer evident. The article argues that Mayer is being unfair to her employees because, while she may have the resources and abilities to not work from home, most employees cannot make this happen. This lack of accommodation for the workers leads the article to call Mayer, “out of touch,” and, “a one-dimensional anti-role model.” Moreover, her decision to require in-office work is called “her draconian, snobbish decree, [that has] robbed women and men of their freedom.” Although Mayer has taken on greater responsibility and changed careers, the media continues to depict her as a cruel ice queen. The ultimate confirmation of Mayer’s perceived ice queen personality is found in a gokicker.com online quiz game. The quiz is composed of ten quotes, and the person playing the game guesses whether the quote is from Marissa Mayer or Miranda Priestly. Priestly, the editor-in-chief of Runway magazine in The Devil Wears Prada, is known as one of the most famous fictional ice queens. By making this quiz, there is a comparison drawn between Mayer and Priestly, and Mayer is characterized as an ice queen. All this critique of Mayer seems rather harsh and makes one wonder if it is truly deserved. Is Mayer actually the bad leader and impersonal ice queen that media makes her seem to be? Well, of course not. When it was asked in an online poll if Mayer is truly as rude as the media depicts her, a coworker at Google took to Mayer’s defense. Although he chose to remain anonymous, many other (named) Google employees supported his post, adding to its credibility. He argues that Mayer can come off as a rude person only because she is extremely busy and must be direct about everything to reduce wasted time. The blunt nature of her speech may appear to be illintentioned, but it most certainly is not. Going on, he says, “to make it seem as though she was universally hated or incompetent is a gross mischaracterization.” Moreover, he calls her “generous, thoughtful, and caring.” The experiences mentioned in this article are factual, not preposterous claims made by third party sources. After reading the input of a close coworker, it certainly does not seem that Mayer is the cruel animal the media makes her out to be.
Yet, if the stories of an anonymous coworker are not sufficiently convincing, a Fortune Magazine interview with Mayer reveals her true self. When asked how she handles all of her responsibilities, Mayer responds with a spin-off of a famous Vince Lombardi quote. She says, “I ruthlessly prioritize … for me, it’s God, family, and Yahoo! – in that order.” Yes, Mayer does work a lot, as she is famous for 120 hour work weeks with naps underneath her desk. However, unlike an ice queen, work is not her first priority. She puts her family before anything work related. In fact, near the beginning of Mayer’s time at Yahoo!, she took a 2 week maternity leave for the birth of her son. While 2 weeks is an awfully short maternity leave for the average person, it is a very long leave for the CEO of a multibillion dollar publicly traded company. Her willingness to leave work for this long shows her commitment to family. This evidence of Mayer’s personal side is proof to the fact that Mayer is not an ice queen.
Due to ice queens’ lack of personal skills and distasteful personalities, they often fail at their leadership roles. As further proof of Mayer not being an ice queen, she has proven herself to be a phenomenal leader since rising to the CEO position. The clearest indicator of Mayer’s success is the performance of Yahoo!’s stock over the past year. Because Yahoo! is a publicly traded company, the CEO’s main job is to produce profits and a rising share price for the stockholders. Over the past year, Yahoo!’s stock is up over 100%, compared to the Dow’s 22% return, Yahoo! has performed extraordinarily over the past year. When Mayer came into office, Yahoo! was in need of a big change to turn around its declining image and popularity. She has
been the managerial spark Yahoo! needed and her leadership abilities must be accredited for the company’s recent success. Clearly Mayer is not the cruel ice queen so many people make her out to be. Her work is worthy of praise, not unjustified criticism. But, why does the media continue to characterize Mayer as a heartless ice queen? Well, the media simply cannot fathom female professional successes. For years, the professional world has been dominated by males. Most every CEO was a man, most every new company was founded by men, and most every business success was credited to men. Yet, this is no longer the case. Female CEOs like Mayer are disrupting the marketplace and leading the entire business world. Despite the change in female’s professional roles, the news and media has not adapted to the new professional environment. The male dominated media industry is accustomed to crediting males with major successes. While the statistics are improving, women only hold 40% of jobs in newspaper newsrooms and 21% of jobs as Sunday morning talk show commentators. The men in charge of writing and reporting the news are so familiarized with putting men in the spotlight, they cannot accept the unfamiliar idea of women’s success. As a result, female accomplishments are misreported and not rightfully credited. This is evident by the media’s treatment of Marissa Mayer. It is uncustomary for the media to praise her turnaround efforts and the successful leadership of Mayer. Over the years, there have been many extraordinarily successful business turnarounds that have received media accolade. A prime example is the 1999 Inc. article, “What You Can Learn from Steve Jobs.” This piece was written on one of the best turnarounds in business history – Steve Jobs’ resuscitation of Apple. The article examines the many leadership traits of Jobs, ultimately giving him critical acclaim. The only difference between this scenario and Mayer’s Yahoo! turnaround is the CEO’s gender. Before each company adopted their new CEOs, they were both ugly tech companies that have outlived their glory days of spotlight and glamour. Each company’s respective CEO then used their superb leadership abilities to revitalizes the company’s mojo. Yet, because Mayer is a female she was not fortunate enough to get the praise she deserves. Even worse than Mayer’s nonexistent praise is the media criticism she underwent. As made apparent by the aforementioned articles, Mayer has been depicted as an evil, impersonal, incompetent ice queen. The media is uncomfortable crediting Mayer’s success in a stereotypically male career path. Instead, they take control of her femininity. The media is unable to concede to the truth, making it seem Mayer is failing at her job and females are incapable of holding positions of great authority.
When Mayer posed for Vogue after taking the reins at Yahoo!, the media lashed on and attacked her femininity. An important fact to note is that the Vogue article was more than just a photo shoot. It contains seven pages of interview material with Marissa Mayer. This is where the gender differences in media become clearly apparent. Had some male CEO done a photo shoot for a style magazine like GQ or Esquire, the media would pay very little attention to the poses he takes on or what he was wearing. If the media were to comment on an article of this sort, they would speak more to the written content from the CEO’s interview. However, for Mayer, the media relentlessly critiques and ridicules her barely scandalous poses. This is because media is stuck to the stereotypical ideals and traits of women from many years ago. In the Vogue article, Mayer is examined for her physical substance, not her intellectual ideas. By doing so, the media depicts Mayer as less than she is truly worth. Mayer appears to be just another attractive women posing for a big magazine photo shoot, rather than the brilliant business leader she is. Her feminism is controlled by the media to avoid accrediting a female with success in a historically and stereotypically male dominated position. Anna Holmes, founder of Jezebel, an online feminist blog site, argues that the media is determined to criticize women of authority. She says: But amid the discussion of whether or not the famously fashion-fond Marissa Mayer was setting a good example for women in the C-suite — most correspondents on my listserv responded with a resounding yes — there was a nod to the inherent tensions within contemporary femaleness, an acknowledgement that women who take an active interest in fashion and beauty are to both be commended (personal grooming is indicative of self-respect) and humored (personal grooming is superficial). According to Holmes, women face a catch-22 when it comes to their appearance, and the media is prepared to exploit this to control a women’s femininity. Mayer’s photo shoot was an attempt to make herself appear more personal to the public. The media decided to spoil her efforts and make Mayer appear to be merely superficial. They want Mayer to be the stereotypical woman from the days of gender inequality. Over the past couple of months, Mayer has been very internally focused and has escaped the media spotlight. As her company’s stock continues to outperform the market and Yahoo! becomes more competitive among its peers, Mayer has yet to receive the positive media recognition she deserves. Marissa Mayer has proven herself to be a spectacular CEO but, in disbelief, the media has pinned her as an incapable ice queen, discrediting her abilities and accomplishments. The days of gender inequality in the work place are disappearing and it is time for the media to move on to. Credit must be given where credit is due, regardless of one’s gender.
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