As our Annual Women of the Channel issue was going to print, news broke that Marissa Mayer, a 37-year-old Google executive, had been named the CEO of Yahoo. The news was certainly a sign that women are breaking the glass ceiling in technology. Mayer follows the appointments of Virginia Rometty as the first female CEO to lead IBM and of Meg Whitman as CEO of HP. This is particularly encouraging given that all three moves happened in the last 12 months and since our 2011 list was published. But coverage of the news and the ongoing debate about work/family balance illustrates that much more needs to be done. Sadly, it is two steps forward and one step back.
Let’s start with the good news: Two of the three largest technology companies are now being run by women. What’s more, Mayer is six months pregnant. Any woman juggling a career and family knows that pregnancy typically puts a career in a 12- to 18-month holding pattern. Rarely does a woman have the ability to jump to a new job while pregnant, so kudos to Yahoo and Mayer.
Now let’s talk about the one step back: When news of the Mayer appointment broke, we learned that she was the first female engineer at Google; that she recently joined the board of Wal-Mart; and that she was credited with the clean design of Google search and oversaw some other successful products, including Gmail, Google news and Google images. But some major news organizations also noted that she had an affinity for cupcakes. Cupcakes? Have you ever read about a male CEO appointment followed by his culinary skills or hobbies? CRN just broke the story that Pat Gelsinger was appointed CEO of VMware and that Paul Maritz was stepping aside. Did anyone report that Gelsinger makes a mean chili or has a terrific golf swing?
Gender stereotypes, unfortunately, are difficult to chip away at, but an even bigger issue is work/family balance. The topic has sparked a lot of discussion in light of an article written by Anne-Marie Slaughter in The Atlantic, titled “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” Slaughter was a Princeton professor who left her job to work in the Obama administration. On paper, she seemed to have cracked the recipe for success. She was the first woman director of policy planning for the State Department and had a husband who supported her career and took care of the kids during the week. But after two years on the job she concluded that women really can’t have it all. The workdays, travel and the pressure to be in the office puts stress on work/family balance. While we are lucky to be in the tech industry where flexibility is more accepted, the burden is still great.
In reading her article I was actually struck by how lucky I am. I have a great job, two kids, an incredibly supportive husband and the means to fill in the gaps and give my children camps, vacations and, yes, the mommy time they need. And yet with all this support, I am barely hanging on some days. Still, that makes me lucky. Most women in the workforce are not on the fast track and don’t have a strong support system, the salary, or means to fill in the gaps as nicely as others. We all need to be mindful and supportive of their needs. These women are our friends, our mothers, our daughters and are the glue for the next generation.
With the appointments of Mayer, Rometty and Whitman and the frank discussions now taking place, I hope we will see progress. But change won’t happen unless we all -- men and women -- understand the constraints and desire to change the thinking in the workplace today.
BACKTALK: Kelley Damore is VP, Editorial Director for UBM Channel. You can reach her via e-mail at email@example.com.