Currently, the internet is abuzz with news that Marissa Mayer is the new CEO and president of Yahoo, a company in a field where very few women dominate. A well-known woman with an impeccable reputation in Silicon Valley and among professionals, Mayer now joins a small, elite pool of women sitting atop the most powerful countries in the world. According to The Huffington Post there are only 20 women CEOs among Fortune 500 companies; this translates to 4%, a dismal number given the advancements in the workplace since the 1970s.
Now responsible for stewarding Yahoo out of its tech slump, Mayer is tasked with articulating a clear, attainable mission and future vision for the tech giant. Additionally, amidst the news of her new position, Mayer announced her first pregnancy on Twitter. Unfortunately, it seems that most of the press coverage after Mayer’s announcements focused on both Mayer’s new role as CEO and on her pregnancy, questioning whether Mayer can truly “have it all” as she tries to balance both her professional and personal life.
First off, Yahoo should be congratulated for not viewing or considering Mayer’s pregnancy to be a potential distraction or detraction from Mayer’s glowing resume. Evidently, the board has few qualms about Mayer's ability to juggle the responsibilities of CEO and first-time mother.
No one is really sure of whether or not Mayer can have it all because no one has seen her balance both roles yet. People will be watching her every move closely, before, during, and particularly after her pregnancy to see what she does and they will certainly be heavily scrutinizing her. The question on everyone’s mind is whether or not a woman can realistically raise a child and run a multi-billion dollar company. Only time will tell.
Discussing her meteoric rise to dominance in the tech field and wondering what else to expect from this illustrious woman, many people have been quick to already champion her as a woman who has it all. They have pinned her as a role model for women and millennials questioning their own abilities to reach the highly unattainable “golden standard” of a successful personal and professional life.
Ann-Marie Slaughter, author of the article that sparked massive discourse last month, “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All,” rightly commented in the Huffington Post, "We all applaud her, but she's superhuman, rich, and in charge. She isn't really a realistic role model for hundreds of thousands of women who are trying to figure out how you make it to the top AND have a family at the same time." Without a doubt, she is someone to look up to and aspire to be, but we must all make choices that fit with our lifestyles.
Maybe I'm more cynical since reading Slaughter's article, but in reality, it is unreasonable for women to compare themselves to Mayer. It's admirable to want to aspire to be as accomplished as Mayer and get the best of both worlds -- as people believe she has done. However, it's important to note that being unable to attain that “golden standard” because you had to sacrifice something in either realm–– choosing family or work –– does not, by any measure, mean you are a failure; it means you are normal.
Maybe we aren't rich, maybe we have family troubles, maybe we don't have access to abundant opportunity, or maybe we just value our career or we value raising our children. Making a choice and having to give something else up does not cheapen your accolades but rather it makes you human in the most basic sense – you chose, you sacrificed.
There's nothing wrong with ambition – I admire Mayer for what she has accomplished, for the barriers she has broken for the rest of us, and for what she has shown women they can do. Reaching the ranks of women like her would be a dream come true. However, at the same time, I need to keep my idealism in check and try to always remember that women like Mayer did not climb the ranks without immense sacrifice.