Can We Talk About Marissa Mayer?
Was it Madeleine Albright or Taylor Swift who said, “there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women?” No matter the context or the source, the message is both profound and simple: women should help other women. And if you happen to be a woman CEO, then I would offer that your duty to support other women, especially those less powerful than you, is exponentially greater.
So, can we talk about Marissa Mayer?
A few weeks ago, I published an article called “ I am Susan Fowler” to raise awareness that sexual harassment and gender discrimination are not just a problem for Uber, but pervasive in Silicon Valley. While doing research about the shenanigans at Uber, I stumbled upon a video of former Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer defending Uber CEO Travis Kalanick. Speaking at the annual Stanford Director’s College, Mayer said of Kalanick, “I think he’s a phenomenal leader; Uber is ridiculously interesting. I just don’t think he knew,” she added. “When your company scales that quickly, it’s hard.”
Um, forgive me, but WHAT?! You don’t think he knew?
If you have been living off the grid for the past several weeks, then you may have missed the stories about Kalanick running Uber like it was a Faber College fraternity on double secret probation. He referred to his own company as “ Boober” in an interview with GQ. His company marketed “hot chick” female drivers as a promotion in France. He authored the now infamous Miami letter, in which he instructed his employees about how to have sex with other employees at the event. His close confidant obtained the medical records of a woman who was raped by an Uber driver in India, in an effort to discredit her claim. And those are just a few examples.
Either he knew that calling his company “Boober” might be off-putting to women, or he lacks a rudimentary level of common sense. Either way, his behavior lacks the integrity required of “phenomenal leader.” So how can a prominent woman, a Silicon Valley CEO herself, come to this man’s defense? Friend or not, the evidence is glaring that his leadership style shaped a bro-culture that led to rampant sexual harassment and endemic gender discrimination. Ms. Mayer, is that what you meant by “ridiculously interesting?” Ridiculous, yes. Interesting, not so much.
If you are unfamiliar with Mayer, she was the controversial CEO of Yahoo, hired to turn around the ailing company a few years ago. She recently sold it to Verizon for $4.5B, and vacated her position after the deal closed last month. While there is plenty to say about what happened at Yahoo during her tenure, I’ll save those comments for another blog. The focus of this essay is about her apparent lack of support for women, and why her behavior as a leader in Silicon Valley is part of the problem. After all, this is not the first time that Mayer has been called out for being less than supportive of her sisters in tech. Here are the other Mayer moments that left women out in the cold:
1. When she banned remote work at Yahoo.
2. When she took the shortest maternity leave in the history of maternity leave.
3. When she built a nursery next to her office to be closer to her own children, right after she banned other moms (and dads) from working next to theirs
4. When she vilified what it means to be a feminist
You see, I believe that women leaders should help other women become leaders. When we reach the top floor, we have a responsibility to send the elevator back down. When a young woman bravely calls out a company for blatant sexual harassment, we should support her. When a high-profile leader like Kalanick resigns in the wake of a tidal wave of stories about sexual harassment and discrimination, we should not be coming to his defense by saying something as asinine as “I just don’t think he knew.” We should show some solidarity with other women, or at the very least, shut up.
As more and more women come forward with their own stories of discrimination and harassment, we need strong leaders, male and female, to actively drive a cultural shift in tech and beyond. It is imperative that women like Mayer educate themselves about gender equality and diversity, and represent on behalf of less powerful women in the workforce. Now I know what you might be thinking — Mayer is also a woman, and my thesis suggests that I should be supporting her as well. But to gain my support (at least in this context), she would have to contribute to the betterment of women in workplace. And it is my belief that she has succeeded in doing the opposite. She broke the glass ceiling and then installed a titanium one in its place.
Here is my plea to Ms. Mayer and women like her: help women. I beg of you. I am not suggesting that you support women at the expense of men, but rather recognize that you are a role model for women, and your voice is louder and far more influential than the average woman in tech. A prominent female leader defending a CEO who blatantly harassed women is an abomination. As Albright said, “there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.” Perhaps that version of hell for Mayer will be to take Kalanick’s job as her own?
If you like this post, please share it. Admittedly I am one of those gold star people who appreciates (arguably obsesses over) those green hearts, but spreading the message of gender equality is my goal.
Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com on July 13, 2017.