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Marissa Mayer: What’s Family Got To Do With It?

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We need to re-direct the conversation to Marissa being in the minority as a women CEO in a Fortune 500 company – and how we can change that abysmal ratio.

By Marilyn Nagel (CEO, Watermark)

When the news broke of Marissa Mayer’s appointment as CEO of Yahoo, the excitement in the air was palpable. Women welcomed the discussions it ignited, specifically those about the lack of female CEOs at fortune 500 companies. Everyone was pleased that Marissa was named CEO, not because of her gender but because she is a respected female executive known for her creativity and leadership.

The women CEOs in the Watermark community immediately stepped up to offer her support and guidance. Their collective experience would offer Marissa insights in areas new to her, including P&L. The power of women supporting women is at Watermark’s core; it’s important for Marissa to have a community of peers who have faced the challenges of getting a company back on its feet, especially since many will be waiting for such a high profile woman to fail.

I am troubled with how dramatically the conversation shifted during her first day on the job. The focus for any other new CEO would have been how they plan to turn this company around (especially one that’s had 5 CEOs in 5 years). Instead, the spotlight was on her announcement that she is pregnant and how she will work throughout her few short weeks of maternity leave.

I had the occasion to meet with a reporter who only wanted to focus on “could women have it all” questions and the pregnancy announcement. I explained that we would not even be having this conversation if a male CEO had a pregnant wife. In my experience, crying babies keep both parents up at night. I also asked if we would be talking with a Baby Boomer CEO (the more common demographic) about elder care – because that is as much if not a greater distraction from work, and has far reaching emotional ramifications that all of us face.

Most importantly, we need to re-direct the conversation to Marissa being in the minority as a women CEO in a Fortune 500 company – and how we can change that abysmal ratio. We must also encourage her to use her position to support other women. She has the opportunity to be a role model for women engineers and women who want to balance career and other interests; be it fashion, politics or family commitments.

She also has the opportunity to network with a courageous group of women who have been in her shoes and succeeded resoundingly. Anne M. Mulcahy is a great example: she not only turned Xerox around, but did it while being a champion of women. Marissa, we welcome you to join Watermark and join the ranks of other outstanding women leaders, like Hannah Kain at ALOM and Shellye Archambeau at MetricStream (to name a couple; we’re just scratching the surface here.)

And, above all: CONGRATULATIONS!

This post was originally posted at Watermark’s blog.

About the guest blogger: Marilyn Nagel is the CEO of Watermark. As CEO of Watermark, Marilyn leverages her passion for gender diversity by promoting inclusive, diverse, and well-balanced workplaces. Prior to Watermark, Marilyn was Chief Diversity Officer at Cisco. Prior to Cisco, Marilyn worked in academia, leadership development, operations management, and organizational development for nearly 30 years, in both the private non-profit sector and for Fortune 100 companies. Follow her on Twitter at @wtrmrk.