Saturday, January 14, 2017

The Rise and Fall of Marissa Mayer

When Yahoo! hired Marissa Mayer as the new CEO, it was throwing what is known in another context as a "Hail Mary" pass. Here we’ll call it a "Hail Marissa" pass.

The company was in trouble and the Board of Directors must have thought that the risk of hiring a woman with no real managerial experience and who was about to give birth to her first child was worth taking.

As it turned out, the Mayer tenure at Yahoo! has not been a success. Mayer now has three children but the company, as it was, will soon cease to exist.

For the record, this blogger has generally been supportive of Mayer. When she banned telecommuting as a way to overcome the dismal state of the Yahoo! office environment I wrote that she had every right to make an executive decision. The market, not bloggers and columnists, would be the judge.

The same applied to Mayer’s policy of giving special preference to female hires. True enough, most of Silicon Valley is anything but diverse. Most of it is run by white and Asian males. If Mayer wanted to hire more women, regardless of merit, she had every right to do so. Again, the market was the final judge.

For the record, Mayer has been sued for discriminating against men. Wikipedia reports:

Scott Ard, a prominent editorial director, fired from Yahoo! in 2015, has filed a lawsuit accusing Mayer of leading a sexist campaign to purge male employees. Ard, a male employee, stated “Mayer encouraged and fostered the use of (an employee performance-rating system) to accommodate management’s subjective biases and personal opinions, to the detriment of Yahoo!’s male employees”. 

Mayer may n0t have been willing to proclaim herself to be a feminist, but she certainly acted like one.

Now, Erin Gloria Ryan is ranting about how Mayer owed everything to feminism and yet failed in her primary task—or better, what Ryan defines as Mayer’s primary task—to be a vocal and outspoken feminist.

That’s right, Mayer did not have to answer to Yahoo! shareholders. She had to answer to her true employer: Feminism, Inc. She should have been out there on the front lines fighting for free IUDs for all women. Would that have made her a better CEO? Ryan does not ask the question.

Obviously, any woman who announces that her primary loyalty is to Feminism, Inc. and not to her company will normally not be hired at all. And she is certainly not going to be promoted. The same applies to any man or woman who makes social justice or some other ideological cause the object of his full commitment.

Ryan—not the brightest bulb on the tree—has offered a good reason for women not to be hired and promoted. She has told women what they need to do in order not to be hired, or better, in order not to be elected president of the United States. After all, a presidential candidate must, above all else, show him or herself to be devoted primarily to the nation, not to a cause. America was tricked by Barack Obama. It was not tricked by Hillary Clinton.

As Ryan describes her, Mayer failed as CEO:

Mayer’s tenure at Yahoo has been singular for several reasons. On a practical level, it was a gutsy hire when she was brought on in 2012, as a product-oriented person who, at 37, was young and relatively inexperienced with running an entire company. Her management style occasionally raised eyebrows. Although she was six months pregnant when she accepted the job, shortly after coming aboard she banned telecommuting for employees. After her son was born, she had a nursery built in her office. Other Yahoo employees who were working caretakers didn’t have the same luxury. She spent lavishly on high-profile hires like Katie Couric, who cost Yahoo $10 million a year and exposed it to controversy at a time the company’s reputation couldn’t exactly afford the ding. Ultimately, a combination of overzealous acquisition, questionable decisions that led to poor employee morale, and plain old bad luck grounded Yahoo’s aspirations for a turnaround.

A rational individual might have concluded that the Yahoo! Board had made a mistake in hiring Marissa Mayer. A rational individual might have seen that a pregnant woman, a woman who was about to give birth, a woman who would naturally undergo the transformations that accompany her condition, was not in the best position to run a major corporation. Not Ryan.

In an especially mindless fashion she inveighs against Mayer for refusing to return the favor granted her by feminism. She attacks Mayer for not embracing the ideology.

If you think I’m exaggerating, take a gander at this:

Then there was the woman thing. Mayer’s womanhood, her glamorous public image, her status as a mother, her outspoken stances on feminism and women at work made her rise and ultimate thwarting uniquely of-this-era. She is a woman who has achieved impressively, who has benefited from feminism immensely. And yet, she is a woman who didn’t feel compelled to identify with the ideology of feminism. In fact, in an interview early in her tenure as CEO of Yahoo, she distanced herself from the activism that gave women the right to vote and obtain birth control and the right to apply for credit cards without a husband’s permission, saying she found the whole thing too “negative.”

Does Ryan imagine that an activist feminist would have been a better CEO? Was Hillary Clinton, everyone’s feminist role model, a competent Secretary of State?

We will ignore the fact that no one really identifies with an ideology—to repeat Ryan’s clumsy phrasing—but that one adheres to it or embraces it. Ryan is saying that Mayer and every other woman who has enjoyed any recent success owes it to feminism and is obligated to return the favor.

As a counterpoint, we mention that Mayer herself deserves credit for her considerable accomplishments as well as blame for her failures. We should also notice that feminists, being card-carrying ideologues, only take credit for what they perceive to be the good that feminist has achieved. You do not see too many feminists crying out to with pride over all the divorces and broken homes that feminism provoked. You do not see too many feminists taking credit for the infertility problems of women who follow the feminist life plan.

Any time anything does not work out for a woman, feminists blame the sexist, misogynist patriarchy. Any time a woman succeeds feminsim gives the credit to feminism. It’s the definition of an ideology. In the end you cannot even think straight.

We reported recently that brain science has demonstrated definitively that a woman’s brain changes during pregnancy, the better to activate the instincts that will make her a better mother. These changes are unlikely to make her a better CEO. The point is so obvious that only a feminist would miss it.

In truth, Mayer was having her first child at age 37. She was doing so because she was following the feminist life play, postponing childbearing until her career was firmly established. Feminists failed to notice, as Penelope Trunk brought to their attention, that if a woman has children in her late 30s she will be running after toddlers at the same time when she is eligible for a senior management role. If feminists really want women to enter the executive suite the better course would be to have children young. And yet, the thought is anathema to feminists.

When push comes to shove, however, we have to admit that Ryan does have a point. She has a point about the influence of feminism. In truth, were it not for the ideological climate created by feminism, an ideological climate that believes human biology to be a social construct, no one would have chosen a pregnant woman with no management experience as the CEO of a major corporation.

The Yahoo! Board was influenced, overtly or covertly, by feminist ideology. It wanted to make a politically correct point—by ignoring pregnancy and inexperience--and tanked the company. Or better, sent the company further into the tank.

As for Mayer, if she had not been influenced by the ideology she would never have taken the job. Mayer might not have been a feminist. She might have refused to embrace the ideology, but she was a product of the culture, especially of the culture of Silicon Valley, and to that culture she owes the fact that she made a bad decision. Certainly, the decision was bad for Yahoo! We do not know whether it was good or bad for her as a mother.


sestamibi said...

"You do not see too many feminists crying out to with pride over all the divorces and broken homes that feminism provoked."

Are you kidding? These are FEATURES, not BUGS! Remember "Defining Deviancy Down"?

Trigger Warning said...

I looked at Erin GLORIA Ryan's entry on LinkedIn. You know, those pages can be enlightening, aside from their obvious value as a repository for what was one posted on Mom's refrigerator with a cute magnet. Erin's entire career experience has been swallowed by Applied Gabbling, aka Journalism, so she can speak with great authority on just about any subject that can be written about.

Erin has the sadz because Mayer is insufficiently, as my wife calls it, pyrofeminist.

And the cultural/academic appropriation of the term "trickle-down" she applies to feminism makes it doubly sweet.

Obviously, the piece is a not-so-cleverly concealed rant about socialist doctrine and how socalist thought can be the Philosopher's Stone for every malady and issue.

Mayer was hired to assuage Diversity Guilt. Mayer failed because she didn't know what she was doing. Mayer has been fired because nobody wants to deal with an ideological sock puppet. Hopefully, Mayer, Elizabeth Holmes, and Hillary! Clinton will get together and form a 501c(3) to suck money out of the Proglodyte Left and ineffectually squander it on doomed, but endlessly entertaining, Proglodyte projects.

In fact, if so asked, I'll be delighted to contribute the already-amassed $0.02 from my own Individual Reparations Account, ignoring the early withdrawal penalty.

David Foster said...

Gender issues aside, Mayer would have appeared as an attractive candidate to the Yahoo board. She had been deeply involved in the creation of Google AdWords, which is responsible for pretty much all of Google's revenue. She had been VP of Search Products and of Maps and Location Services at Google, these are surely seriously responsible executive positions.

I did not agree with Mayer's decision to ban telecommuting employees; in my view, these decisions are properly left to the executives responsible for the individual departments, rather than being something that should be decided at the top level. This action, along with her reported policy of personally reviewing all new hires at Yahoo, indicates to me an excessive level of micromanagement. (This may have something to do with her reported shyness. I've never met Marissa personally, but someone I know who went to college with her said she was 'friendly but shy.' Of course, there are plenty of successful CEOs who aren't extroverts, especially perhaps in Silicon Valley.)

So she had some deficiencies as a CEO, in my view, but I'm not convinced that either these deficiencies or her hiring into Yahoo in the first place was driven by her gender.