Friday, March 17, 2017

The Rise and Fall of Marissa Mayer

Long time readers of this blog know that I have been agnostic about Marissa Mayer’s leadership of Yahoo! I have believed that the marketplace would judge her executive abilities. I was willing to stand aside and not be any more opinionated than need be.

Anyway, Yahoo! is being sold to Verizon and Mayer is about to depart. I think it fair to say that she has failed at her job. Given her high profile and her gender, enquiring minds want to know what it all says about feminism.

Feminists  in particular want to know what it says about feminism. They want to know whether it advances their cause. They are not rushing out to defend Mayer, however, because she refused to identify as a feminist. Perhaps she does not want to identify with a group that presents a negative image of womanhood. You never know.

Erin Gloria Ryan is especially torqued because she believes that Mayer was a pompous ingrate who profited from feminism when it suited her and rejected it when it did not. The notion that a woman might make an independent judgment about whether or not she wants to adhere to an ideology does not cross Ryan’s mind. She sees it as Mayer’s sacred duty to be a feminist. Ryan’s mind is so addled by ideology that does not especially care about what happened to Yahoo!

Ryan talks about all the gains women have made, but she says nothing about the women whose marriages have been ruined by feminism. Being an ideologue means never having to take responsibility for failure.

As for what feminism did for Marissa Mayer, it was a mixed blessing. It is not unreasonable to say that were it not for feminism Mayer would not have been hired to rescue a failing company like Yahoo! After all, she did not have the requisite executive and managerial experience. She had no experience with turnarounds. And, she was six months pregnant. Since we know what the Yahoo! board did not know, namely that pregnancy modifies an expectant mother’s brain, we can conclude that Mayer was hired to make a cultural point, not because she was the best person for the job. Without feminism she would not have been hired. Probably, she should not have been hired.

Feminism, as a cultural influence, seems to have made it impossible for Mayer to turn down the job offer. Trying to balance work with motherhood she set up a nursery in the Yahoo! offices. A few years later she gave birth to twins.

She did not allow her career ambitions interfere with her desire to have and to care for her children. Lest we forget, Mayer was glamorous, even feminine. One might admire her willingness to defy the feminist furies, but in the end it seems to have been confusing. A woman executive ought to be womanly or even ladylike. Glamor does not belong in the board room.

In the end it was not doable. Biology does matter. It might not be disqualifying, but it belongs in the equation. Ignore it at your peril. Both Mayer and the Yahoo! board learned the lesson the hard way.

One notes that Mayer also promoted diversity. She instituted a policy of giving preference to women in promotion and hiring decisions. For that she was sued by a male employee for gender discrimination. Again, we ought to allow the marketplace to decide the value of diversity experiments. In the case of Yahoo! it did not work out very well, did it?

One can say the same of Hillary Clinton, who nearly rode her husband’s name and a bunch of job failures into the White House. She owed her exalted sinecures to feminism, but that does not speak well of feminism. Everyone should be treated fairly in the job market and in civil society. To promote people in order to fulfill diversity quotas or to make cultural points is a bad idea.

Erin Gloria Ryan summarizes the Mayer failure:

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.

Ryan seems mostly to care about the effect this has all had on the prospects of Feminism, Inc. On the one hand Mayer was not a feminist. Thus Feminism, Inc. does not have to feel responsible for her failure. On the other hand Mayer was a woman. Her failure will surely make other boards more reluctant to hire inexperienced pregnant women.

In Ryan’s words:

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.”

Is this really about the right to vote? The suffragettes who demanded the right to vote were not leftist ideologues. They did not seek to upend relations between the sexes. They did not pretend that gender was a social construct. They did not promote an ideology that saw all men—especially white men—as oppressors and all women as victims.

As for identifying with an ideology—to use Ryan’s infelicitous phrase—no one identifies with an ideology. One identifies oneself as a member of a cult that adheres to certain ideological beliefs.

And, Mayer was correct to see feminism as being too “negative.” The constant talk about sexual abuse, sexual harassment and rape, the sense that men and women should be mortal enemies, engaged in a struggle to the death, is: negative. Contemporary feminism was not designed to help men and women to get along and to work together.

Ryan continues to show off the kind of snarky drivel that has alienated women like Marissa Mayer:

Mayer may not have identified as a feminist, but men who hate women sure celebrated her stumbles as though she was. A curious amount of schadenfreude followed any announcement of a problem at Yahoo. It seems her existence rubbed some observers the wrong way. And some who would have legitimate reasons to critique her work seemingly shied away, out of fear of being roped in with those who would howl about a woman being happy and successful no matter what her job, or how good she was at it.

I assume that Ryan was trying to see how many mistakes she could fit into a single paragraph. Where to begin?

Men did not celebrate her stumbles. Among others, your humble blogger was always willing to give her the benefit of the doubt and not to prejudge her work. As for men who hate women, what about women who hate women?

Mayer was attacked more often by feminists than by any men. Feminists deplored Mayer’s telecommuting ban and her setting up a nursery in her office. By the evidence of Ryan’s article, feminists were riled by Mayer’s existence, the choices she made in living her life. And especially by her refusal to repudiate the feminine mystique. As for Ryan’s last sentence, I find it to be less than coherent. Who howled about Mayer’s happiness? No one, except perhaps the feminists who resented Mayer her glamor.  As for how good she was at her job, manifestly she was not.

Next, Ryan inveighs against a certain kind of feminism, the kind that touts  a woman’s promotion or election—regardless of her credentials and her ability to do the job—but does not help to bring free childcare to all women so that they can leave their children at home or in a day care center and do what feminists insist that they must be doing: advancing their career.

Ryan notwithstanding more than a few good feminists were severely disappointed at the failure of Hillary Clinton. They had made her their role model and she failed them.

Ryan seems seriously offended that women do not identify as feminists:

How can women identify as part of a group with common interests and values if it seems the loudest voices in that group are telling the least privileged that the battle they should be fighting is one that allows Marissa Mayer to have a nursery in her office? Who cares if a movie star is making millions less than her male counterpart if the U.S. still has an embarrassingly high maternal mortality rate among women of color? Having a female president is not the same as all women becoming the president. Looking at a glamourous photoshoot of a female Fortune 500 CEO in Vogue is not the same as being able to afford child-care. Feeling good isn’t the same as progress.

Note well that Ryan defines women as an interest group, a group whose loyalty is to the feminist cult, but not to their husbands, their children, their families or even their companies. But, if a woman’s loyalty is to feminism and not to her family or company, if she identifies herself as a cult follower of feminism but not as a wife or mother or manager, she is going to have a difficult time sustaining her marriage, bringing up her children or doing her job.

Ryan is seriously torqued by Mayer, not only because Mayer let women down and did not militate for paid family leave, but also because Mayer played up her feminine mystique and took her role as an active, present  mother seriously. And she tried to fit that in with major corporate responsibilities. 

Now you know why Mayer never wanted to be identified as a feminist. She wanted other things in her life and she refused repudiate being a woman being a mother and being a wife.


trigger warning said...

I'm sure Mayer is weeping over Ryan's obliquy. Weeping all the way to the bank, with her $23,000,000 golden parachute.


I wish Ms Mayer all the best. She wasn't a perfect CEO, but the Jack Welchs of this world don't come around very often.

Sam L. said...

Idealogy Uber Alles, per Ms. Ryan.

Ares Olympus said...

It is strange that the success or failure of a single woman CEO would represent something important about the success or failure of feminism.

I see that yahoo is my oldest email address, and my first email there was December 1997, so it'll be 20 years next winter. I never used it for personal email, but it was the email address I gave to businesses if they wanted my email for some reason.

It's hard to remember that yahoo has a search engine. I don't remember ever using it.

I also recall I tried out the yahoo personals just over 15 years ago, which was also free at the time, and I dated more women that year than the every other year combined, before or after. It was a good experience overall, a way to go outside of my ordinary social circles, while I did end up dating someone else I already knew after that. The most interesting thing I got from the dates was some interesting religious conversions, and actually attended an alpha program at a church of one of the women. And one of the woman became a downtown lunch time walking partner for a few years after that. They changed the service the next year with monthly charges, but I was fine with the experience.

It is hard to imagine online ad revenue can cover income for any company, especially google which doesn't even seem to bother us with ads much.

Yahoo as a "news portal" isn't terrible, and it'll pull me in to look at a screen or two. I wonder if news sources pay yahoo for article clicks or views?

It is worth asking what sort of online services you'd pay for, and I might pay $30/year for an ad-free Facebook, especially if I could configure it more.

A friend recommended a website for online journaling called "morning pages", but they want money after 30 days. I suppose a group like that could sell their app to google or yahoo if they gain a large following.

My bet now would be on google, and it is hard to imagine how they'll fall. Maybe
"personal assistances" will destroy google when "bots" start using all their features to gather information without human intervention or viewing, and crash their servers?

The future is a brave new world whatever happens.

James said...

Gosh, fortunately men have never ever failed or done met personal needs over business, ever. Ideologies and cults only have three creatures in their biosphere; Saints, sinners, and heretics.

James said...

I'm going to have to proof read my comments or make them shorter, it should read; "Gosh, fortunately men have never ever failed at business or put personal needs over business, ever."

David Foster said...

Actually, I think the main reason Marissa was hired to run Yahoo was the hope that some of the Google magic had rubbed off on her and would be transportable to them...remember, she had been an extremely important contributor to G's success. Her being female certainly did't hurt, but it's easily imaginable that a man with the same background could have been hired for that job.

I think she was too much of a micromanager....I know Stuart and I disagree on this, but I was not impressed with her edict against telecommuting. Such decisions IMO should not be made centrally by the CEO but left to the individual executives running various parts of the business, and in many cases delegated still further down. If you don't trust the managers & executives working for you to make decisions of this sort, then get rid of them and hire people that you *do* trust for those roles.

Anonymous said...

And James, what's your point?

Anonymous said...

Microsoft offered Jerry Yang $47 Billion for Yahoo. He turned it down.

62% premium over market price. Yahoo stock immediately plummeted.

What's Yahoo worth now? I sensed Bad Decision at the time.

Ms. Meyer's mistakes don't hold a candle to that. -- Rich Lara