After months of rumors, Verizon announced Monday that it would acquire Yahoo for $4.83 billion. Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, who for years has tried to keep the company independent, said she will stay on, but it’s not clear what her role will be.
Since taking over the former tech pioneer four years ago, Mayer has received more than her fair share of scrutiny ― and too often, that scrutiny comes from people’s expectations of her as a woman rather than as a CEO. Somehow, everything from her appearance to her role as a mother has been up for debate.
The media is guilty of this, too. Look at the coverage of Verizon’s acquisition of AOL, The Huffington Post’s parent company, last year, and compare it to news reports about it buying Yahoo this week. AOL CEO Tim Armstrong was hailed as “brilliant” and “genius” for brokering a deal with the telecom giant. Mayer has come under fire for “failing” to fix Yahoo’s problems and has had to “defend her reputation” as the head of the company. Of course, the circumstances are different here, but it’s hard to deny that there’s some underlying sexism in how women at the very top are viewed.
Mayer hit back at what she called “gender-charged reporting” in an interview with the Financial Times shortly after the sale.
“I’ve tried to be gender blind and believe tech is a gender-neutral zone but do think there has been gender-charged reporting,” she told the publication. “We all see the things that only plague women leaders, like articles that focus on their appearance, like Hillary Clinton sporting a new pantsuit. I think all women are aware of that, but I had hoped in 2015 and 2016 that I would see fewer articles like that. It’s a shame.”
Here are some of the gendered critiques people have directed at Mayer:
1. Her looks are part of her success
Shortly after she was named head of Yahoo, a Reddit thread popped up calling Mayer the “hottest CEO ever.” Even some of the news articles calling out the sexism of the site’s users fell into the trap, suggesting that Mayer’s looks contributed to her success. Forbes wrote that her “beauty” could be her “secret weapon,” while The Daily Beast described an aura of “wow-she’s-a-lady” surrounding Mayer.
2. Everyone deserves to know all about her pregnancy
Leading news outlets, including The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and Bloomberg, jumped at the chance to report that Mayer was expecting twins last year. Cue the questions about how she could juggle newborns and her CEO duties, her priorities as a parent and the model she’s setting for her female employees.
3. She would have lost her job if it weren’t for getting pregnant
A professor at New York University’s business school decided to insert himself into the conversation by suggesting that getting pregnant had helped Mayer keep her job. “If she hadn’t announced she was pregnant with twins, she’d be out of a job within six months,” Scott Galloway told Bloomberg.
4. But she should have taken more maternity leave
Mayer took two weeks of maternity leave, although new moms at Yahoo can take off up to 16 weeks. Some criticized Mayer for setting an unrealistic example for women at the company and pressuring them to return to work soon after giving birth. (Mayer also stirred controversy when she had a nursery built in her office so she could take care of her son at work.)
5. Being a working parent hurt her image
Apparently, Mayer’s likability points have taken a nosedive, and it’s largely due to perceptions of her as a mother. Working parents feel attacked by her decision on taking maternity leave, prompting Time to write: “Last year, she was Yahoo’s golden girl, a pregnant woman cheered on by legions of working moms as she took the helm of the struggling tech titan. Now, she’s the tough-as-nails, whip-cracking, anti-family crusader.”
6. Her management style is wrong
Some Yahoo employees felt frustrated by Mayer’s “indecision” and tendency to micromanage, according to a Forbes report. Others noted that she didn’t take negative feedback well and was late to meetings. Many of the problems at Yahoo were compounded by the turmoil the company faced when Mayer took over ― but it didn’t stop people from piling on the criticism, as often happens when a company has a female CEO.
7. She shouldn’t have posed in Vogue
In 2013, Mayer was featured in the glossy pages of Vogue magazine, giving haters another to criticize her image as CEO. Some said the spread gave the impression that Mayer was lounging around while her employees worked their butts off. Others said Mayer was playing into stereotypes dictating that women have to be glamorous and attractive on the job. (Seriously, though ― when has Vogue made a man do this uncomfortable-looking pose upside down on a lawn chair?)
8. She should stop trying to be someone she’s not
The New York Times magazine published a cover story two years ago titled “What Happened When Marissa Mayer Tried To be Steve Jobs.” Hint: Nothing very good. The story basically sets up Mayer to fail and suggests that she was aiming far too high, Rachel Sklar points out in Elle: “When Steve Jobs does it, it’s genius at work. When a woman does it, it’s a fireable offense.”
9. She has a weird laugh
Some dudes think Mayer has the “worst laugh in the world.” WTF?