Marissa Mayer's three-year role at the helm of Yahoo! has been examined, almost microscopically, as a case study in poor leadership. Investors and advertisers claim to be losing patience with perceived lack of progress and lack of vision for how she plans to turn Yahoo! around, with one investor publishing a personal manifesto with a vote of no confidence in her leadership abilities. An executive meeting in late October evolved into an outright shouting match, with 120 top employees decrying poor leadership and a decrease in company morale.
While critics hold tight to the idea that Mayer doesn't exercise the leadership to steer this unwieldy ship, her Board of Directors remain steadfast and faithful to her vision. Mayer took on in 2012 what was arguably the hardest job in Silicon Valley, becoming the fifth CEO in five years as Yahoo!'s digital advertising business continued down a steep decline.
Mayer was hailed at the time as a "brilliant hire," a star employee at competitor Google where she was employee number 20. Though Yahoo!'s net revenue declined between 2012 and 2015, Mayer's series of bold acquisitions including Alibaba and Tumblr sent the company's stock price soaring between 2012 and 2015 and nearly doubled the site's number of unique visits despite increasing competition with behemoth search competitors. Mayer's tenure has not been a complete failure, and the increased frequency of this assertion begs serious questions about critics' grading scale.
In what ways is Mayer being held to a higher standard because she's a woman? Because she's a pregnant woman, a regrettable anomaly in the Fortune 500? Perhaps because she's a relatively young woman -- at 40, she's more than a decade younger than the median age of CEOs in the Fortune 1000. Or is it her femininity? When Mayer became the first female CEO to be featured in a fashion spread for Vogue Magazine, the ensuing debate about her "soft image" and perceived sensuality demonstrated a double standard that is alive and well.
For too long the model of success in a CEO came in the form of a strong man, or worse yet, a bully. The idea that sheer force of will is what it takes to build a market has led too many people in the tech ecosystem to follow that unfortunate lead. From tech reporters and venture capitalists to analysts and advertisers, what do these critics actually want to see in a CEO? Metrics, or force of personality?
The only measure of success ought to be how a CEO is performing as a business leader -- their share price, the quality of their product, their employee satisfaction. Do they have good judgment? Do they trust and empower their teams? Have they built a workforce that fully reflects the diversity of the world around them? Have they considered their impact?
Some may say that employee morale is down. It's hard to know the full context, but given the turnaround Yahoo! has been going through, it is possible that some of the people who work there now aren't right for what Yahoo! is becoming. The only metric of morale that is relevant is whether the employees who will play key roles in Yahoo!'s next chapter have faith in the vision and the passion to carry it forward.
The attendees at next week's Fortune Most Powerful Women Next Gen Summit, including myself, are doing just that, and are being recognized for not only their leadership, but for redefining what a successful CEO looks like. From business executives, entrepreneurs and innovators to leaders in government, philanthropy and education, these women have charted a path to success through the change they've made in the world -- through their products, their philanthropy, and profound shifts in company culture. Cutthroat tactics and sheer force of will have no place with this powerful group of women. Instead, they embrace the community of other women in power, breaking down barriers for generations to come and paying no mind to patterns of homogeny instilled in the culture by their predecessors.
I'm delighted to be included among these women, because they each represent everything that Unitive stands for: leadership that encourages a balance of strengths and diversity of perspectives. The image of what it means to be a successful CEO is changing its face right here -- and I'm honored to be a part of it.