July 19 2012
Do We Ask Too Much of Women Who Make It to the Top?
A headline in the Huffington Post poses this question: “Do We Ask Too Much of Women Who Make It to the Top?”
The article starts off noting that “women are on the move” and citing the recent announcement that longtime Google president Marissa Mayer is moving to Yahoo, a “struggling” company that was once Google’s main competitor.
Barbara Hannah Grufferman observes:
Just as important to Mayer (I assume) is her pregnancy. We'll no doubt be watching very closely to see how she combines running a company and family at the same time, adding fuel to the never-ending "Mommy Wars" debate. And, for sure, there will be those who compare her dinnertime ritual with those of another powerful tech executive, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg.
I don’t know who the “we” is who will be watching Ms. Mayer. Her employer certainly has every right to be watching her performance, and the media has every right to watch her as closely as it would a male executive taking the reins of a struggling company.
As for the pregnancy, it's true that women face challenges men don't. Women make choices. Some delay careers, some delay children,and some decide to work demanding jobs while their children are small. Ms. Mayer has made her choice, and we wish her success. If she is as valuable to Yahoo as one assumes, she very likely had the clout to make whatever child-rearing arrangement she deemed feasible. She can be regarded, as my colleague Hadley Heath has pointed out, as a trailblazer for flexibility in the workplace. This is especially beneficial to women. But Yahoo has every right to evaluate her job by the same standards it would use for a male employee. It's not somehow unfair for Yahoo to expect bang for their buck.
I suspect that what Ms. Grufferman really wants for women is special treatment. But the terms of employment are between a company and the employee. Both have certain expectations and certain bargaining chips. Grufferman seemsto think it is unfair that a spotlight will be on Mayer:
We are keeping our fingers crossed that Marissa Mayer will be the torch to show us the way to power and success... while having a baby waiting in the wings. The pressure will be intense, the expectations high, but from all reports she seems uniquely qualified to pull it off. However, there's no question she'll be under our collective microscope simply because she is a woman. Fair?
Yes, it’s fair. Ms. Mayer has taken a big job and like most people in highly-visible positions she’ll be—well—highly visible.
Grufferman also dredges up the controversy surrounding all-male Augusta National Golf Club’s failure to invite Virginia Rometty, first female CEO of IBM, to join even though IBM is a long-time corporate sponsor. But clubs have a right to restrict membership and I for one am rather charmed that Augusta National does—it’s a throwback and at some point being all male may be more trouble than it’s worth. But it’s their right. And Rometty obviously didn’t need to get out on the links at Augusta to get to the top!
Grufferman seems to think that these successful women owe something to...her:
When women make it to the top, as Rometty and Mayer have, how much should we expect of them? How much do they owe us? Is it fair that our eyes are riveted on Mayer as we watch her navigate the treacherous 'work/family balance' seas?
And should we expect Rometty to put women's rights ahead of IBM's long-standing sponsorship of the U.S. Masters, as Geri suggests?
How much do they owe us? Not a thing, unless we're paying their salaries. They owe their shareholders and families something, but not us. Still,to cite Hadley again, Mayer has given all women who seek to work and raise families something of value: a demonstration that even large companies can be flexible.
Virginia Rometty, who obviously has more important things to think about than the Augusta National, doesn’t owe it to Grufferman and other aggrieved feminists to cancel her company’s relationship with a golf tournament.