BUSINESS

Women Need To Listen To This Advice Given To Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer

05/20/2015 11:02 am ET | Updated May 20, 2015

You may think the advice that one super-successful corporate titan gives to another super-successful almost-CEO is something you can safely ignore.

Yet the last thing that Google founder Sergey Brin told Marissa Mayer right before she ascended to the throne of chief executive of Yahoo is something we all need to hear. Especially women.

In an interview with Patricia Sellers at Fortune, Mayer dished about the guidance Brin gave her in the minutes before Yahoo announced her appointment back in 2012. She said that Brin gave her all sorts of minor advice that she later wound up acting on -- like changing the Yahoo logo, one of the first things she did as CEO.

But as she was headed out the door, Brin called her back, Mayer told Sellers. "'Marissa, wait! Don’t forget to be bold,'" he said.

That’s it. That’s the advice women need to hear. Because many of us have confidence issues. I reported earlier Wednesday on a new study that offered up more evidence of the problem. The study revealed that female college students are less confident about their job and salary prospects than men.

It is the latest brick in a hard wall of evidence that shows women hold themselves back at work by not aiming higher. Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg talked about the issue in her highly publicized book “Lean In,” and the Atlantic published a long piece last year called the Confidence Gap that detailed a lot of depressing examples of women’s propensity to be very much not bold.

In one anecdote, authors Katty Kay and Claire Shipman tell the story of their friend who supervises two direct reports: Rebecca and Robert. Rebecca plugs away at her job, diligently doing good work. When she needs to talk to the boss, she makes an appointment. She doesn’t speak up in client meetings. When she gets tough feedback, sometimes she cries. Meanwhile, Robert is at the boss’s office door constantly with new ideas. A lot of them are bad, but he doesn’t seem to care.

Kay and Shipman wrote:

Our friend had come to rely on and value Rebecca, but she had a feeling it was Robert’s star that would rise. It was only a matter of time before one of his many ideas would strike the right note, and he’d be off and running—probably, our friend was beginning to fear, while Rebecca was left behind, enjoying the respect of her colleagues but not a higher salary, more responsibilities, or a more important title.

Of course, as the authors note, women are often in a double-bind when it comes to boldness. Women who are bossy and decisive at work are often labeled as "bitches." But things are changing, thanks to people like Sandberg and Mayer herself.

We can also thank some great new female comics. In a recent episode of “Inside Amy Schumer” called “I’m Sorry,” there’s a hilarious takedown of the female propensity to undersell ourselves and apologize for no reason. It involves a fake panel of women geniuses who step over themselves with self-deprecating nonsense.

You should check it out. Meanwhile, I’m so sorry for taking up your time with this.

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