Earlier this week, the annual Fortune magazine issue devoted to the 50 Most Powerful Women in Business arrived on newsstands. In case you haven't seen or heard yet, featured on the cover is the Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer... you know... the one who left Google to head up Yahoo! when she was six months pregnant.
She's featured looking slim and fit on the front cover of the issue -- apparently it's a picture from last year's photo shoot for the same issue -- and coincidentally, the issue hit the newsstands within 24 hours of Mayer's delivery of a healthy baby boy.
Bring Bring... Bring Bring...
"Hello? Marissa Mayer? Is that you?"
"This is the Glass Ceiling... and you don't seem to be answering..."
At least that is my reaction to this cover. Now, we can dissect it from every angle, and believe you me, in my head, it's what I've been doing for at least 12 hours.
Whether she wants it or not, Marissa Mayer is the poster child NOT for the generic "working mom," like the generic "soccer mom," but for the Type A, High Achieving, Highly Educated, Extremely Driven professional working mom. You know her? You're probably looking at her in the mirror. Washington is abundantly populated with her. In fact, she gravitates here.
Right now in late 2012, Marissa Mayer is the leader of this group: she is young; she is brilliant and well-educated; she is the head of a Fortune 500 company; she is a female leader in a male dominated industry; she is breaking barriers in the tech world, oh, and she just had her first baby. She is everything and nothing like us. Why is she nothing like us, you wonder, as you whisper criticisms of her naive comments on a short maternity leave and swift return to work?
Well, because almost no one becomes a CEO of a major company. Yet we still project ourselves onto her because she is young(ish), smart, driven, beautiful, fit, now a mom, oh, and highly successful. She appears to be everything we are or wish to be.
And for every one of us who has felt the sting of pregnancy discrimination or work place discrimination as a working mother, and believe you me, many of us have and that sting lasts a long time, Mayer's appointment as CEO of Yahoo! while she was six months pregnant was a victory lap we were waiting to take. We were hoping for this day, hoping the person who didn't hire us or removed us from a leading project because we also have to leave some days for pediatrician appointments -- was paying attention -- because Mayer's appointment showed that parenthood can still equal power in the work place.
So why didn't Mayer pose in all her third trimester glory for the cover story of Fortune magazine about the most powerful women in business? Why did she shun her Demi Moore/Vanity Fair moment?
And did she let you down as profoundly as she let me down? Or is it a non-issue for you? Wouldn't a Fortune cover with a women about to go into labor have been the kind of image redefining power and parenthood in the workplace that we are craving?
I think so. It would have been a striking image of beauty, success, power and juggling. The kind of image that the Type A women who read Fortune magazine would purchase in droves, and talk about, and cheer on. Third trimester pregnancy stands in stark contrast with fortune and power in business in America -- whether we want to believe it or not.
Ask most type A, highly driven, working moms. Ask the woman in the office next door or stuck on the beltway in traffic.
Admittedly, an image of a thin, young, blonde woman on the cover of Fortune is also somewhat surprising but nothing like a very pregnant image would have been.
What do you think? By now, it's clear I think this was a missed opportunity. I also think it was a deliberate choice on the part of Mayer. The Atlantic Wire reported yesterday that Fortune wanted to do a photo shoot with her and she declined. Perhaps she is trying to send the message that her maternity leave and her entry into motherhood is for her -- not a trail blazing moment for Type A working moms everywhere. But whether she likes it or not, she has shattered parts of the glass ceiling and it's not going to stop calling her.
The echo chambers of the working parents world are going to keep watching her, talking about her, and evaluating her every move. Like it or not, this is what happens when you are a leader.