Article: Sandberg or Mayer: Who makes for a better poster girl?


Sandberg or Mayer: Who makes for a better poster girl?

Marissa Mayer may still be the best face of gender equality compared to her more popular peer Sheryl Sandberg
Sandberg or Mayer: Who makes for a better poster girl?

Does Mayer stand a chance to represent the “workplace-equality-gender-diversity-women's-liberation” endemic sweeping across the corporate universe?


Marissa Mayer may still be the best face of gender equality compared to her more popular peer Sheryl Sandberg

Mayer, the chief executive officer of internet giant Yahoo!, released a circular in January stating that employees will no longer be allowed to work from home. While the circular was meant to be an envelope directive for all employees at Yahoo!, it raised a huge outcry in the industry questioning the company’s commitment toward female employees. At a time when women’s issues at the workplace are constantly under the scanner, many considered the move as gender biased. The directive issued a lot of populist bad press stating that it might trigger a trend that will further weaken the chances of women succeeding at the workplace.

Around the same time, Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg was promoting her soon-to-be-released book “Lean-in: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead” that encapsulates her views on how women can surge ahead in the professional race despite all odds.  As an advocate of women’s liberation, and with a ranking of #8 in Fortune’s list of America’s most powerful business women, it seems like Sandberg is clearly ahead of Mayer as a poster girl for gender equality at the workplace. With the facts in mind, does Mayer stand a chance to represent the “workplace-equality-gender-diversity-women’s-liberation” endemic sweeping across the present-day corporate universe? Maybe, she does!

Equality of the deserving versus the economics of sympathy

Mayer establishes an assertive and firm stance on true gender equality by dismissing any kind of distinction between the contributions of men and women at the workplace. New York Post’s article on Mayer reveals that since the beginning of her career, Marissa has been “gender blind” and all her professional choices were based solely on merit and competence. Among many other things, Mayer is credited to be the first female engineer at technology major Google. This was a professional choice that was rare in the industry, save alone Google.  As Mayer puts it, “If I had been more self-conscious about being a women, it would have stifled me.”  The circular that Mayer sent out to Yahoo! employees states that, “Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings.” To indicate her impartiality towards the sexes, Mayer adds to the circular, “We need to be one Yahoo! and that starts with physically being together.”

Mayer has historically deflected all attempts to make her a spokeswoman for anything — female geeks, working women, corporate CEOs. “No one wants to be a stereotype, right?” she said in an interview last year at the Computer History Museum in Silicon Valley. “Everyone wants to know that they can achieve what they want, be who they are, being their authentic self.” In another interview for PBS documentary Makers, which tells the story of the fight for female rights, Mayer said she doesn’t call herself a feminist and thinks that “it’s become in many ways a more negative word.”

"I don't think that I would consider myself a feminist. I certainly believe in equal rights, I believe that women are just as capable, if not more so, in a lot of different dimensions. But I don't I think have sort of the militant drive, and sort of the chip on the shoulder that sometimes comes with that," she said in PBS and AOL's "Makers" documentary, launching a debate about her remarks.

Sandberg, on the other hand, promotes the assumption that women need to overcome their natural disadvantage at the workplacethrough a simple idea— compliance. To many, Sandberg’s views are elitist, almost bordering on the economics of sympathy. Forbes magazine’s April issue carries a review of her book terming it as the feminist view of the world. The review mentions, “Part pep talk, part blame game, she details how women must remain ever ambitious in their pursuit of power while getting their partner to mind the kids and wash and fold at home.”  In a 15-minute TED talk in 2010, Sandberg comes across as a proponent of the “good girl myth” that argues that women only need to behave themselves and play by the rules to get everything they want. Perhaps the most emphatic advice that Sandberg promotes is the idea of conformity: “Don’t get angry, don’t insist on your legal rights, make your case in a friendly, non-threatening way.” For many, this does not resonate with the average professional women who, unlike Sandberg, do not have two Harvard degrees and a net worth nearing $1 billion.

Ranked much below Sandberg at #14 on the Fortune list, and with the stream of angry salvos being hurled after her “work-from-home” ban, it might appear that Mayer does not make the cut as the true poster girl of gender equality. But while the odds speak otherwise, it is for the world to decide who has a truly egalitarian approach toward the genders— Sandberg or Mayer?

By the way, Sandberg has 55,000 followers on Twitter. Mayer, on the other hand has 300,000!


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Topics: Watercooler, Diversity

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