It’s been a good year for Marissa Mayer. She became CEO of Yahoo, got pregnant with her first child and she just got the coveted cover of Fortune’s 50 Most Powerful Women In Business issue. And she managed to do this even though she wasn’t even in the top 10 on the list. She came in at number 14. IBM CEO Virginia Rometty came in at number one. So why did Marissa get the cover and not Virginia? Both are very powerful women in the male-dominated tech industry and had major career boosts this year. But Marissa Mayer is the youngest woman on the list at 37 and has become more famous, especially in the last three months, than Rometty, which is why she got the cover. You can see the full list here.
Virginia Rometty became the first female CEO of IBM last October. This was a history-making news. She became the first woman to run as large a company as IBM, which means she surpassed PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi. She also beat out colleague Steven A. Mills, the senior vice president who led IBM’s highly profitable and growing software division, for the job. Jean Bozman, an analyst with IDC. “It does create an environment in which more of these high-ranking women executives can see that’s within reach,” Bozman said. “The more that happens, the more normal that will be. I think this might be a great sign that we’ve turned a corner.” Rometty’s appointment was monumental for women in the tech industry as well as women in general.
But then Marissa Mayer blew everyone out of the water when it was announced that she would be the new CEO of Yahoo. Now, Yahoo had already had a female CEO (Carol Bartz) and had been struggling for a few years, unlike IBM. However, the day after Mayer’s appointment was announced her pregnancy was announced which just set the media on fire. The fact that Mayer was a few months pregnant when she took the job at Yahoo was considered earth shattering news. Some people thought it was great that she wasn’t letting a pregnancy get in the way of a career opportunity and they also commended Yahoo for taking her on anyway (like it was an act of charity. An act of charity they paid $14 million for.) Others talked about her pregnancy like she had been given lizard hands or some other weird mutation deformity that would take away her ability to do things normally.
Mayer has been in the press almost every day since starting at Yahoo in July for not only her business moves with the company, but for the culture she is trying to create at Yahoo (or rather, Yahoogle), her fashion, her hirings and firings, her maternity leave, etc., Rometty got some attention when her new position got her involved in the controversy over whether Augusta, the all-male golf club, should admit female members (they now do) but it was nowhere near close to Mayer-gate.
Kara Swisher of All Things Digital called this cover choice a “shockeroo” but are we really shocked? Though Fortune is a business magazine they also want to sell issues and Mayer is a young, attractive woman who is known for her love of fashion in addition to her amazing career. Not that Rometty isn’t attractive but she is not as young as Mayer and we honestly just know less about her. Just hours after Marissa Mayer was named the new CEO of Yahoo, a thread appeared on Reddit calling the 37-year-old executive the “hottest CEO ever.” Meghan Casserly of Forbes pointed out this could be Marissa’s secret weapon. She wrote:
“The contrast between her “sweet” appearance and her competitive business reputation is making headlines. Mayer, who’s long been considered one of the “sexiest geek girls” on the web, has been getting the royal treatment in the media since Monday’s announcement. Because of her gender, age and beauty she’s making the front pages of newspapers around the world (when Yahoo’s last CEO was given the job, he made the Times’ Business section instead). ‘Her attractiveness is a very important element of this story,’ offers Reddit’s arbitration_man. ‘Yahoo! needs a charismatic leader, she will bring some of the glamour back, and bring positive publicity. That shouldn’t be seen as a bad thing, obviously she is capable and brings technical expertise, but that should be the status quo in this situation.’ The fact that she’s not unattractive, then, is icing on the cake.”
And with Oprah, the most recognizable name on this list and in most places, dropping to last place, she was not an option for the cover (though Forbes was fine with putting her on their Fortune 400 cover even though her ranking was 151.) Of course, Sheryl Sandberg is also very well-known and came in at number 8 but she also didn’t snag the cover despite Facebook going public this year resulting in a major income boost for her.
Marissa Mayer is clearly the “it” technology and career woman right now and Fortune jumped on it. However, it should be noted that the picture used of Marissa is an old one and was used on the cover of Fortune’s annual 40 Under 40 List issue in 2011. Perhaps the editors just really like Marissa, didn’t feel like spending the money on a new cover photo or Marissa didn’t want to take the photo because she is quite busy and very pregnant.