Opinion: Do we ask too much of women who make it to the top?

by Barbara Hannah Grufferman

Women are on the move. It was just announced that Marissa Mayer, Google’s long-term and much-valued president and the company’s first woman engineer, would take on the challenge of setting a new course for Yahoo, the struggling company that used to be considered Google’s main competition.

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.

As Huffington Post’s Lisa Belkin suggested in an article, “So now the 37-year-old will be watched by tech and business experts who wonder whether she can turn the struggling Internet giant around. She’ll be watched just as closely by women everywhere, who wonder how she will combine this with new motherhood,” the stakes are high.

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?

Not long ago, IBM named another engineer — Virginia Rometty — to be the first woman to head the legendary technology company as CEO. (Interestingly enough, Marissa Mayer, while still at Google, penned the profile of Rometty when the IBM CEO was included in the 2012 “The 100 Most Influential People in the World” list.).

On top of the many pressures organically inherent in running one of the world’s most prestigious and storied companies, a few months ago Rometty confronted an outpouring of outrage (primarily from women and those who love us) because the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia — where the Masters Golf Tournament is played — continued to uphold its tradition of not allowing women (even one who is in the #1 spot of its #1 sponsor) to become members.

What’s a woman at the top to do?

Geri Brin, founder of FOF (one of the largest websites for women over 45) had this to say in a blog she wrote while the whole brouhaha was happening:

Adulterers can be Augusta members, just as long as they’re men. But women leaders? Hell no!! There’s no place for them in this holy bastion of men with little balls. I have no idea if Virginia even golfs, but no matter. She deserved to be invited. Yes, and she deserved that green jacket, too. (Well, maybe that’s one part of the tradition she could live without.)

Geri went on to ask, “I also don’t understand why Virginia dodged the media at the just-ended event and didn’t tell us how she feels about all this,” putting more than a bit of the onus on Rometty to make it all better.

And that, truly, is the question.

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?

There was an incredible amount of media coverage on this exact issue in April while the Masters tournament was going on. Even President Obama and Mitt Romney weighed in. However, like so many of life’s big and very uncomfortable questions . . . it simply faded away, overshadowed by the next newsworthy event.

The media may have moved on to other things, but the question remains:

Do we ask too much of women who make it to the top?

This piece was originally published in Huffington Post.

Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

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