What’s Up With Marissa Mayer’s Reputation?

marissa mayer

Yahoo's CEO Marissa Mayer is making headlines again; this time, for a fashion-conscious photo spread in the September issue of Vogue.

The photo shows Mayer stretched out upside down on a chaise lounge wearing a Michael Kors dress and Yves Saint Laurent stilettos, her blond hair fanned out behind her. Critics say the photo and sidebar "What Would Marissa Mayer Wear?: A Workweek Guide to Office Dressing" detracts from the 3,000-word article, which focuses on her successes and visions as a leader in a male-dominated tech world.

"Nothing says, 'I'm a powerful woman' like a photo of you upside down on a weird couch. Nice work, Vogue," said Stan Horaczek, an editor at Popular Photography, on Twitter.

In a column for Time, Jezebel founder Anna Holmes defends Mayer, writing, "Women who hold any position of authority get it coming and going of course."

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Of course, the Vogue photo and story are just the latest entries in series of reports on Mayer, whose every decision is placed under a microscope — rightfully or wrongfully. Here's a look at the ups and downs of her reputation from the public's eye:

Motherhood: Controversy surrounding Mayer first started in June 2012 when, at five months pregnant, she was appointed president and CEO of Yahoo! She took just two weeks of maternity leave following the birth of her son and built a nursery next to her office in order to keep him closer and work longer hours, according to the Los Angeles Times. Being a workaholic and a mom didn't sit well with folks and she didn't help her reputation by commenting "The baby's been way easier than everyone made it out to be." Reputation barometer: Down.

Telecommuting: In February, Mayer was the subject of much media criticism for her decision to change Yahoo!'s telecommuting policy — asking employees who had been working from home to return to the office regularly. The memo — telling employees that they would have to decide whether they wanted to come to the office every day or be out of a job — angered working moms and business owners. The most visceral cry came from those who viewed Mayer's ban as unfair given the fact that she was wealthy, well-heeled and was able to keep her son in the next room while the employees she ordered to return to the office were less well-compensated and forced to leave their own children in daycare or with nannies. "For parents, particularly women, telecommuting provides a golden opportunity to balance the challenges of child-raising with those of work," writes Joel Kotkin in Forbes. Others thought the decision wasn't reflective of the trend toward a mobile workforce. "This seems a backwards step in an age when remote working is easier and more effective than ever," Billionaire Richard Branson wrote in a blog post. Mayer maintains the decision wasn't made to hurt working parents, but rather to make it easier for employees to collaborate and innovate. Reputation barometer: Down

Maternity leave: After all the criticism she faced from banning telecommuting for Yahoo! employees, Mayer won back some points from the parent crowd in April after announcing that Yahoo! was doubling the amount of paid maternity leave new mothers could take — from eight weeks to 16 weeks. Fathers can now take eight weeks, according to The Huffington Post. Plus, new parents would also receive $500 for expenses like groceries and baby clothes. The improved benefits not only softened the telecommuting ban blow, but also makes Yahoo!'s perks more in line with its competitors like Google and Facebook and could help to attract new talent. Reputation barometer: Up

Appearance: The Vogue shoot was just the latest entry in ongoing commentary about the fact that Mayer is a female CEO and tech geek who's also interested in fashion. A May story in Business Insider took a look at her favorite designer labels, and in 2009 Lesley Stahl of CBS talked to Mayer about her fashion sense. "If anything … Ms. Mayer's Vogue profile make me yearn for a time when female competence in one area is not undermined by enthusiasm for another, in which women in positions of power are so commonplace that we do not feel compelled to divine motive or find symbolism in every remark they make, corporate policy they enact or fashion spread they pose for," Holmes said in her column, defending Mayer. Whether she's trying to make a statement or just look good, when you're one of a handful of female CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, it doesn't hurt to dress the part. Reputation barometer: Up

Being a woman: One of the most consistent conversations about Mayer has to do with the fact that she's both female and the CEO of a technology company (or just a female CEO period). As silly, bizarre and old-fashioned as it is to dissect how one's gender hurts and helps a reputation, in Mayer's case, the subject doesn't seem to get old. Being a woman in a leadership position makes her vulnerable to all manners of scrutiny — from decisions she makes about running her company to decisions she makes about what to wear in a photo shoot. Reputation barometer: Undecided

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Yahoo! Turnaround: Ultimately, Mayer should be judged for the work she is doing, not how she looks while doing it. And when it comes to helping a once-struggling tech giant improve, she's doing her job. Sense taking the helm of Yahoo!, the company has seen rising stock prices and improved quarterly earnings. The numbers aren't awe-inspiring, but they're not bad either. And morale is up in the office, according to a story on TheNextWeb.com. The number of applicants has increased and many of the new hires are actually former employees who have returned. All this, plus Yahoo!'s recent acquisition of Tumblr, means that leadership-wise, Mayer is doing what she was hired to do: Breathe life into a tired tech giant. Reputation barometer: Up

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Photo courtesy of Magnus Höij onFlickr

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